The moment the reality struck me that today was the D-day, an uneasy wave of emotions bundled up inside of me churning my stomach to the point of nausea. It was a bittersweet feeling. This best described the condition I found myself as I packed the set of dresses inside the black box.
Everything was now ready and in a few hours, I would embark on the adventure to a new world. The preceding days have moved so swiftly and I didn’t realize it. Indeed, time runs so fast during such intense moments when we want it to slow down. Those moments when we still wish to savour the enormous love of the familial spirit that surrounds us. We don’t want to miss the fond affection of family and friends who have gathered to bid us goodbye. But today has happened so fast and there is a flight to catch.
At the airport, I was having an intense moment as I passed through the usual customs check for any illegal possession or contraband food items. They didn’t find anything implicating. The burly built uniformed man who rummaged my bag asked me:
“Anty, you get anything for us?”.
I shrugged slightly feigning ignorance of his slang expressions.
“Anty, find us small something na”. “You dey travel leave us for this country”
Now, I can no longer pretend that I do not understand his spoken parlance.
“Oga, what do you want from me? You can see I don’t have anything”.
“You see say I dey travel as a student. So, I no get money”. I gave a dry smile.
“Ah my sister, so as you fine like this, you no get anything for this your fine bag?”
With an unsmiling face, I stood fixated to the queue that was emerging fast at the check-in counter. This is really insane I whispered to myself. How did the country get entangled in this sickening wave of corruption? This surly rapacity of some officials is contemptible and disgusting. Ha, I feel for those who fall prey in the hands of these greedy men whose incivilities discredit the nation that employs them.
Oga officer gave me a probing look that seems to question the sincerity in my words. He gazed at me for a few seconds and creased his face. I stood in utter silence as I wondered at the large crowd that had emerged at the check-in counter. The airport was concentrated with anxious people. The atmosphere was deeply fierce.
“Oga, make I go queue for the line. Time is running fast and I don’t want to miss my flight”
“See, don’t let me miss my flight o, I cried out lightly. Just wish me a safe trip and God will bless you”
He looked at me like someone whose power has been ripped off him. Seeing there was no way he could persuade me to part with any cash, he sent me off with a wave of the hand.
I hurried away from the scene. I pulled off my heavy suitcase from the ground and joined the long queue of people who were eager to board their flights to their various destinations.
But did I succeed with my resolve not to be a party to bribery? Was I lucky enough to convince the next set of officers who examined my passport like it was a stolen item? No. I wasn’t fortunate with the next fiery officer who fleeced 20 Euros off me. Oh yes! Reluctantly, I released one of the Euro notes in my possession. I grimaced as I handed over the crisp twenty Euro bill to the uniformed man who looked middle age.
Was there a crime, an offense or any act of trespasses? Well, perhaps, embarking on a trip outside of Nigeria was an offense to pay dearly for. I declared the amount of foreign currency in my possession on their insistence and their greedy eyeballs bulged out of their sockets. However, this unkind experience of extortion has never happened in my vast travels to other countries of the world. It formed the first ugly incident in the chronicles of a first-time traveller!
Now, reflecting on this drama at the airport as I stretched myself on the black leathered couch, I wondered if the repulsive practices have changed from the norm of yesteryears. I know a couple of people who travelled to Lagos and returned with tales of woe not far from the old reality.
Nneka, my very good friend told me how upon arrival from the United States, a lady officer asked her 15-year-old son for an “American gift”. The poor boy who was not accustomed to such abnormal requests told the lady that he had bought no gifts for her. She then asked for money to buy something for herself. Behold, he dipped his hands into his pocket and handed the officer a 50 dollar note. Ah! A whole fifty dollar note? All these happened while Nneka struggled with the trolley oblivious of the audacity of some shameless officers. Her son had walked ahead of her, feeding his curious eyes to the chaotic atmosphere of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos.
Gosh! My head began to spin around distasteful thoughts and I felt a feverish pang. I became worried sick about the chants of “NEPA, NEPA”. Ha, electricity was a big obstruction to a good life way back. And even after these long years, I’m fervidly sure that the situation has not become any better. This is one particular problem that gives me cold chills. How can I stay without light, biko nu? Lawd, save us from the unpalatable discomfort of an excruciating heatwave.
How can I stay without electricity for a day or even for an hour? I mean how can I contemplate darkness all around me. Damn! Not again! I can’t begin to think of the insane noise from the generator. I dread noise now and don’t blame me biko. This is a new cultural acquisition. I hardly hear loud sounds in this Scandinavian haven except when I go crazy with the television volume or on occasional mornings when I get caught up in a frenzy of good music. I increase the volume to reach the high heavens on such blissful days. In other words, I detest loud sounds. Noisy conversations and thunderous laughter give me a quiver, I dare say.
Wow! How did I survive the mechanic that had a workshop just opposite our building in Lagos? I still cannot fathom how people will disturb a whole neighbourhood with their working tools in the early hours of the morning. Wait a minute! How about the reverberating sound and echoes from the Church/Mosque bells? Those resonating sounds that awaken me rudely. Thinking about those moments felt like a life in hell.
Aha, those locomotive sounds that rumble their way into my head and interrupt the reveries in my sleep? Those dings, ding, ding sounds from those we call ‘Vulcanizers’ as they keep hitting the wheels. Ha, reliving Lagos life makes me wonder how I survived the chaos in a beautiful city. Such a lawless state of affairs. Such effrontery exhibited without any regard or respect to other people’s sanity. I must have gulped down a lot of these wacko sounds and noises. Such overt actions don’t thrill me anymore neither do they sum up as tasteful humour. No. I enjoy a good comedy that is well enacted. Lagos life indeed. Nostalgic! Terror-filled. Sheer happiness! Regardless, nothing beats the taste of home. Sweet home.
And Lagos, I also heard, has still retained its boorish posture. Wow! I hope things haven’t deteriorated badly! I hope it will be positive tales next time when I scribble about these officers at the Lagos Airport. Oh well, one thing is sure, I will not be intimidated by some discourteous humans who carry out their duties with flagrant disregard and decorum for a job they are paid to do. Just negodu how some wacky fellows who reek of greed and corrupt practices extort from the citizens? Ndi oshi.
And these brazen generators ought to be discarded in this era of utter progression around the world. How is it still so that things haven’t changed much regarding the epileptic power supply? How come the rest of the world has so moved ahead while we still grope in the dark?
I felt a pang of hunger and stood up to find something to nibble. I will not succumb to any of these disenchanting absurdities at the airport again. It will not happen, I muttered faintly.
PS: Excerpt from my unpublished book.
Peace and Love!
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