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Charles Martins | An airborne affair

I had always imagined myself many times, aboard a plane, going on a vacation to some pretty island with long white beaches. Here I was now in a plane, drifting through the air, looking at the white clouds as I lifted away from a place I called home. ‘Called’, because right now, I’m set on a mission to find a new home, like stepping out of Ur, for Canaan.

Scary even, is the thought that I had left at midnight, phone in the lagoon behind my house, with no intention whatsoever to get a new one until I was far away from my home. In my journal are three numbers, the embassy’s, my mother’s and the One I love.  I’ll only call them when the clouds are clear; the ones in my head of course, and that would be when I find my new home.

My soul is troubled, and like a can of spoilt food pressured from decay, I might burst. Refreshing my mind was what I thought I needed but each passing day, my senses strained and cursed from an all too familiar environment. It was pretty much everything that irritated me even if I could argue endlessly that my life felt right. I just didn’t feel right, and I had this need to shift everything, to upturn what was a certain future.

It bothered me as much as it did my friend, Francis. Francis was the only one who knew where I would be. I wondered who would miss me and who wouldn’t. Not because I cared, but because I worried that there would be pictures of my face all over the internet as a missing person. Especially since I had left my home unannounced and abruptly.

It’s nothing really, this act. I do not feel intense emotions, just a lack of hope and thrill in the life I had established at home. I wasn’t looking for danger or excitement, I wanted a new charge of my senses to feel differently outside of everything I had always known. To dazzle my own mind with new information: new food, new place, new language and new faces.

It’s a selfish act, I know. After my heartbreak, it was the only act left in sight. I wouldn’t pin this act on that heartbreak, but love lost made me realise a new life was what I needed. As I stared at the brochure in my hands and the language book that had Japanese written all over. I knew I was going too far. I felt the fear, the rush to my head but not once did I sense regret.

As I lifted my head from my preoccupation, I saw there right in front of me, this little girl. She had straight silky hair with wide eyes, eyes too wide for an Asian. But from the way she hugged the Caucasian who held her I knew why. She looked at me wearily, like she had the weight of the world on her. She had rosy cheeks which gave her the look of a distressed girl with wisdom behind her wide eyes that showed no brightness. I smiled at her and made a funny face. She smiled ever so tiredly, like she couldn’t dare but manage a small tilt of her lips, a dimple appearing on her right cheek.

I imagined having one of my own someday, a vivid image of a small two-year-old hugging me on my trip back from work. She’d be mixed too, hair nothing like mine—I did hate my hair texture because it tangled easily. But even now when I thought of the future, I still didn’t visualise a wife who wasn’t the one I already loved—and she wasn’t Caucasian in any way.

The Japanese woman seated by the Caucasian stared, a disapproving one; I assumed she was the girl’s mother as she turned her away. In Africa, I had heard of racism unspoken, it wasn’t cruel or loud. It was just there: an uncomfortable stern look and then diverting eyes. I hoped she was 1% of a larger population. And even as she whispered to the Caucasian seated beside her who turned back to slightly glance at me, I knew it was still pretty much alive.

“Tea or Coffee, sir?” I had no use for coffee on this trip. I had wanted to write on my little laptop but even now, I was too tired to move my fingers.

“Tea”.

And tea did she bring! The impulse was sudden—to spit it out, but I managed to catch myself in time. It was a shock for me, and more like a culture shock. I had expected a cocoa beverage but here I was faced with something that tasted like grass water. Apparently, I hadn’t asked for a sweetener. Took all my self-resolve to swallow this green monstrosity, and even as I stared at the cup, I realised that I’d have to spend several years in Japan. Trying every tea there was till it was a culture I loved. Back home in Nigeria, tea meant cocoa, milk, and sugar.

I finished the steaming experience of bitterness that made my eyes sting with each gulp. I sank deeper into my seat, willing myself to take a nap. I placed my eye binder gently over my face. I thought of home, the smell of my room came back to me, sharply at first but dissipating as I slowly lost consciousness.

I woke up startled. There seemed to be a disturbance. Promptly I pulled my eye blinder off and looked around. There she was, two rows behind me across the aisle to the left, a pale white lady with wrinkled skin clutching her chest and gasping for breath. The confusion was intense as everyone seemed to be rattling in Japanese. Duolingo didn’t do much for me all of last month as my head couldn’t pick up a word. It looked like a heart problem but I had only done two years of medical school before I had switched to philosophy—a decision that strained my relationship with my mother at the time. I wasn’t going to be of much help here. I stared on as the ruckus continued, willing that someone did something.

Help came through in cornrows and hoop earrings, a beautiful black woman unfazed by the ruckus, just mechanically going through the motions, as she stabilised the woman and took her away towards the tail end of the plane. I was very much awake now and wondered where we were.

As I looked out the window, the darkness wouldn’t let me make sense of anything below. No lights to outline a city or town; just pitch darkness. Perhaps we were now crossing a water body which was definitely not the Pacific — I had once thought that I would cross that water body since it was the closest to Asia. It was astonishing to think of how badly wrong I was since I read that planes never flew over the Pacific. I looked at my wrist watch and was pacified by the length of time that had passed. It had been a full day and 26 minutes since I left home. I patted myself on the back for not chickening out.

I resumed my slouched position on my seat and sighed heavily, turning on my laptop to continue to work. I got no motivation. I was unsure of what I intended to do. So, my eyes wandered, looking up from my laptop to explore the cabin.

I saw her, the rosy-cheeked child with the Caucasian, she looked at me with those pleading eyes, still tired as ever. The Caucasian was pulling her along, her tiny left arm was outstretched. She must have been trying to get her mother’s attention before her eyes met mine.

Her mouth made a downward smile line, like a sad emoji. I felt a sense of danger, something wasn’t right. I looked over to where her mother should be seated and I noticed how she looked away, out the window, paying no attention to the child. The Caucasian pulled her along, tugging her gently as tears brimmed in her eyes. They both headed in my direction, the Caucasian whispering words to her that I could not hear.

They passed by me, her eyes still pleading and her lips trembling as tears filled her eyes. I lowered my head staring at my computer so as to not give away my interest. I looked away looking in front of me.

As I raised my head, I saw her, the Asian woman. She was watching, not just them but everyone else. Perhaps, to see how many of us had eyes on them too. As her eyes scanned the cabin, I quickly turned my eyes back to my computer, squinting to feign concentration. Everything was so wrong that night, and even when I shook my head several times to pretend it was nothing, I couldn’t help it. My heart was pounding, the chimes of the clock on my wrist sounded louder than ever.

“Damn it!”, I said under my breath. I slipped my eye blinder on and plugged in my ear pods. But my mind was preoccupied by buzzing electricity. The soft music did nothing to distract me from it. My senses seemed rather heightened and no matter how many sheep I counted, I did not fall asleep. I eventually turned off the music, but left my ear pods in, just because they felt comfortable.

I heard footsteps again. The steps were not slow like a person that had just woken up, as would have been expected of anyone at this hour. These were angry flip-flops slapping the sole of its owner aggressively as they zoomed down the hall. When I was sure they were past my seat, I pulled off the eye blinder to look behind me and there she was, the Asian woman going the same way the rosy-cheeked girl and her Caucasian father had gone. I could feel my throat tighten and my ears get very hot. I had to do something to get this thought out of my head.

I turned away, managing deep breaths. Intrusive thoughts took over and then I slid out into the aisle as she disappeared down the aisle. I was cautious to walk slowly, almost like I had no feet, tempted once to pull off my slip-ons and hold on to them. I ended up just tiptoeing instead.

I was near the end of the cabin. I could hear hushed sounds in the toilet just where I stood. But these weren’t Japanese. It was English as I made out the word, “Molly”. That was probably the name of the girl, I thought.

I stood close by, just enough to walk away if I suddenly sensed them trying to leave. I strained my ears, trying to get every word. It wasn’t hard to sense that the man was pissed about something. At first it sounded like Molly was the problem. Molly was not secured. Then Molly could get them in trouble. I kept imagining the small girl getting them in trouble. How?

My God! Maybe they had kidnapped her, that would explain her so different look from the Caucasian, even if she looked almost Asian like the woman. The Asian woman was very concerned about the child but only in a different way, something about keeping her calm. She mentioned ‘chloral hydrate’ and I froze. That would explain her tired eyes and the eerily calm demeanour for a child. I kicked myself twice for not detecting this earlier. I tiptoed away hurriedly, I couldn’t stay longer, it was too risky to stand around to the end.

As I slid into my seat, reaching for my eye blinder in time, the toilet door at the far end of the cabin opened. That was close. I sat calmly and listened to their footsteps and I could have sworn that it stopped for a bit near my seat. I held my breath. In retrospect, I really should have snored a little.

I must have been so lost in thoughts because when I finally peeled the binder off and peered outside my window, I could see a streak of light; the sun was rising behind the clouds. People had begun to stir, perhaps I could call a few people’s attention to it, but who would believe a black young man against a couple with a beautiful kid? I’m sure they had the best alibi against people like me.

Dang it! Where was she when I needed her the most? I chewed at my nails. In her defence, I had been the one who abandoned her. Her number was still in my journal but I couldn’t call because I had no phone. I didn’t want to be in Japan anymore. I just wanted off the plane but not without the girl with the rose-coloured cheeks though.

She isn’t my responsibility, or is she? Perhaps this was some grand plan; some grand call to save the girl. Was that why I had to leave my home so badly to get on this plane? I’m an atheist for God’s sake! This made no sense. I was restless, unable to sit still. I stood up.

I was visibly shaking in the aisle and I could see an old man cocking his head curiously in my direction.

To the toilet, Charles, the same toilet where you first found the truth. Your answers might be there.

Soon, I was standing in the small toilet looking around for any clue. Perhaps something they had dropped, like I see in the movies.

Nothing.

There was no clue lying around like I had assumed. Someone was tapping on the toilet door, repeatedly. It sounded like a case of bad diarrhoea. My head was throbbing and I could feel a headache coming. I stepped out once again onto the aisle and I could see her resting on his shoulder, her peaceful face in this deep sleep. She was probably drugged again. My heart took a deeper dive. The pilot’s voice boomed over the sound system, announcing the descent. Time was running out and with all that hustle and bustle of the airport, I would surely lose sight of her. My eyes remained trained on the back of their heads even as I fastened my seat belt. The descent was slower than I could bear. The minute the wheels touched the ground, I unbuckled my seatbelt.

The Caucasian was grabbing the suitcase just above him, quickly darting his eyes around, scanning the room. His eyes must have locked with mine while he scanned and as he turned to look again at me, I quickly averted my eyes, pretending to look around the room. I turned with a smile on my face, pretending to smile at a stranger just for show. My eyes locked on hers, the beautiful black woman with the hoop earrings smiled back in response to my attempt. It was the doctor who had saved the old woman from before. She was wearing an African print. She must be African like me, she would probably understand me.

So, I grabbed my suitcase and decided to talk to her about it. I heard a male voice very close by.  I turned and it was the Caucasian. He was offering to help the frail woman who had had a minor heart attack earlier. She was still pale and needed all the help she could get. What was he up to now? I watched them closely, completely engrossed. The woman and her kid had already alighted.

The black lady I had smiled at tapped me, making me jump a little. She giggled.

“Did I scare you? What are you so engrossed in?”

When she spoke, I could hear her African accent, and surely that smile and flirty eyes must have mistaken my earlier smile for romantic interest. I flirted a little, calling her a superhero for her earlier act and offering to carry her bag as we deplaned.

In the open air, the cold struck me harder than I imagined. There was a light rain. I had never imagined that summer would come with this amount of cold and rain in Japan. Monsoons, maybe. Even as droplets ran down my face, I didn’t lose sight of them.

Nyong’o, the black woman who was my new confidant, listened to me attentively, expressing shock when I finished my story. She warned me not to get myself too involved. She was fearful that being black could single us out if we tried to intercept. She also confirmed my fears of the child being drugged with chloral hydrate. So, we kept our distance watching as the Caucasian held on to the woman’s bags. They were larger than the suitcase he had taken from the compartment.

I was still watching him when he asked the old woman to hold on to his small suitcase as he held onto hers when they went through the door. We walked past the entrance, I saw the woman and her child sitting in the corner by a water dispenser. My eyes were focused on the little girl who stirred now in the Japanese woman’s lap rubbing her eyes. She hugged the Japanese woman and mouthed something while hugging her neck. From where I stood, I could swear I had heard her say, Mum.

Mum? She wasn’t being kidnapped? The Japanese woman had cleared her bags and had them at her feet as she put them all in a trolley while seated. I felt slightly stupid now, and Nyong’o chuckled when I mentioned it. She called me a cute detective while touching my neck and looking deep into my eyes. Maybe the chloral hydrate had been for the child’s insomnia, it wasn’t uncommon, Nyong’o said, dispelling my fears. She had her pretty brown eyes staring deep into mine. They had a hue that was almost comforting. Now that my heart wasn’t distracted with the mission of saving a two-year-old, I could see the desire in Nyong’o’s eyes. I was holding my bag, and my breath felt laboured. I would have had an erection if it wasn’t so damn cold.

The barking came loudly. Three dogs sniffed around the briefcase, as I saw the Caucasian backing away from the officer. The officer held his suitcase with the dogs at his feet. The Caucasian’s hands were raised. I just noticed that one of his hands was gloved ever since—a small black glove which he peeled off and trashed as he spoke to the officer. The officer questioned him about the briefcase. The old woman who he had helped from the plane, stood around mortified. The officer placed the briefcase on the table.

First, the officer ransacked the bag, pulling out clothing items. It seemed like there was nothing until he began to feel the insides of the bag. Next, the officer flipped a knife cutting through the inside. There was a collective exclamation from the small crowd that had gathered around the commotion.

He raised sachet after sachet of yellow pills—molly. I was wrong. The girl’s name wasn’t Molly. The drug was. The man was saying something and gesturing towards the old woman. I quickly scanned the room for the Japanese woman and her daughter. I could see them exit through one of the doors. Holy crap! She was just a ploy. And they must really have drugged the child, perhaps to keep her quiet through the trip. There was no danger to her and the child all along, but the old woman. She had touched the bag. I could see the officer taking a swab. Perhaps it was a search for fingerprints.

The old woman was speaking frantically while holding her chest again. She was yelling at the Caucasian. I turned to Nyong’o and asked her to hold on to my bag. I walked up to the officer and narrated the ordeal I had witnessed, even as I stood there telling him everything, I could feel my heart thump. I told him about the Japanese woman and her kid, conveniently not mentioning that I had seen them leave. A quick systems check, and the confirmation was made about my story. The Caucasian was almost springing through departures, heading for the door but the officers were even faster; pinning him down, and putting him in cuffs. The white lady paid me no attention. Almost petrified, I could sense her fear and even as she turned to look at me I saw no gratitude, only disgust. She briskly walked past me, not mentioning a word.

“Arigatōgozaimashita”. I recognised the word easily. Finally, something that Duolingo got right. I turned. A fat hand was stretched out in front of me. I shook the hand of the officer who thanked me gleefully. I nodded too as I shook his hand. I looked around looking to catch N’yongo and she was no longer standing where I had left her. My mind was racing now again. She has the suitcase with my laptop and Journal. My entire access to my past life. As I described her to the officer, he searched with me and asked that I file a report for stolen property. I heaved. First day in Japan and I had already gotten involved with the police and got robbed by a fine woman. My bad luck never ends. Surprisingly, I didn’t fill out a report. Thankfully, I had my wallet in my jacket. I flagged down a taxi, and told the driver with emphasis where I was going. I had cared to memorise that. I stopped by a store to get a new mobile phone on my way to the hotel as planned.

As I settled in logging in to my Facebook account — yes, I had kept it active only to reach out to Francis and keep up with my mother’s health back home, I saw a new message and a friend request. It was N’yongo. Her profile picture with a small Labrador gave her away. She was prettier in person, and that smile, my God! The message read: Namba parks garden. 15:00. Tonight. Sorry, I stole your laptop. I really wanted to see you again since you said you would be staying here in Osaka. A small distance from where I live. Dinner on me tonight. Come try some jollof rice at my place, after a stroll in the park. Xoxo.

Jollof rice, eh? See who got lucky. I flung my phone across the bed. Trying to remember where I had packed the condoms, listening to the light rain tap on my window as I dozed off.

———–

Image: by Vino Li on Unsplash

Charles Martins
Charles Martinshttp://medium.com/@martinscharles561
Charles Martins is a content writer and storyteller. A graduate of the university of Lagos. He blogs on medium at medium.com/@martinscharles561.

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