Pilot Fourteen: A Short Story by Tega Oghenechovwen

Image: Public Domain Mark 1.0 via Flickr

Image: Public Domain Mark 1.0 via Flickr

Dada pounds on the door with the brass knocker.

He can see footwear of different sizes and style around his legs and can hear excited voices making risible comments. They tell on the heavy presence of different people united by their love for the ball rolling behind the door.

He does not know who owns the apartment but he is impressed by the owner’s receptiveness.

He has hosted people himself at different times but not this much, especially when electricity got kidnapped from their world, coinciding with long awaited football games, such as now; times when the whole neighborhood roars “bastards!”, “fools!”, “wicked idiots!”, and other insults in unison to the power distribution company as if it was near to them like the gorge that runs through their backs. This night, his generator −an equipment the size of his fourteen inch TV− that had topped him in the power struggle had failed him and bleated like a choking goat just when his neighbours knocked on his door, teeming with eagerness; it was his edge over them and he cherished it like a weapon of mass control. “Dada we have come o!”, “Dada, our power man, put on your generator!” Those threadbare words were their open sesame into his apartment. He was their plan B. But Like spirits in search for plan C or a powerful power man, the seven impatient guys who had burst into his room with the hope of viewing the match there, vanished into thin air when the word “goooal!” floated in from the mouth of the night, shaking the ribs of the earth.

Now he is here, perhaps where the seven of them are.

A shaft of bright light washes his face as the door opens. He smiles at the hairy cleavaged lady who tells him ‘Hi!’, and he wonders how on earth she got her dimple embedded cheeks. He does not know her name, but when with his friends, she is referred to as ‘rainbow girl’ for one thing: her hanging numerous and colourful panties regularly in the open. They would go on to talk about how it was obscene and shameful for a lady to do so, yet they would spread their own underpants in the open too after washing them because theirs go by the name ‘boxer shorts’ and were often carved out  of  thicker fabric. Ladies’ were an eyesore!

Just as he is about to say something, a man his own age rushes over to the door. He thanks and relieves the girl with a tap on her back and says to Dada ‘Brother, welcome!’ while opening the door wider with his warm countenance. The light in the corridor makes the man’s hair, rinsed in brown dye, to take a golden look, and shows chimera spitting a wild fire on his left lower arm.

Dada’s vision immediately startles him as if he has slipped into an optical illusion; as if he has seen a curse. It is not the female monster with a lion’s head, the body of a goat and a tail of a snake, on the man’s arm that puts him off; neither is it the spikiness of his hair. The things that come to Dada’s mind are like puffs of smoke which have taken on a chair rather than drifting away; they are solid but very gaseous. They never diffuse, and they never expire.

So this is where he lives… this good for nothing man!

The man at the door is the same man he saw some nights earlier in a car, cuddling another man with the air of a person who wanted to desperately make love; a man who wears trousers, carries funny bags, and walks and speaks and behaves in ways that have an anti-masculine slant; whom for all these reasons has earned the name ‘Pilot Fourteen’ from Dada and his cohorts who are enchanted by the law of their country – a hasty law which reserves fourteen-year jail term for lesbians and also, for gays.

‘He is flying the craft of his doom.’ Dada once spilled out to his friends.  One of them had slapped himself on his thigh as he laughed raucously, saying ‘A pilot? Dada, you are very witty. He better leave Nigeria for America.’ And, another who finally lit up the name added, ‘Or else, he will soon be sentenced to fourteen-year imprisonment. Even Obama will not be able to help our Pilot fourteen when the time comes.’ and told the fold how he had seen a man with orange tinted lips and shaved eyebrows using an ATM. They laughed that day and the day after, and have kept on laughing. Dada knew the pilot lives in the estate but he did not know where his cockpit was.

So this is where he lives… this evil man!

When he was in high school, he had joined his mates in preying on two boys whom they had tailed under a blustery rain to an abandoned toilet in their hostel. They caught them with the pictures of nude men who had oiled bodies, and caught them too in the act –an act of slaking which they called bestial and demonic.


−And of course, touching!

It was in the dark, and the tears rimmed eyes of the victims reflected anguish as torches pierced them and as they received the kicks and blows and all that was invented by cruelty. Dada decided that the place steamed with the smell of evil spunk and for that reason, had asked the sinners to scrub the floor and walls and air with antiseptic soap and water till the veins in their hands became inflamed and almost snapped.

Through his mental eyes, Dada could still see one of them coughing out blood after the correctional processes. Yet, he does not feel bad about it.

So this is where he lives; this faggot, this sodomite, this good for nothing man? So this is where he lives?

Dada writhes internally as if rubbed by the callous hands of irritation; he wants to free himself from the gay man’s presence before he pukes. He imagines that the two toilet boys have melted into the figure before him, and he wishes they had died in that toilet.

A shard from his thought circumcises his tongue, and then, he allows the hate in his heart to fill and give him an incorrigible sense of direction, forcing his stony face to blurt the words: ‘I –I want to buy airtime card.’ And, he almost shudders out of disgust.

The man cants his head to the left in a quick study of the scenario that is playing out; he sees the lies as they corrugate Dada’s face, and can also perceive a burnt smell. He is wise enough to know that something is combusting beneath Dada’s skin. He knows Dada is reacting against his existence. But he has seen tougher times like being refused entry into a church on a Jesus’ Sunday, and been denied his right to purchase by a self righteous woman who owns a shop near the estate and had scornfully told him “I do not have!” Yet, what he wanted to buy – a common pack of water, was just close to her; perhaps not for people like him −they were not to drink. The silent charges Dada levels in his heart against him are too infinitesimal to mean much. His everyday life is a war with unsolicited moralists and pachydermatous chiders.

‘Oh, I thought you are here to view the match.’ The man says nonchalantly. His smile becomes bolder when one of the people who had left Dada’s house for the current location calls from within, ‘Dada come in, there is space here!’ But Dada does not allow himself to hear these words. If he does, he will have to spit at them –physically.

‘I do not sell airtime cards, but you can check the woman with a shop near the estate.’ And then, he adds ‘This is like eleven p.m., she must have turned in, anyway.’

Dada stumbles away with his teeth gnashing. He is going to miss the final game of the tournament. Damn it! And so be it! He does not care, so long he does not get diseased.


Dada stares at the same brass knocker a fortnight later.

This time around, he finds his feet stuck in front of where he now knows to be the pilot’s cockpit; now, he is an alternant of his former self. His droopy shoulder and insipid face are receipts of purgation and brokenness. He raises his hands to lift the knocker but cannot bring himself to touch it, not out of repugnance but of the shame that has been torturing him since he was told these words by rainbow lady after he had come back from a hospital, looking like the carbon copy of a ghost:

“Thank your God and thank Charles too. You would have been deceased. Charles was the one who dived into that angry water and fished you out and even gave you CPR too, when almost everybody had run away for fear of police trouble.”

They had been at a beach party thrown by their landlord, an ebullient man who was celebrating his fiftieth birthday. Dada attended with the other tenants in the estate. After they had sung for the celebrant and joined him in dancing azonto and also played a football game refereed by the searing sun, a few of them plunged into the asylum of the choppy water. He had seen the wiry body of Pilot Fourteen sitting alone on the shore with a green panama over it. But Dada thought of it not more than he would think of a bag of dust when Pilot dropped his knitting and doffed his hat in greeting.

‘Who is Charles?’ He did not know. He asked her with a sober curiosity.

‘Don’t you know Charles? The one you guys in the estate call Pilot whatever.’ Her breathy voice cranked up.

At that moment of revelation, he was stung by the smallness and coldness of his own mind. He could not reply. She waved her hands in front of his face and said, ‘Brown haired Charles? You still don’t know him?’

Dada had written him off as a clothed taboo the first day he saw him. He never would have believed such a person could benefit humanity. He never bothered to believe that the pilot had a better name. As rainbow girl left him, he knew he had to revamp his mind because taboos were not life preserving, neither did any have a compassionate heart. He knew that he had to disgorge the bile he had used in galvanizing his perception of his saviour.

So this is where he lives… the man who had launched into the deep for me!

As he stares blankly at the brass knocker, he remembers how he had guzzled three bottles of beer after eating a lucky lap of turkey, and had swum away from the beach into the sea and lost his rhythm when simultaneous bulges of water attacked him. He was drunk and drowning.

Suddenly, he hears the creaking of the door handle.

Charles’ vision startles him as he comes out. He is surprised to see Dada.

So here comes Charles, the man who saved my life!

A docket of thoughts roams his mind: What is he supposed to say to him? Is he to bow or kneel or prostrate before he says anything? How is he supposed to apologize? Is he to rent his clothes and put on sack cloth and sit on a pile of ash in front of his saviour’s door?  He does not know. But, he knows for sure that an ordinary “Thank you” and “I am Sorry” will not suffice.

‘Hello, good morning. How are you feeling?’ Charles breaks the Ice.

Dada hastily replies his greeting, adding a golden ‘sir’ at the end and says, ‘Please, I have sincerely come to thank you for rescuing me. I was told everything by uh −the rainbow girl.’ He nudges his head with his hands and continues; ‘I mean the lady whom I met here the other day.’

‘Oh, you should be thanking the Red Cross of whom I belong. It was none of me, but all of humanity.’ Charles says shrugging of Dada’s appreciation and that stiff and honorific word, ‘sir’. And then, he checks the face of his wristwatch for the time. Seeing he is running behind his schedule, he stretches forth his hands by way of formal introduction and conclusion, and then says ‘Dada, right? I am Pilot Charles the fourteenth.’ He stresses the muscles of the words ‘pilot’ and ‘fourteenth’, while shaking Dada’s hands.

‘Oh! No. But I was about to apologize for that; the −the name, Pilot Fourteen−.’ He splutters. His voice is weak and smothered by remorse.

‘It’s okay!’ Charles severs the supply of Dada’s words; he has a premonition that they will be over burnished with guilt. ‘I hear everything and understand, and have also let it pass. But you shouldn’t feel bad again.’ Dada is surprised to hear these words; he thought Charles would shylockingly ask for a pound of flesh. In his disbelief, he tries to look at him, but a force sends his eyes to the ground as if in search for penance. Charles wants to dispel the gauze of friction that is smoking in the air; he wants to make trivial the past without minimizing or selling out his cherished peculiarities, and so he says,

‘Dada, you walk by commonsense; but when my colleagues and I fly as pilots in our airspace, we fly by biological instructions.’ These words overwhelm Dada and cause his Adam’s apple to twitch like the tail of a rattle snake. As Dada turns to leave, Charles remembers something: ‘By the way, I now sell phone cards.’ He says this without any scintilla of derision, but he can see how the words strains Dada’s psyche, and so he takes an oath with the trueness of his caliber, ‘I swear! I am for real, I mean it.’ Before Dada’s Adam’s apple twitches again, he continues: ‘And, please, the girl you refer to as “rainbow lady” −her name is Banke −or to be precise: Adebanke. She sells fairly used panties −okrika. You should forgive her for washing and spreading out some of her stock when they get dusty. She hears things too.’


Image: Public Domain Mark 1.0 via Flickr

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