Wednesday Dec 20, 2017
There was no sense of homecoming when we touched down at Murtala Mohammed Airport, at least not at first. It was just another airport. But as soon as we made our way off the plane and onto the walkway leading into the lounge, I knew I was in Nigeria. Our airport was the only one in my whole journey with a dimly lit entrance. It looked spooky, and there seemed to be no one around. A Zenith bank ad on the wall greeted us as we walked in, which brought an unexpected wave of nostalgia. “Zenith”, I sighed to myself. I really was home.
I resisted the urge to be too touristy and made my way quietly through the immigration stand. For how early in the day it was, the officers were rather cheery. I kept getting echoes of “Welcome home!” and “Merry Christmas!” as I showed my Nigerian passport at each check point. No one asked me for a bribe or hand out, which was a good surprise.
It was at baggage claim that Nigeria showed itself. For over an hour, our luggage was nowhere to be found. The carousel itself was crawling at a snail pace, and everyone on my flight crowded around, waiting. By the time the bags started rolling out, there was barely any room around us to place the bags being pulled off the carousel. There were lots of empty trolleys nudged right at the edge, which made the little space there impossible to use. “Hey guys,” I said a little loudly, to draw everyone’s attention. “Let’s push all the trolleys a little further behind us so there’s space for people to place the bags being pulled out.” Most people saw the logic, and moved their trolleys back. But there was one trolley conspicuously in the way, and no one standing next to it. “Whose trolley is that?” I asked. No one knew. I asked a few more times, but it seemed to belong to no one. I decided to move it. As I reached over to push it back, a deep voice from further ahead boomed. “Don’t you touch my trolley!” I looked in the direction of the voice. It was a tall, heavy set guy who looked to be in his forties. He had been standing there the whole time while everyone else moved their trolley, and just refused to move his.
“You heard me asking who owned the trolley, didn’t you?” I asked, already incensed. “We need to get all the trolleys back so there’s space for people to put down their luggage.”
He walked over to me, looked me up and down, then held his trolley. “Don’t move my trolley, young man.”
“Then you move it,” I shot back. “It’s in the way.”
He ignored me. I waited. He kept ignoring. I leaned back. Raised my leg. And kicked his trolley with so much force it spun out of the way, dragging his sleeve with it. He turned and came charging at me. I drew myself to my full height, and readied for a fight. He stopped right in front of me and began to yell! “Why the fuck would you kick my damn trolley!” he fumed in a weird British affect that couldn’t remotely hide his strong Igbo accent. I was staring straight at his face. “What will you do?” I asked. “Did you think this is your living room to do as you please?”
Eventually, people pushed us apart. I walked away, still mad and still ready to have his head. His Nigerian sense of entitlement had ignited my Nigerian crazy. The country does that to you. I realized how funny it was that I hadn’t been in the country an hour and was already about to be in my first fight. Laughing a little to myself, I assured the people holding me that it was okay to let go. The rest of the time passed without incident and I grabbed my two suitcases and made my way to the waiting area where my brother was supposed to be. He wasn’t there.
One of the attendants saw me walking around scanning the crowd and ran up to me. “Oga, good morning! You dey find person?”
I said yes, and she offered to call the person with her phone. I gave her the number and after several tries, she connected to my brother. “Where you dey Oga?” she asked him. A moment later, the call disconnected. “Your brother talk say e dey car park. I sabi the place, make we go.”
I eyed her. She was a young lady, mid thirties maybe. From her dressing, she seemed to be a simple hustler, doing whatever she could to make some money from travelers. If she thought I was going to go out to some unknown car park with her at 4am with my luggage in tow, she was badly mistaken.
“Call my brother back, tell am say make e come here come meet us.”
She looked at me, and chuckled with understanding. She dialed the number back.
“Let me talk to him”, I said, and she handed me the phone.
“Yah, E, I’m almost at the entrance, just wait for me.” As we spoke I spotted him coming in from one of the sliding glass doors. I thanked the lady and hung up the phone as my brother came up to me. We hugged each other several times, laughing and clapping each other’s backs.
“You’re really back, you bastard”, he said, laughing.
“I really am.” I teased him about his weight, and we joked about how we kept following each other around the world.
“Let’s head to the car park, dude,” he said and grabbed the handles of my suitcases.
The lady that helped me still stood there, with an expectant look on her face but too polite or shy to outright ask me for money. I thought that was cute, pulled a $10 bill from my pocket and handed it to her.
“Do you have a way to change that?”
Her eyes lit up in gratitude and she took the bill from me. “Yes sir, I get. God bless you Sir, you don do Christmas for me as you give me this money.”
“Nah, thank you for the help,” I replied. She was still thanking me as my brother and I made our way out to where he parked. She waved as we drove off.
“What part of town do you live in?” I asked my brother as we sped off.
“Surulere. You’re going to love it.”
Boy, was he right. My Lagos adventure had officially begun.