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While You Were Away – 4 of 4

hand in hand

Aunty Vicky just called. Her husband has been down with malaria and typhoid. Malaria and typhoid combination is a very potent force. It can turn the life of any giant into a vegetable anytime. I advised her to get him to 24/7 Clinic where we returned from not too long ago.

At around 5 O’clock in the morning, highly anticipatory of her return, I called Mummy. She couldn’t answer me immediately. On my second attempt, she picked the call. She has been awake since around 2 O’clock in the night. She was then beginning her preparation for the trip to the airport. It was going to be a busy day, so I left her so she could get ready in time for her return flight to Port Harcourt. “That means you have had a brief rest this night. So take care. Make sure you park all your belongings. And don’t forget any of your phones. No matter the delay, by God’s grace you will soon be in my arms. I really miss you. The one week you were away is like four weeks to me o. Believe it because, that’s just the truth. Straight from my heart. ”
It’s already 8 o’clock in the morning. Mummy has still not called from Lagos. That means she has not boarded the flight, the first Aero flight from Lagos this morning. They have shifted again the flight departure time. It’s just like they did on Mercy’s last flight from Lagos when the flight time crawled from morning till late afternoon with her eventually arriving in Port Harcourt late into the night.
On getting to the airport, Mummy called to let me know that her flight time is 11.30 am. I hope they will not shift the time to 4 pm or later. They just do whatever they like. Who is going to call them to order?
“As soon as you board the flight, call me or send me a text message so that I can begin the drive to pick you up at the airport.”
“Yes, I will.”
“Try to stay alert so that you don’t doze off at the airport.”
“I will try not to.”
“Now your flight time is in the afternoon, have you had your breakfast?” Certainly, she hasn’t had any time for any meal. She woke up as early as 2.00 o’clock in the morning.
“From where? No.”
“Try to get something to eat before you board the flight. Do you still have some cash?”
“Not much, you know this their airport things will be extra expensive. I don’t even know what to buy.”
“Try meat-pie and malt now.”
“How much do you think the two will go for?”
“I don’t know. Maybe N1000 will do.”
“I’m not sure I still have up to that amount.”
“Just manage as best as you can. If you cannot buy the two, you can make do with the malt drink.”
“Okay. I will check out the kiosks for what they offer.”
“Ok, just manage as best as you can. Your daughter prepared jollof-rice. It was very delicious. Should I bring some when I’m coming to pick you up at the airport?”
“No. I will be all right.”
“OK, safe journey.”
Ending the call, I stepped back into the parlour. All the kids were excited that their Mummy is on her way back home. Mercy was the first person to ask, “When is Mummy coming? Is she coming on the morning flight?”
“No. Her flight has been shifted as they did on your flight from Lagos last time. They are so notorious for shifting their flight schedules now. Mummy’s flight time has been shifted to 11:30 am.”
“Can I join you to the airport or you want to go alone?”
“I really don’t mind your joining me to the airport, but we won’t be having enough space in the car as our other brethren will join me and your mum on the drive back home from the airport.”
“Okay. When are you taking off?”
“I’m waiting to hear from her before I begin the 40 minutes’ drive to the airport.”
At around noon, the call came in from Lagos. Unlike other days prior to the celebration time, the traffic was free. Because of this, the drive was fairly smooth and less stressful despite the “normal” bad roads. Just before Eneka town on the route to the airport, there was a police checkpoint. Two smartly dressed police officers were manning the checkpoint. The one in the front deftly signalled with his outstretched hand for me to stop. It was my turn at the checkpoint. Manoeuvring the car off the road completely, I wind down the window by the driver’s seat.
“Good morning, officer.”
“Compliments of the season, chief,” he replied. “Chief, anything for the celebrations?”
“Officer, we, we neva start the celebrations yet as my wife no dey house.”
“Hnnmm, wetin happen?”
“She go Lagos. Na today she dey come back. I dey go carry am from the airport now.”
“Okay, carry on.”
“Thank you, sir.” And so I continued the drive to the airport.
The gates leading to and from the airport were partitioned off by a small one-room office. Both sides of the roads were manned by smartly dressed police officers with their guns slung behind their backs. As I was driving in, one policeman directed me to stop. I am about to face another round of either “show your particulars”, “wetin you carry” or “chief, our own Christmas presents”. But this was not so. This time around, the police officers came to join me in the front. With my glass rolled down and the AC turned off and the music previously blaring from the radio tuned down, I greeted the officer,
“Happy new year officer.”
“Good morning chief,” the officer replied with a friendly but suspicious smile. “I like this car o.”
At his beguiling comment, I immediately raised up my inner “bullshit-detector”. This one is sly.
“There is this car I want to buy. I’ve paid everything except twenty thousand naira but they refuse to give me the car.”
“Are you buying the car new?” I asked.
“No. Not new, but it is a first grade, Belgium.”
“And they will not allow you to take the car just because of ₦ 20,000?”
“Yes.”
“That is impossible,” I replied.
The police officer now proceeds to narrate a convoluted story about his indirect relation to one former Air Vice Marshall of the Nigerian Air Force who hailed from Kogi State.
“You mean ~~~~?”
“Yes. My sister is a friend to his wife. That was how I could get the Honda Pilot. But I need twenty thousand naira to complete the payment.”
Even though he did not directly request for any money from me to help him meet the outstanding amount, I did not fall for his ruse. Apparently, this is the same trick he has been playing on other drivers going to and from the airport. Unfortunately for him, I did not fall for it. Eventually, we parted ways as I continued the drive to the airport.
At the airport, I did not have to wait for too long in order to confirm that her flight was truly airborne. I dialled her two numbers one after the other. There was no response because the phones should be turned off for the duration of the flight. She will soon arrive. But, if the flight left Lagos about an hour ago, it should land any moment now. Maybe there was a slight delay before take-off. I’m getting tensed up now; I took another glance at my watch. But a flight just landed from Lagos not too long ago and the colours resemble that of Aero, though I couldn’t see the plane exactly from where I was located outside. What happened to her number? Why is none of her lines, Glo or Etisalat, getting through? This plane taking off again, is this not the flight that she was supposed to have boarded from Lagos?
Finally, just around noon, a call came in from her line. Her flight has landed, and she was among the passengers waiting at the domestic arrival hall to sort out and pick up their luggage. As usual, the entire process was tedious. It took almost as long time for the passengers to clear themselves out of the arrival hall as the duration it takes for the return flight to get back to Lagos. That is almost, one hour.
Assisting her along with some of our other brethren, we were soon back into the car. Heading back home, we again had to make another stop at the airport exit gate near the main roundabout again at the airport road junction along the East West road. This time around, a pretty smiling police officer stopped us. Well dressed in her smartly ironed uniforms, she was petite compared to her muscular male colleagues at the checkpoint. The uniforms fit her well. Like her men folks, she had a gun slung over her shoulders. With her disarming charm, pretty face, and slim, smart figure, she will easily pass for a model. What is this African Queen doing in police uniforms? Make dem no spoil you o?
Just like her male colleagues, she too asked me, “Oga, wetin you bring from the Christmas celebration now?”
“Officer, nothing o. In fact, we never celebrate Christmas yet.”
“Why? Wetin happen now?”
“My wife has been away since two days after Christmas. In fact, it is now that we will get home to start the New Year merriments.”
“I see. Oga, anything for me? Make me too follow you celebrate?”
“No. Nothing for now.”
“Okay na. Carry on oga,” she waved us on.
The traffic was light. The return trip back home was quicker compared to the first half of the trip. On getting to Oil-Mill, one of my passengers dropped off. The second set, two other passengers stopped at Calculux bus terminus and made their way to their respective destinations. The last passenger dropped off a few hundred metres away from our own house. It was then that I turned to face her,
“I really miss you o.”
“Me too.”
“Your eyes are really heavy.”
“Yes, we closed late from the Congress and I’ve been awake since 2.00 am.”
“Oh, sorry ehn. You will get home and rest now.”
“Yes, I really need it.”
Having given Mercy a flash-call a few minutes before our arrival, they soon opened the gate into our compound to let the car in. Willy was the first to run from the house towards the car. Grinning from ear to ear, he couldn’t hide his excitement. Mercy, Mfon, Emma, and Helen soon joined in. Valiant and Francis were the last. And so we welcome our Mummy back home.
As soon as we enter the parlour, Mummy sank into the sofa. Everyone in the house crowded round her. You would have thought that our beloved Mummy just returned from the moon.
The parlor was spacious enough to accommodate us all. The main door and the windows were all opened to ensure better ventilation and lighting. Good enough, PHED favoured us today. The public power supply was on.
“Have you people had your lunch? What did Mercy cook?” she asked. In response, the boys chorused in reply. “We ate rice. Mercy cooked it. It is very delicious. We ate chicken too.”
Mercy who has been silent all the while asked, “Mummy, should I bring some jollof-rice for you?”
“Yes, please. I’ve not had anything much to eat since the beginning of the day.”
Mercy soon returned from the kitchen. The plate of jollof-rice on the blue plastic tray was handed over to her mum. After helping herself to a few spoonfuls, Mummy remarked, “The rice is really nice, the oil is just enough, and the fried chicken is not too oily. Mercy, you really did well with this cooking.”
Mummy always serves everybody in the house with large portions, while always reserving for herself a very small portion each time. You will think that her own small-portion was meant for a baby who recently weaned to to adult meals. I have confronted her many times, “You like to serve everybody large portion of food while reserving a little for yourself. I don’t want you doing that.”
“Well,” she will reply, “I can eat no more than my tummy can take. So, I serve myself accordingly.”
Helping her up, we found our way into the bedroom. She showered and changed into her nightgown.
Hardly has she closed her eyes in bed when someone knocked at the door.
“Who is there?” I asked.
“Willy. Somebody wants to see mummy.”
“Who is the person coming to see her just shortly after her arrival from Lagos? Don’t these people understand that she is fagged out, and she is taking her much needed rest?”
Mummy has been awake since around 2.00 am and her eyes are already heavy with sleep.
“Willy, I’ve told you before that when the door daddy and mummy’s room is locked, tell any guest that mummy (and or daddy) is in their room. Right now, she needs to rest. OK?”
Mummy on hearing that someone is here to see her stood up and tied her wrapper.
“Don’t worry, I will see the person.”
“Tell the guest that Mummy is coming out right away to see her.”
Mummy stood up to see her guest – one of our church members. Not long afterwards, she came back into our bedroom, sank into the bed and was soon asleep. I placed her two mobile phones in silence mode.
Mummy returned from Lagos on Saturday, January 3, the same day as Mercy’s birthday. Thanks are to the Lord God Almighty. We can now begin the New Year celebrations.
All of us, 2014
*****
AFTERWORD: The roads mentioned in this story have since been reconstructed into standard dual carriage expressways that run for some kilometres from the Elelenwo to Woji roundabout. They also lined the highway with street lights all over the lengths of the roads. With these developments, it is not uncommon to see many joggers and cyclists running, walking or riding out in the early hours of the morning for their morning exercises. Kudos and thanks to the present state government. Under their watch, the state government has started and completed these and many other development projects in several parts of Port Harcourt and many other parts of the state. So much has been done. So much more yet to be done.
I chronicled this story in the first week of January 2015.

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