Funke shut her eyes, fastened her seat belt and gently placed her head on the head rest as the pilot announced the commencement of descent into Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport. It was her ritual to keep any chance of motion sickness in check. Gone are the days she got motion sick in air, not even when she went on a boat ride. Quite an affliction. She remembered the lake experience. The aura rushed up on her as the waves rocked the boat and churned her belly. Thankfully, the engine was ignited and the boat powered steadily against the waves. The smooth ride and the freshness of the morning breeze gently blowing across her face terminated the motion sickness aura. While fresh air was a luxury on an air craft, her frequent travels have perhaps contributed to the end of her need to pop anti-emetic pills before every travel. It has been a pretty hectic month; one she had prepared for months ahead. As the product manager for a new product launching in sub-saharan Africa with so much emphasis on Nigeria – the renowned Giant of Africa, Funke had literally lived in air for the past 8months, and slept at her desk most nights, connecting with Skype meetings across different time zones. She could count the number of nights she slept in her house, as much as she could not count the nights she spent in hotels. She was a regular flyer, making impromptu flights to Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt. She flew to Ghana and Kenya every other month as well to ensure a successful launch. It was important that the pilot phase had Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya hitting the tarmac and running for Sub-saharan Africa to be effectively penetrated. Once, she flew to Abu Dhabi for a Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-saharan executive meeting, and the past one week has been in Paris, presenting her reports on a successful product launch, and a business plan for the coming fiscal year. Her Oxford MBA has been put to the test and withstood the storms of recession and poverty. She struggled to understand how foreign companies came up with a, positive slope on such a graph, expecting huge returns from two hundred million people, ninety million of whom live in poverty. Yet, they get results. Be it compliant or not, Nigerians adopt local strategies, culturally innovate, exert themselves, and get results. The aircraft danced closer to the ground as airhostesses with luscious red lips prompted passengers at the window seat whose window blinds were pulled down to lift them up and sit up. Funke held her breath with every anticipation of the wheels hitting the tarmac. While some pilots are skilled in gradually bringing the plane down till the wheels softly kiss the tarmac affectionately, others have not mastered the art and go in there to challenge the tarmac, making the experience quite jarring for a sensitive passenger. Perhaps It was a thing of personality difference: aggressive pilots and the tarmac attack. A gentle smile spread across her face when the wheels softly touched the tarmac. She opened her eyes and said a silent prayer for the pilot, her crew, and the journey.
“Welcome to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. The local time is 9:00 AM, temperature is 37 degrees centigrade, and humidity is 30%…” The pilot’s feminine voice came through with further instructions and regulations for passengers as they grabbed their hand luggage in readiness to hop out of the craft in the typical Nigerian manner.
Funke would always prefer flying into Abuja over Lagos. The blast of warm and moist air from the ocean that hits your face when you step out of an aircraft in Lagos, the rickety escalators, airport staff harassing you for bribery, poor aesthetics and lightening, wet bathrooms, and lack of privacy in bathrooms because cleaners are watching over you like hawks, lest you escape before they could beg you for money were things she never experienced in Abuja airport. While Lagos lays claim to panache, which they sometimes interpret as finesse, Abuja is finesse to Funke, within the confines of the Nigerian standard. Funke rode the escalator, taking in the dazzling effects of fluorescent lights as they fall on polished stainless steel surfaces and the marble floor. Lights pouring on ladies dressed in beautiful Ankara, embellished with stones, made their outfits and veils glisten and brightened their faces with an angelic glow.
Funke found herself a seat at the lounge while waiting for her luggage, and was unaware that she had dozed off till her phone vibrated and jerked her to consciousness. She fetched it from her bag and saw that it was her friend and colleague, Tosin.
“Yay! Babe! You’ve landed. Where you at?”
“I just touched base, babes” she stifled a yawn and inhaled deeply “I have to call you back, dear. Femi is calling and he just might be here already.”
“No qualms. Make sure you call me”
“Sure”. Funke dropped the call and quickly returned Femi’s call.
“Swidy” Femi’s voice came through.
“Babe” Funke wheeled her luggage towards security clearance “I should be out in less than 10”
“Take your time, love” Femi chuckled “Just stay on the phone”
“I miss you” Funke got mushy as she exchanged romantic remarks with Femi over the phone.
Femi was waiting at the arrival of the international terminal. Dressed in a pair of hand-made leather slippers, bespoke blue kaftan, and a pair of sunglasses, he looked dashing as a “Yoruba demon” with a touch of northern elegance. Yoruba men were rechristened “Yoruba demons” by ladies who suffered heartbreaks at the hands of the irresistible chocolate handsomeness – the charm that lures your heart with affection, into the coven of a heartbreak. Airport security ensures a reasonable distance between arrivals and airport visitors. Funke would not miss his smile in a sea of a thousand men. A six feet, two inches monument of African grace, with a smile potent enough to reconcile warring nations, Funke did not miss the piece of gold necklace on him from a distance. That was the complete package of a casually dressed Yoruba man. His smile flashed from when he sighted her and held steady as she found her way past security protocols to the waiting area. It delighted him to see her blush as observers trained their eyes on her and directed their gaze to him. As a shy person, she does not love attention though she enjoys, and she loves it when it comes from Femi, the custodian of public display of affection.
Femi stepped out of the waiting towards her as she closed in on the visitor’s waiting area to grab her luggage. One of the airport hustlers ran past him towards her and grabbed her bag quite violently.
“What is wrong with you. Kí ló dé báyìí?” Funke lashed out at him.
“Aunty mi, ẹ máà bínú mà” The young guy prostrated. “Welcome ma. I’m sorry ma. God bless you ma” He repeatedly bowed looking from her to Femi for approval.
“Did he hurt you babe?” Femi asked with concern, lifted her wrist and gently massaged it. He looked into her face and saw that smile, the same he has come to know quite frankly. He knew it hurt her. “I’m sorry, love” he drew her into a hug “Let him help with the bags”.
“I did not take the trolley because I didn’t have much to carry” she responded.
“That’s okay” he ran his hand down her hair. “Look at who we have here! I’ve missed you! “he pulled away from her and they both laughed. “Sir, please be careful with those bags” he motioned at the young man to go ahead with the bags.
“Thank you, sir! God bless you sir” the young man bowed, picked the boxes and wheeled them ahead of the couple with some alacrity, hoping to return to more business from returning travelers. Femi remotely opened the booth and the young man carefully positioned the luggage and carry-on in the booth. “Thank you, sir! God bless you sir!” this was his means of notifying customers that he has rendered a service and could use some remuneration. Femi smiled at the zeal, beyond his marketing strategy, the boy sure had some ethics, culture, and rugged innocence going on for him. Femi observed as they walked a distance behind him that he brought out a napkin from his back pocket with which he wiped off perceived dust from the boxes before lifting them with the such caution, as though they had dragon eggs in them.
“What’s your name?” Femi asked.
“Ali, sir. My name is Ali”
“kana yin harshen hausawa? Femi asked if he spoke Hausa.
“Ní bahaushe ne” Ali beat his chest “Suna na Ali”
“I heard you speak fluent Yoruba a while ago” Femi looked at him intently.
“Ina iya bayane a harshen Hausa sosai. Hausa yare na ne” Ali reassured him of his Hausa roots “I spent some years on the streets of Lagos. Na for there I learn Yoruba” he ended in pidgin.
Femi flipped open his wallet and handed Ali a thousand naira note. Ali looked at his face with a lot of questions as though he was about to make a mistake. People often gave him fifty naira, and in very generous settings, two hundred naira.
“Have it” Femi nodded to assure him. He perfectly understood his hesitation but did not expect his reaction. Ali collected the money with both hands as a show of respect and went on his belly, prostrating in gratitude.
“C’mon! Get up!” Femi was embarrassed by the gesture. Though respectful of culture, he is not stuck on some parameters by which respect was judged, chief of which included kneeling and prostration. He had no obsessive-compulsive disorder, but he was too germophobic to see people’s hands and knees on the ground. Femi sized him up and estimated his age to be roughly eighteen years. He handed him his card and asked him to give him a call the following day.
“Nagode, sir! Thank you, sir!” Off he ran to accost newly arrived passengers.
“You have a thing for that guy” Funke stroked his hand as he set the gear in drive.
“I just like him. I’m drawn to him…” he kept his feet on the brakes, applying pressure to keep the automobile still, then he drew her face for a kiss “… but I love you”.
“I almost forgot you do” She rolled her eyes “Seeing that you almost proposed to him while I sat here watching the bromance”.
Femi found her jealousy hilarious and laughed. “Look at that!” he scanned her from head to toe “What has Paris done to my babe? I thought she’s never jealous “
“I’m just stressed, dear” Funke stifled a yawn.
“I’m sorry, luv.” Femi rubbed her thigh as though massaging some apology into it. “Start resting from here. ETA is 40mins and you can have all the rest you deserve when we get home. We’re going to mine, right? He searched her eyes to be sure he has not made plans against her wish.
“I’d love that” she smiled wryly.
“How’s your body, babe?” Femi looked visibly concerned at the smile he’s come to know so well.
“Hurts much, but I’m good.” She feigned a reassuring smile.
“Hope Ali didn’t hurt your arm with the luggage tussle? “he asked as he pulled out of the parking lot and joined the traffic exiting the airport.
“Not much “she responded.
“But you know you can always tell me how you feel as many times as you desire to, right?” he glanced at her for affirmation.
“I know babe…” she held his hand “…and I love you.”
“I’m here for you, Funky babe! “He raised his vocal pitch “…and this is the point we blow off the stereo for the amaze balls wonders that you pulled in the continent. Girl! you killed Paris as well. You did that!”
Funke smiled from her heart and basked in the moment. Of course, she did that. It was time to pat her own back and slap herself some high-fives, and since she has not stopped to that, it is okay to stop and allow others slap her a high-five. She remembered she promised Tosin a call back and made a mental note to return her call before the day was over.
“She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire” Alicia Keys’ voice pierced the speakers and filled the SUV.
“Dayum!” She exclaimed when she realised that Femi selected it for the moment. She looked at him with admiration as he descended the airport bridge to join Musa Yar’Adua expressway.
“Oh, she got both feet on the ground
And she’s burning it down
Oh, she got her head in the clouds
And she’s not backing down”
Femi joined Alicia in a tenor harmony, singing to the fill of his heart and thumping the wheels.
“This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She’s walking on fire
This girl is on fire”
Funke caught the bug on the chorus and joined the chorale ensemble. She was the girl of the moment. If there was anything she had learnt in the past eighteen years, it was to live for the moment. This was her moment. From one track to another, Femi sped past vehicles on airport road in a pleasure ride and reduced his speed to 120kmph as he approached the city gate. This was one of his favourite views of Abuja – the visible city centre from the city gate, and its romantic view of an expanse of smooth roads and beautiful architecture. He descended the bridge after national stadium to connect with Nnamdi Azikiwe expressway.
“Would you like to pick anything from the mall?” he asked before it was too late to use the multiple exits on the highway that connected with various malls.
“Nothing comes to mind” She responded.
“Then we zoom down to Maitama! Woohoo!” Femi increased his acceleration as though he was at a road show. Well, it was nothing unusual. The average Abuja driver is a speedster and if you drove an AMG GLC 43 4MATIC Coupe, you just might have earned your class on the road.
“Girls, we run this motha, yeah!” Beyoncé reverberated from the speakers.
“You’re the best, Femi!”
“I love how you deliberately selected your tracks to celebrate me”
She momentarily forgot her fatigue and p. She was overjoyed.