“Please bear with us as we perform final checks and await clearing for take-off. In the meantime please check that your seatbelt is properly secured and all electronic devices switched off. Thank you.”
The flight attendant smiled curtly before securing the receiver for the plane’s PA system. She disappeared behind the curtain that separated the economy class from the business class. Saanyol groaned, looking up from his phone as the woman next to him tried to settle in, apologising profusely as her massive thighs pushed against him. He ignored her and spread his legs defiantly, thankful he’d bothered to charge his iPod and tablet. The flight was shaping out to be long and uncomfortable. His phone rang, Kike.
“Saan?” Her voice trembled.
“Hey, you couldn’t have called at a better time, my flight’s about to start give or take ten to fifteen minutes. What time is it over there?”
“About five am. I just wanted to ask what time you think you’ll get here. It’s not really safe for me to moving about in my current situation.”
Something about the way Kike said ‘current situation’ lit up warning flares in Saanyol’s brain but he dismissed them. She’d said they had things to talk about, things that couldn’t be discussed over the phone. There was no point getting worked up prematurely over things he would eventually get to hear in a few hours.
“Depends, but I think late afternoon, from 2pm would be a good time to get to the airport.”
“Oh, okay. See you soon.” Her voice trembled again. “I love you.”
“Err.. okay, bye.”
Saanyol ended the call by pressing down the phone’s power button till the screen blanked. He’s slid it into the front pocket of his jacket and took a deep breath to calm his racing heart, zoning out as the intercom came back on and the engines spun to life. He hated that about Kike, how easily she unsettled him; their conversation had lasted barely and minute and yet here he was, filled with dread. She was very much like his father in that respect, the only difference was that they evoked in him very different emotions. His father’s actions were deliberate, perpetrated with all the malice in the world, like making him travel back to Nigeria via Arik economy, as if he had personally taken a knife and plunged it into his father’s mother’s chest.
His ears were suddenly assaulted with the rustle of praying lips as the airplane began to speed up the runway and a collective gasp escaped the cabin as the tyres left the ground. Saanyol shook his head in disgust, everyone in the plane had fallen into a deathly silence as it ascended. Even the woman beside him; the formidable slab of fat wearing a ratty brown weave seemed to shrink and give him momentarily relief, only for her to rudely wrestle it away, literally expanding in relief as the plane levelled. Saanyol violently widened his thighs and pushed at her, thoughts of Kike and his father pushed aside by the more present need to make the flight as uncomfortable for his seat mate as she had for him.
Where are you guys now?
Kike fired another IM to Farhad and waited for a response, jiggling her foot to rid herself of the cramp that was beginning to form in her calf. Xhiz sat beside her, watching with a mix of apprehension and concern as though the slightest exertion would send her into premature labour. She shot him a very annoyed glance and he averted his eyes. In the beginning, the new docile Xhiz had appealed to her; the bleeding heart and the lack of sly comments was something she’d appreciated, a relief from the old Xhiz who would have used every opportunity to slip in snarky remarks about her getting ‘knocked up’, but right now she couldn’t deal. It was like he didn’t have any bones in him, constantly breaking into a panic if she so much as winced. It was almost 3 pm and she and Xhiz had been waiting here for nearly an hour. All thanks to her brilliant idea of coming to the airport early to beat traffic that never seemed to cease at airport road. She just hadn’t expected the place to be devoid of any real entertainment, and even worse she couldn’t even use her phone properly, lest the battery die before Saanyol arrived. Xhiz had laughed when she’d complained.
“Everyone knows all the drama happens at the departure lounge.” He’d said.
Her phone buzzed.
Just got into the car park, come and wait for us by the entrance.
“Farhad just got here with the aides.” She announced to Xhiz. “Stay here and help me find seats for the other guys far away from us while I go get them, I’ll be impossible to miss now that I look like a whale.”
Xhiz just nodded, her self-effacing joke flying right over his head. She sighed and trudged over to the entrance to wait.
The older of Farhad’s father’s aides spotted Kike first among the small crowd gathered by the transparent glass of the arrival lounge’s doors. Her stance was off, shoulders pushed back, arms dangling at her sides; the front of her maxi dress was raised by her distended abdomen as she fidgeted, facing the wrong direction.
“Oga, no be your papa sister pikin be that?” The man said, pointing at her.
Farhad rolled his eyes when he saw her. He’d told her to dress responsibly, seeing as his father was going to arrive a full hour before Saanyol did and he’d badgered her into agreeing to see him. Then he shrugged and laughed, the less responsible she looked, the easier it was going to be for her to take the heat off him. He quickened his pace and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Na wa oh!” he exclaimed theatrically. “We’re breathing the same air the second time this week, if this happens one more time you might actually start to like me again.”
Kike rolled her eyes. “Oh fuck off. What the hell kept you? We were supposed to all meet here by two.”
Farhad shrugged apologetically. “Not my fault oh, I had to go back home and pick up the Prius. Popsie has a meeting to attend as soon as he lands, and he didn’t want to do that public transport runs.”
Kike turned and started for the waiting area, Farhad fell in step beside her. “You could have just told me, instead of leaving me with Xhiz. God, the last hour has been torture. The boy literally has his period every time I move. How do you deal with that?”
“It’s not that bad. Stop exaggerating.”
“No Tomiwa, you have no fucking idea. He kept asking if I was okay and if I needed anything like every five minutes. It was fucking annoying. Like I can fucking walk, just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m a cripple. Why did he even agree to come with us sef? He says he wants to see Saanyol, but I don’t believe him.”
Farhad gave a throaty laugh, lowering his voice as they approached the row of metal chairs where Xhiz was waiting. “His anonymous bestie tweeted about coming to pick an uncle up today so he came along to see if he’d spot him. So very Romeo and Juliet.”
Xhiz turned to them at that very moment and Farhad lit up in an innocent smile. Xhiz scooted over so they could sit, before directing the guards over to the row in front of him. Now that they were at the airport, Farhad’s apprehension returned like a flood. All the psyching he had put himself through earlier in the day just melted in the face of the reality of facing Alhaji. Everything that had happened in the last six months he’d convinced his mother to keep from his father, but this new development at school had forced her to call him and give a detailed explanation of why his presence was needed so badly. The man had been furious, ending the phone call with his mother abruptly only to call him on his own phone and verbally berate him for the better part of two hours. Thankfully, his mother had obliged his pleas to slip Kike’s pregnancy into the story and his father had asked him to make sure Kike was at the airport as well when he arrived. He looked at her, glancing occasionally at her phone and then at the board that announced arrivals. She looked even more miserable than he was.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, sidling over to her.
She raised her face to him. “I still haven’t told him. It just hit me that he’s coming in two hours and I still haven’t told him.”
“But I thought his family knew.”
“Just his grandmother and I made her promise not to tell him or his parents. Not until the baby was born at least.”
“Jeez Kike! Walahi that was stupid.”
Kike glared at him. “Yeah, tell me something I don’t know.”
“My mom told popsie about this.” Farhad added succinctly, gesturing at her belly as he said ‘this’. Kike gave him a pointed look. He ignored her and spoke over her shoulder at Xhiz who was turned away from them, staring intently at a light skinned Igbo boy standing by one of the concession stores.
“Seen mystery boy yet?”
Xhiz suddenly found his fingers very interesting. “I wasn’t exactly looking for him but no.”
“Eyah! Maybe you people aren’t just destined to mee-“
Just that minute the overhead PA system crackled with static, quickly dispersed by a disembodied voice with a crisp British accent that filled Farhad with dread.
“Qatar Air flight from Dubai to Lagos has arrived. Please remain seated, passengers will exit shortly.”
Alhaji stood out almost immediately, apart from the fact that he stood a full foot taller than almost everyone exiting the plane, he bore the same striking looks as Kike’s mother; perfectly complemented by his pristine white kaftan and his Arab Keffiyeh held in place by a lopsided agal. The aides who’d been lax while they waited sprung to alertness as they spotted him, one running forward to take his hand luggage and the other taking the tags for his bigger bags and heading for the carousel. Xhiz stood a respectable distance apart from Kike and Farhad, partly out of deference for the situation and partly because he didn’t want to miss spotting the reason he’d bothered with coming along. Farhad’s father whispered something to the guard and finally walked over to Farhad and Kike.
“Sannu da Zu-“Farhad started, but the rest of the greeting was silenced by his father surprising him with an unexpectedly vicious slap to the cheek.
Farhad’s hands flew to his face and Kike took an instinctive step back, certain Alhaji’s next action would be a complimentary slap directed at her. The man didn’t seem to even notice she was there.
“I warned you, you Dan Iska! Do I look like ina da lokacin ka? You want me to start running around behind you, fixing your messes like Kaduna?”
“I swear baba, all of this was not my doi-“ Farhad tried to interject, his cheek had started to swell.
“Ka yi mun shuru Dan banza. Keep your bloody mouth shut. This was the same nonsense you said in Kaduna and I warned you. I warned you to not let this repeat itself, yet ga mu nan, doing the same nonsense all over again. I am going to that police station as soon as I finish my meeting this evening, Allah ya tsine ma, they say something contrary to all the lies you’ve been feeding your mother. I will send you so far into the Sahara, vultures picking the flesh off your withered bones will be the least of your problems. Tashi ka ba ni wuri.”
Farhad stepped aside in humiliation, ignoring the eyes that had trained on them as his father turned to Kike. She cowered in front of him, completely horrified by the spectacle that had just played out in front of her. To her surprise, his ugly visage softened into a rueful smile.
“Baby girl, it’s been a while.”
It took Kike a few seconds to gather her wits enough to form a reply. “Good evening uncle. How was the trip?”
He sighed and stepped forward, gently placing a hand on her belly. “Thankfully uneventful. This your baby is growing really fast oh. How many months along are you?”
“Just entered my third trimester sir.” She replied quietly.
“Ah, that’s good, before you know it, you’ll be in the labour room giving Farhad and his brothers their first nephew abi niece.” He grew serious. “What about your mother? Has she been around to visit you?”
“She came once.” Kike replied vaguely, unwilling to recount the disastrous visit.
“I see. That one doesn’t know she’s no longer a child. Don’t worry baby girl, I’ll give her a call as soon as I get a chance to sit in one place for more than an hour.”
The second aide joined them, dragging two suitcases and a massive knapsack on a trolley. Alhaji glared at Farhad and gestured towards the exit. He sullenly turned and started in that direction tailed by the aides. Alhaji turned back to Kike.
“You’re not coming with?”
“No sir.” Kike replied. “I was just waiting with Farhad; I’m here to pick someone else up.”
“Oh.” The man took Kike’s hand and pressed a couple thousand naira notes into them. “For your transportation. Baby girl, please don’t let the small one come before you introduce him to his small uncles. My house is always open to you.”
“Thank you sir.” Kike grinned with tears in her eyes. With a final glance, Alhaji left to join his posse, his kaftan swirling around him like a spectral cloak.
“Wow! Your uncle is all kinds of intense.” came Xhiz’s voice beside her ear. She swivelled to him and shrugged his hand off her shoulder, an eyebrow raised as high as it would go.
“Is that why you refused to come over and introduce yourself?”
Xhiz smiled guiltily. “You people seemed to be having a family moment, the opportunity just never presented itself.
The intercom crackled to life again, this time announcing the arrival of the JFK – LOS flight. Kike felt her legs go wobbly, her mind flashing to how disastrously things had turned out for Farhad mere moments before. She clasped Xhiz’s hand for support, a long forgotten prayer imprinting itself on her consciousness.
Saanyol blanched as he caught sight of himself in one of the stainless steel panels of the baggage carousel. There was dried drool on his left shoulder from where the fat mami had tried to use his shoulder as a pillow. His hair was a mess and his shirt was wrinkled. Kind of apt for how his life felt right now. He was just a bundle of loose ends and unfinished pieces. He had no idea what he was going to do with himself now that he was back in the country. He was almost sure his father wouldn’t send him back, not with his grandmother gone and all the unfortunate events that had led him to this very moment. He spotted his single travel box and pulled it off the rotating ramp, pushing his way through the crowd at the carousel and making for the corridor that led to the arrival lounge.
Kike was waiting as he hoped, as beautiful as he remembered. Xhiz was beside her, that one he hadn’t expected. He noticed her wrest her hand free of Xhiz’s and wondered what that was about, were they a couple now or something? As he drew closer, he noticed there was something off about Kike; it was as if she’d gained weight but not really. The fat was in her cheeks and her arms and her belly. It seemed concentrated in her belly but that meant? His eyes widened as he exited the corridor and the realisation hit him. Kike was pregnant, heavily.
Kike looked into his eyes, and smiled sadly.