Anita Agba heard the speakers call for her flight to board just as she rushed into Nnamdi Azikiwe airport domestic wing, at exactly 10.50am. She had been so scared she would be unable to make it in time and had fought with the old taxi driver that drove her, because he staunchly refused to speed through traffic.
Anita tried everything: she promised to double his fare, swore to call him as transport on her return from Lagos; she checked her time incessantly and gave exaggerated sighs every time he let someone cut in front of him. All methods proved ineffective. He said “Better to be safe than sorry" and then proceeded to ignore her completely for the rest of the journey. But she was here despite his rule abiding speedometer and it was all up to her aching feet to race through security then run a marathon to the waiting aircraft.
Lugging her over-stuffed wobbly trolley behind her Anita cursed Olamide; her friend turned newlywed for throwing such an awesome reception. If the bride hadn’t been so willing to party or the DJ so on point with the tunes, she wouldn’t have spent the whole night dancing away instead of getting some much needed sleep.
If that had happened, she would not have overslept and gotten herself into this messy situation. “Olamide, I curse you.” Anita muttered under her breath as she proceeded to lift her heavy suitcase and place it on the X-ray belt. “I curse your wonderfully comfy bed in the Hilton and the Honeymoon suite you spent the night in. I curse the breakfast that awaits you when you get up and I curse your husband that will rub your feet when you ask him to.”
Anita gingerly removed her feet from her wedges, placing the chunky cork heels on the belt as well so they could be x-rayed. She muttered a silent curse too, for the underwear bomber for this inconvenience. After a disinterested female security officer frisked her, Anita grabbed her suitcase and with her shoe-straps still undone, started to run towards her check-in gate. She arrived before the BADA Airlines desk with one hand holding onto her Ankara wrap dress, to find that she was the only one panting, sweating and flustered.
Everyone was calm, chatting away and they all took a minute out of their day to stare at her. And the hot mess she was. Three hours of sleep after a night of partying in the hottest club, with the happiest bride and her entourage lends a certain look to someone. A look they obviously did not approve of. As far as they were concerned the dishevelled lady had no business being outside looking the way she did. Anita was inclined to agree. The announcement was repeated over the speakers once more and this time Anita was relaxed enough to listen to its entirety.Her flight had been delayed for an hour.
“Oh” she heaved a sigh of relief. Her free hand wiped her damp brow. “WE are here to complain about the delay” said a woman carrying a baby. “But it appears you owe BADA airlines your gratitude.” Anita gave the woman and her baby a “mind your business” smile. Usually such looks were accompanied with the exact meaning in words but she had suddenly remembered her online ticket was yet to be printed out.
Anita eyed the sign that indicated the ladies room. She badly needed to get in there and fix her hopeless situation.
On a second thought, it was probably best she not tempt luck once more and forgo vanity in name of printing out her online ticket. She had the reference number on her phone; she rummaged through her bag and unearthed her Blackberry. Knowing the amount of messages- both read and unread- lined up awaiting her attention, Anita thought it best to commence the search in a manner much kinder to her feet... and her throat.
The last thing she had to drink had been a glass of champagne at around 3.00am when the Best Man led the bridal party in a toast. Well, there was a day old half bottle of water in her bag and an empty seat next to a magazine rack so thanking God for her luck she walked towards it a determined woman. “From henceforth I am taking charge of my day”, she decided. A light stumble and Anita remembered her straps were undone. She rolled her eyes and changed her tune. “Once I sit down, I am taking charge of my day”.
Anita sat on the metal chair but for fatigued legs it felt like lounging on a cloud. Bending over she did up her straps when a shadow blocked her light. She looked up with her hands around her ankles and saw a tall dark man in reading glasses. He said, “You are in my seat.” “Oh I’m sorry” said Anita. It figures, there were magazines on the chair when she arrived. As she tried to gather her things her Blackberry fell to the floor. Her quirky Popeye cover snapped off and the battery came out. Shocked Anita leaned down, forgetting the open bottle of water in her hand. It poured out and splashed on the floor, soaking the Blackberry. “Ahh” Anita shrieked. A part of her just died. This was her third Blackberry in six months.
The tall man bent to help gather her phone parts scattered all over the airport floor, as he sympathised.
“Fuck My Life” Anita swore as she dragged her hands down her face and pulled on her cheeks.
“Sorry about that. Now I feel responsible.”
The man looked up from his position on one knee and stared at her. He was lean, with a long face and had very toned arms. He wore a loosely fitting kaftan shirt and from this angle Anita could see his chest. As well as the thin line of hair that led down to his navel. Gesturing her to open her palm, he deposited the pieces of her life line.
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” He apologised. He wasn’t bad looking. Far from it. Very far from it. “No, no it’s not your fault” Anita whispered. “It’s me. I’m kind of clumsy. And disorganised. And scatter-brained.” She sighed and looked at the ceiling. She didn’t want to cry.
The man looked concerned. “Is anything the matter?” He asked standing to his full height. He was tall.
“It’s just been one of those mornings you know.” Anita shrugged her shoulders. She looked up to face him, “I should have just taken Monday off. Then I wouldn’t be so frazzled and in a haste to get back to Lagos.”
“I’m sure I’ll be the same once I arrive in Lagos.” He tried to show her he was a kindred spirit. And took the seat vacated by the elderly man opposite her. “I’m booked on the red-eye flight back to Abuja you see.” “Why the short journey?” “Some very important papers need to be signed, and then brought back to Abuja to be stamped. And guess who is in charge of that?”
“That’s right. Me.” He puffed out his chest
“I am a very important person you see,” he folded his arms and smiled. Anita laughed.
“It’s an awfully long journey for a signature. Surely a person as important as yourself has heard of technology.”
She lifted up a piece of her Blackberry as evidence. “Oh but I have. I built my career, Engineering, on it. Unfortunately when you’re dealing with old men, in positions of prestige they prefer things to be done the old fashioned way. A way in which they’re comfortable in. Some people need to be brought into the 21st century kicking and screaming.”
“Yes,” Anita agreed. “No one ever likes change, unless it’s in fashion. That’s my very important job you see. I work in a fashion house.”
“Well no grumpy old men there.”
“Certainly not.” She pressed the wet screen of her phone against her dress.
“You know I heard that putting the phone into a bowl of rice helps to absorb the moisture,” he gestured to her fervent wiping.
“I personally can vouch for garri. It helps to soak up the water contained in the smallest parts of the phone. My Blackberry, the one before the last- Its Grandfather- fell in the toilet and that was the method I used. It worked...for a while.”
“You go through a lot of Blackberrys...”
“They are important for staying relevant in my social circle.”
“I think they are completely useless and can’t understand why everyone that can afford one rushes to get it.” He made this declaration with such a serious tone that Anita burst out laughing,
“Please tell me what you really think.” She urged.
He looked at her and after some thought brought his hand forward. “My name is Malik,” he said.
“Anita” she responded.
They shook hands. Malik took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He had given up on wearing contact lenses when he nearly lost an eye putting one in. “
We have to fix that phone” he declared. “I don’t want you thinking I did this on purpose because I believe in death to all Blackberrys.”
“So you are an extremist?” Anita asked with a smile.
“Ah I have been called much worse Anita.” She liked how he said her name. It sounded exotic when pronounced with a Northern accent.
The announcement of another boarding flight by a different airline reminded Anita that she still hadn’t printed out her ticket and now with no phone, she had no reference number.
“What is it?” asked Malik “I need my phone to get my reference number so I can print my ticket, to get my boarding pass so I can get on the fli-”
“I get it” Malik stopped her.
“I can help. My friend is a manager at BADA; we could use his office to get your reference number. He will print your ticket for you.
“Thank you so much.”
“I am here to serve Anita.” He gave a slight bow. “Why are you smiling Anita?”
“You say my name a lot.”
“Well I’ve never met anyone called Anita before. It is a very unique name I must say.” Malik picked up her luggage and they began to walk together.
“Err... I don’t think so” Anita scrunched her nose up. “My mother was really into Anita Baker back then and she decided to punish her only child with her taste in music.”
“Well Anita, I like it. So I will say it very often throughout our time together. Who knows when next I will get to say it again? Anita. Anita. Anita...”
“Okay then Malik. Tell us about your name.”
“It is very special. Just like me.” He raised an eyebrow, “Are you buying that?”
“Every word.” She assured him. “It is one of the 99 names of Allah, and it means Master. That is why; Abdul is in front of it. So it translates to servant of the Master.
“Well I didn’t know that.” Malik stopped and smiled. They had reached the office of BADA Airlines and he was explaining their reason of calling to the man outside the door. He gestured them both in.
“Sorry about your phone,” he said when Anita slipped past. Malik rounded a large desk to stop at a smaller one with a lanky man in a polo shirt and jeans working on the computer. If he had to be at work on Sunday he would certainly dress like it. He typed with two fingers and looked very put out by the machine. His face was twisted and he appeared to be swearing at it.
“Abbas I need a favour,” said Malik.
“Surprise Surprise” he muttered.
“Please it’s for her.”
With that Abbas looked up and stared at Anita. He turned to Malik and a telepathic conversation passed between the two men.
“Sure no problem,” agreed Abbas cheerfully. He gave Anita a look at his dental work by flashing her the widest grin she had ever seen.
“You will excuse my earlier behaviour” he apologised.
“Abbas is always on edge when he’s working with computers.” Explained Malik
“They are the work of Shaytan.”
“They are computers.” Said Malik
“That’s what I said.” Replied an innocent faced Abbas.
He walked around to a larger desk that they had passed on their way in and rummaged in its drawers for files and flight lists. He walked up to Anita and requested her driver’s license. She reached into her bag for her wallet.
“Ah you have my mother’s birthday,” said Abbas, with a laugh as he glanced over it.
“Just go print out her ticket” barked Malik.
“I’m going, I’m going... You don’t have to stand at attention with me Malik.” Abbas rolled his eyes at Anita. “You can take the boy out of military school... but you” then he disappeared out the door.
Anita sat on a swivel chair. Her dancing feet were yet to recover from dancing for 5 hours straight.
Malik saw her wincing and pulled up a chair beside her.
“You went to military school?” she asked. Malik had very kind eyes.
“Yes I did. It’s sort of the family profession. My three older brothers are all in the Military.”
“Wow what was the inspiration?”
“My father. He is a retired General.”
“And how did he feel about you dropping out to become an Engineer?”
“That is a very insightful question Anita. Let’s just say he wasn’t pleased and leave it at that.”
“Well there are worse things.”
“Not a very long list where he is concerned. My father has dedicated his life to that of service. The way he sees it, they are fewer grounds for honour. You see the root of our family tree, the very foundation of who we are as a clan- is steeped in men who served in battle. I have ancestors that fought alongside Usman Dan Fodio in the 18th Century during the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate. I have Great Uncles that fought in the Civil War in 1967. Presently, I have cousins stationed in Iraq.”
“Ahh” Anita understood. “Anything less than a uniform demanding your loyalty and obedience is tantamount to traitor.”
“Yes Anita. That is correct.” Malik smiled, glad she understood.
“But you must live your life as you see fit. As long as you recite the National Anthem and mean every word. You are a patriot.” Anita defended him.
Malik smiled and leaned forward, “that is very kind Anita. I daresay you could go toe to toe with General Gwandu and hold your own.” He was very close to her now, and Anita stared at the floor to break the tension
“Well I might have the looks of my Benin mother but it hides the temperament of my Yoruba father. Guess who I get along with the most?”
“A daddy’s girl true and true,” responded Malik.
“Absolutely. Do you get along with your mother?”
“Very much so, she is as gentle as a stream. Water that can transform into a tsunami should you take liberties.” Malik laughed at some recalled memory. “She owns a few dye pits on the outskirts of town.”
“A woman of fashion! We would get along brilliantly.” Anita sparkled “I believe you would.”
Malik agreed. Anita had raised her head back to level with his and she involuntarily mirrored his smile. He was so cute. His lips were like puppeteers to hers. And the wider his grin got the brighter her smile shone. It took guts to go against the grain like that and carve a path for oneself. She admired that. It was also obvious that Malik loved entrepreneurial women, thanks to his mother. That was also an endearing quality. Anita wondered what it must be like to kiss a guy with glasses. Would her pleasurable sighs fog up his lenses? She wondered if his neatly trimmed beard would tickle her fair skin. She wondered if he was at all wondering any of these things.
“All done my dearest Anita. You may thank me in any form you like.” Abbas entered into his office.
Anita and Malik simultaneously shifted their chairs further back. Malik stood up from his seat and walked away from her to shake Abbas’s hand. Whatever he said or promised to do in order to show his appreciation made the latter beam with delight. Abbas handed her a ticket and informed her that she had been given the window seat. Anita thanked him profusely and noticed that her one hour of grace must be up.
“I really have to get going. Thank you both so much.”
“I’ll help you with your luggage,” offered Malik as he effortlessly lifted it from the ground.
“Come back here anytime” invited Abbas.
“You know my office now, so don’t be a stranger.”
“We should get going” insisted Malik.
“Thank you for flying BADA Airlines” shouted Abbas as the door to his office was shut.
Malik stayed with Anita as she checked in her suitcase, he waited while she received her boarding ticket. At last, Anita had the presence of mind to be embarrassed by the state she was in and turned red-faced to inform Malik that she would need to go freshen up in the rest-room.
“But there’s nothing wrong with you,” said Malik confused as he stared at her from head to feet.
She looked exactly as she had the first time, when he spied her bent over doing up her shoes. Her legs were stunning and her knee-length dress gave him ample opportunity to ogle them. There was also a fair amount of glitter on her skin which made the sun rays bounce off and colour her in a glowing orb. She looked like a force of energy. Her hair was curly and it fell over her shoulders obscuring her face from view, and as he walked towards her Malik had thought at least before he kicked her out of his seat he could see if the face lived up to the body.
Anita seemingly was unaware of the force of energy that was herself and insisted that she needed to fix ‘this mess,’ before getting on the plane. She went in and came out 15 minutes later looking exactly the same. Not that she seemed to think so.
“Isn’t this better?” asked Anita as she ran a hand over her hair and smiled at him with glossy lips.
“You look exactly the same” said Malik
“Ah you appear to really mean it. Now I don’t know if that is a compliment or an insult.”
“It’s the truth, but I’ll convince you of that later Anita. That is the final boarding call of our flight.”
They raced towards their boarding gate and giggled as the climbed into the shuttle bus that was to transport all passengers to the Boeing 747.
“I can’t believe I made it,” gasped Anita slightly out of breath and clutching her chest.
“Neither can I,” agreed Malik, earning himself a jab in the ribs.
“I have redeemed myself then. The phone matter is all forgotten?”
“I’ll worry more about that when we land. I am not new to this. An hour or two in a bowl of garri and it should be rearing to go. The screen will be a little cracked but I can live with that.
My phone will be up and running by this afternoon.”
“And will you give me your PIN when it is?" “I thought you hated Blackberrys.”
“I do. But you love them. So a choice must be made. You know some people have to be dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming.”
“They most certainly do” agreed Anita blushing as she did so. She turned away to look out the window. The bus had slowed in front of the aircraft and together they got out and began to ascend the metal stairs. The waiting air hostess showed them both to their seats; at opposite ends of the aircraft.
Anita turned to look at Malik, “I guess this is goodbye then” she said.
“No its not,” said Malik determinedly. “We will like to be seated together.”
“It’s a fully booked flight” droned the air hostess. She was supposed to be in Lagos, blowing out the candles on her birthday cake while her boyfriend took pictures and plastered her in kisses. She was very late for her own party. She didn’t have time for this.
“I can appreciate that,” said Malik, “But I want to sit next to Anita.” The air-hostess could not be bothered either way. There was a queue of impatient passengers waiting to board and the man with the glasses seemed comfortable keeping them all waiting. Further delaying the flight and more importantly, further delaying her grand entrance into the not-so-surprise birthday party. She requested the ticket from the elderly man behind the ‘love-birds.’
“Will you like to be bumped to first class sir?” She asked.
“I would love that. Better circulation for my legs...” “Very well this young man has offered you his seat.”
She promptly swapped their boarding passes, and carried on seating the rest of the angry mob. Without a word Anita watched as Malik squeezed his lengthy frame between passengers, ducking to avoid the overhead compartments, till he arrived at his new seat, close to the toilets. “The window seat, as promised by Abbas,” he gestured for Anita to go in first.
Malik sat down and fastened his seat belt. He tucked his long legs underneath his chair and turning to her said, “So what kind of music do you like?”
Anita didn’t know how to explain to him that he had just greatly inconvenienced himself on her behalf. She felt like she owed it to him to be interesting. “Alternative Indie Rock.”
“Is there such a thing?”
“I don’t know I just made it up”
“Why would you do that Anita?”
“I am not very interesting Malik. Really! Just a run of the mill girl that likes RnB, and shoes and playing dress-up and chocolate and sparkly things and The Notebook...”
“I admire your efficiency Anita. We have covered music, movies, interests and desserts.” Anita raised an eyebrow then laughed. Malik opened his palms and spoke,
“I am a run of the mill guy that likes rap music and cars and video games and Mafia movies like Scarface and The Godfather and cannot cook to save his life...”
“So basically we are both cardboard cut-outs living out the stereotypes attached to our genders.”
“Yes. Nothing remarkable here.” Malik was so wrong. And they both knew it.
The turbo engines growled and roared to life and the pilot announced they were taking off. The plane coasted around for a few seconds, then taxied off the runway and within a few minutes they were in the sky. Anita tried to swallow through the hollow sound; this part always made her ears vibrate. She massaged her temple and tried to force spit down her throat, anything to disrupt the ringing in her skull. Malik brought out a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum and Anita gladly accepted. Soon the taste returned to her mouth.
“Always prepared soldier,” said Anita once the noise died down enough for her to be heard.
“That’s the motto of the military” joked Malik
The airplane began to coast and soon Anita relaxed enough in Malik’s company to snuggle down in her seat and turn to him fully. The shutter on her window was lowered because as much as she loved the scenery, the sunlight interrupted her view of his face. Not that Malik seemed to mind the light directly in his eyes, he had those lenses that darkened when exposed to light.
“That was 5years ago,” said Anita aghast.
“You have to try contacts again; they have evolved so much since then.”
“What’s wrong with my glasses?”
“Nothing.” Absolutely nothing. “But it is always good to have options...”
“If your manner and method is the most proficient then options are a waste of valuable ideas.”
“No idea formed can ever be considered wastage. Because it is always specific to the parameters it must operate in. Just like energy, it is transferred but never lost.”
Malik stared at Anita admiringly. The glitter on her skin pulsed quietly and she radiated brighter than the rays of sunshine cast on her from neighbouring windows. And she, as it turns out, is an expert on Energy.
“What does your father do Anita?” asked Malik suddenly.
“That is a very insightful question Malik,” said Anita, mimicking his tone from earlier in Abbas’s office. “He is a Professor of Physics in Unilag.”
Malik chuckled softly. Of course he was.
“Now Anita you must convince me why you, a Daddy’s Girl, chose not to follow in a similar field at University.”
“Why pay for tuition when I get the lessons for free?” she inquired playfully.
“I consider myself an honorary physicist, by birth anyway.”
“I see! You became an expert by osmosis.”
“Absolutely! You know when I was younger my dad would take me out and tell me to count the amount of forces at play. So I would point to the sky and yell, “Gravity,” and a nearby body of water and say, “Magnetic Field,” and so on.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Don’t tease. It was”
They had been in the air for about 45 minutes and the pilot had announced they were just hovering over Lagos. Time seemed to literarily fly as conversation flowed effortlessly between them.
“Would you excuse me Anita? I need to stretch my legs for a bit.”
Malik unpacked his long legs from where they had been folded beneath his chair and stood with a comical grimace of pain in Anita’s direction. Malik walked off towards the front of the aircraft.
“I am coming back for you.” said Malik. Those were the last words he would ever say.
Anita watched him walk away and then she looked around. She locked eyes with the woman from earlier at the check-in gate. The two exchanged a smile, they were friends now.
“Better late than never. At least we are almost home" The mother smiled. She cuddled her baby. It was a girl. Anita was going to nod and agree when the airplane suddenly began to rattle like a tin can in a gust of wind.
“Turbulence!” shouted one passenger.
“Which yeye turbulence? There isn’t a dark cloud in the sky,” responded another.
"What is happening? Somebody tell us something.” was cried out from every seat and passengers began to get agitated. Choruses of worry, anxiety and reverent prayer began to fill her cabin. Anita got extremely scared. She looked out her window and saw one of the wings trail a cloud of smoke behind it. The rotating fan within it had caught fire. Her breathing began to get laboured and her heart beat as loud as the radiating wings. She looked around her and saw that everyone else had scrambled to window seats to take a look. They all began to scream. It was a deafening sound.
The pilot came on the radio and said "Ladies and gentlemen, we have severe technical issues with the aircraft, please put yourself in the brace position for emergency landing" His American accent twisted around his prognosis like the puffs of smoke that stained the otherwise blue sky. It was a beautiful day. The night was also to be very beautiful, but none of them on board- passengers and crew- would live to see it.
Anita stared at the woman and watched her kiss her baby girl and clutch her to her chest. She would die like that. Anita began to cry, she wasn’t ready to meet God. She couldn’t die now, she hadn’t yet lived. She hadn’t built her career, she hadn’t bought her own apartment, and she hadn’t fallen in love... She looked around for Malik and saw his tall frame trying to make his way back to her amongst the mayhem.
He would not make it.
He battled his way through a throng of agitated passengers some of whom were considering forcefully opening the EXIT doors to escape. Not realising that that force of wind at this height would fling them all out like rag dolls in a tornado. Malik had also lost his glasses so could barely make out Anita.
The plane shook some more and then began to nose-dive. It tilted forward sharply and suddenly. All the passengers, most of whom were out of their seats were propelled forward and they began to crash into one another. Shoes hit faces, elbows jammed into stomachs, the grunts and sounds of pains filled the entire cabin. It was a sound that would stay with Anita till her last moments. The oxygen masks fell from the ceilings, but they would be of no help to anyone here. Nor would the life-rafts. The overhead compartments opened up and dropped their contents onto the un-suspecting passengers. Hand luggage and hastily bubble wrapped sacks crashed onto their heads. There was blood everywhere. People were screaming even louder. The left wing engine next to Anita exploded with a loud bang.
The aircraft tilted sharply to the right and Malik slanted his eyes and saw Anita get slammed against the seat-rest in front of her, causing her to die instantly. The second engine unable to bear the un-assisted weight gave out with a loud whistle and the plane began to nose-dive. The airplane reached the end of its 25,000 feet descent. It crashed into the ground and exploded, the fire starting from the pilot’s bunker and spreading through the entire aircraft. Within seconds, the BADA MD-83 plane was engulfed in flames.
There were no survivors.
All Malik could think about as he choked on his own blood and inhaled smoke was that he never got Anita's pin.
Miss B and SB