It was a rushed evening as Marcus stepped out of the office and turned left towards the car park, struggling to calm his uneasy excitement. He loosened the tie from strangulating his emotions and hastened his pace so as to arrive the airport early against the evening traffic. The walk to the car park led his mind to that Sunday afternoon at the airport in Enugu, when the shuffling footsteps of a young lady briskly marched up against his.
“Good afternoon,” the silky, light-toned voice intoned. “Are you headed to Abuja, please?”
“Yeeeeeees,” he replied, dragging the response in congruence with his soaking look at the brown envelope she hugged, somewhat involuntarily sizing her up. Her height wasn’t exceptional, tending to fall slightly below the average percentile. Except for her face, which seemed to have recently undergone acne-treatment, she had a smooth skin, with a well-shaped face, round somewhat, with oblong smoothening around the edges. Her gown was neatly sewn and she walked smart. She wore a sterling smile, visible and invincible.
When she explained the need to assist in carrying a parcel for her, Marcus could see she noticed his hesitation and, in quite a psychical move, offered to open the envelope as a means of convincing him that it wasn’t a suspicious item. A smile hid its contours within his mouth. This girl looks smart, he thought to himself. He stared at her face, searching lines of sincerity. They were not difficult to find, or so he thought, even though he pondered why the lot to carry the parcel fell on him.
He turned his eyes to survey the environment, not knowing exactly what he was looking for. Was it the eyes of people who might think he was falling prey, because it was a woman? Or, was he looking for semblance of an accomplice? He refused to form conclusions, though stories of ladies and the East had made him wary and reclusive during the countable occasions his job took him to Enugu. The desperation on her face took the better part of him, or maybe something else he couldn’t fathom, such that when he agreed to assist, he struggled to resist the urge to follow her at a distance to see if she was working as part of a team. She explained that she served as a rapporteur for a workshop organized by a civil society group and the report, digitalized on CD with a signed hardcopy, was needed to be submitted at an office in Abuja before she could be paid. She requested his phone number with a promise to call and he gave without hesitation.
As she walked out to the canopy of the departure hall entrance, he let his instinct lead him after her from a distance, entertaining the brief cursory thought of their paths crossing again. Then, he watched her climb the black Toyota jeep and bang the door. A few minutes later, when he was sure she might have settled in on her way out of the airport, his phone beeped to signal a text message. “I’m very grateful,” it read. A second or two elapsed when the next came in. “I’m very grateful. Gwen.” The smile was obvious, and he chuckled at himself.
At the boarding gate, the agent pointed to the brown envelop he hugged so tightly, asking what it was. He stuttered, looked at the agent, the parcel and then freed his chest of the choking air, before answering “Oh, documents. Just documents.” The agent paced him up and down, his eyes sweeping the brown velvet jeans and multi-coloured shirt Marcus wore. Then he ran the metal detector around his frame, before pointing him towards the aircraft. His steps towards the cabin were steady, counted and edgy, his thoughts wondering how silly he was to trust a word of a girl from the blues and roll on it. Inside the cabin, he stowed away the parcel in the overhead locker, alongside his hand luggage, not sure what might become of the contents. The flight was far from calm for him as his mind roved up and down, from the overhead locker to his fastened seat.
Gwen called Marcus a few minutes after the flight touched down in Abuja. She was curt, concerned and grateful. She asked if someone was coming to pick him up from the airport, to which he replied that he had parked his car around and would only need to tip the security personnel at the airport and be on his way. Back at home that night, he called her to ask how she was doing and they exchanged pleasantries beyond the officiousness of the parcel. She told him she was a research fellow at a research institute in Enugu, travelled often for field work and would be in Abuja in about two weeks from then to attend a friend’s wedding.
In the two weeks that followed his delivery of her parcel, their calls became more frequent and longer such that he had to tell her his thoughts and edgy feelings on the day they met at the airport. She had a good laugh; one he enjoyed being the cause. Their chats were friendly and when his schedule at work allowed, he would send her a text, telling her what he was doing and asking about her moments. Her replies eased the tenseness of his IT service work. During lunch time, they began the habit of inviting the other over for lunch. Their responses were determined, but refreshing all the same. “Oh, what are you eating today?” “Please eat for two, thanks.” “Keep mine o. I’ll join you shortly.” “You need the food to get going with work.” Dinner times weren’t different. Somehow, two weeks seemed to run too slowly. As the day drew close, she sought to find out if he could pick her up from the airport. What a question, Marcus thought to himself. After all, wasn’t it the day he was waiting for, to see his terrorist friend again?
Earlier on the expected day, he called a hotel to make reservation for her. She had said she would be spending three days in town and he thought these should be one of her best days, so he planned a surprise for her. He also made arrangements with a colleague in order to be able to leave the office earlier than usual to make it to the airport before her arrival at 7.15pm. Neil Sedaka accompanied him on the journey to the airport that evening through his Song Cycle collections. The “Solitaire” elated his heart and he played “One more mountain to climb” in repeat mode. Sedaka seemed to give him a lift beyond the drudgery of the gridlock traffic he had to bear on his way to the airport.
The entrance of the arrival hall was crowded, many bidding for customers, others waiting for family members and friends. Among the lot, he could sense he wasn’t the only one who appeared love-struck while waiting patiently. The arrival gate emptied the passengers in incremental pace until he sighted her. She wore a long flowery and free-flowing skirt on high heels. She looked taller than when they first met. She also wore a cream-coloured halter cotton top showing off her smooth shoulders under the fluorescent lighting. Her satchel postured beneath her arm and her right hand held a mobile phone. He watched her advance towards the exit side by side a fellow passenger wearing French suit, with a luggage held by his finger strolling behind them. He called out to her when she was a few feet away. She smiled and bit her lips. Marcus held his calm, suppressing his excitment, to let her walk to where he stood. When she got to him, she paused and they exchanged pleasantries.
“Marcus, meet Chuks, my fiancé,” she addressed him, and turning to the other guy, said “Sweetheart, meet Marcus. I told you about him.” She was brief, somewhat professional.
Chuks brought out his hand and he and Marcus shook. The tension in latter’s heart was building up to find an outlet. He feigned a smile and asked how the flight was, half-expecting a response, half-wondering what he was doing at the airport. They responded, in unison, that the flight was normal as he led them towards the car.
The drive back to town was perfunctory. Chuks, in an attempt to chat Marcus up, had thrown himself into the passenger seat beside him while Gwen slouched on the backseat. Marcus let the music intersperse their dry chat about Abuja and the threats of insecurity as he hummed Sedaka’s tracks, singing aloud “Gone with the morning.” After about thirty minutes, they arrived Utako District and began another task of tracing an address Chuks had, that of his cousin. When they were finally at it, he deposited them with a promise to try and see them in the next two days, after the wedding, should his schedule become light.
When they were out of sight, he retraced his tyres, drove some distance, out of the area they were, veered off the road and parked under a tree. It was dark. His timepiece pointed to 9.13 pm. He adjusted the car seat, his back laid on his raging thoughts. He seemed to be in need of a breather at the moment and home was the last thought on his mind. Knowing the hotel reservation was still standing, he headed there straightaway. In the room, as he emptied himself of his clothing, he replayed the events of the last two hours, backtracked to the last two weeks. He smiled at himself, thinking how charitable he should have been, without the attachments of repayment. He knew no matter how real dreams are etched in one’s mind one must wake up from them. He stepped into the bathroom and let the shower drain away the hours. As he closed his tired eyes to the day, he knew with work in sight the following day, unwanted memories would be gone by the morning.