The night was deliciously cold as usual in Kampala and as always, it reminded me of my hometown, Jos, but I couldn’t savor the feeling because I had made a grievous mistake. Little did I know, the oncoming morning would bring me to a philosophical stand still about an issue i thought I was decided on but you have to get to the end of this post to fully understand what I mean. I wish I could tell you the story directly but unfortunately all stories are a series of events and one must come before the other; starting with that night.
My nephew AT was up and running amok because I had mistakenly allowed him to fall asleep, exactly at that window of time that you do not allow kids fall asleep. If you are a parent or have been around kids, you would know what I mean. If they aren’t given a regimented sleep schedule then they would probably be up all night when they should be sleeping; as my nephew was.
What had happened was, I was packing because I was leaving Uganda for Nigeria in the a.m of the next day. so I was a bit distracted. AT was running in and out of my room asking a billion questions like normal two year old’s do and I guess he stopped coming in at some point. But as someone who lives in her head constantly having monologues and dialogues in different accents and tones, the conversations did not stop so I didn’t notice the difference.
Alas when night came and I thought to catch some sleep before we left for the airport around 3 a.m ( or so), AT was up and active and my brother basically said, “deal with it”. So I did, besides I was leaving and going to miss the little bugger a lot, so I made the most of our little quality time. And I think I overdid it..
By the time I had gone through all the airport rigors, boarded the plane and sat on my seat; I was wiped out. So I did what normal people do, fall deeply asleep. Well that’s what normal people do but I can’t really sleep deeply. I was mostly aware of what was going on around me. I thought I heard the captain say, “Flight attendants, prepare for landing please.” and also, “Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing.” or maybe not. My last thought however, before I woke up in a panic was, “How can we be landing when it seems like we are heading up?”
My panic when I woke up was that the plane had landed, everyone had gone out and I was probably on my way to another country because I slept through it all. My bewildered eyes saw a full plane and almost everyone was standing and walking in a file towards the back of the plane. The guy seating next to me, tapped me and stared with a sort of crazed look. Then he said in his thick Ugandan accent, “How could you have slept through that when we almost died?”
I found out from him that the people weren’t filling to the back of the plane to find their seats; they were all heading to use the bathroom to relieve themselves of their fear induced pee.
There had been a volcanic ash cloud that grounded planes in Europe and nobody thought the phenomena would come all the way to Africa. Our pilot couldn’t properly see the runway in Nairobi and almost crashed but was able to promptly lift us back up to safety.
So here I was on the runway in Mombasa, staring a disgruntled and disappointed Ugandan in the face as his disappointment turned to disgust and he said for the second time, “I can’t believe you slept through all that when we almost died.”
Well Sir, the high pitched and erratic voice in my head responded, forgive me for not trying to be awake for my possible death. I wrestled all night with an energetic two year old and lived to tell the tale (no pun intended to our current situation). And if I can survive that, what makes you think I can’t survive your judgmental (for no reason) stare?
I mean, as if anyone wants to willingly be present and involved in their own death. Am I suppose to be awake to say to death, “here let me give you a hand.” or wait, maybe I am suppose to shout it away. I scream ‘Noooooooooooooo!!!’ and then it cowers and runs away frightened. The nerve of the man to be disappointed. I think he was just jealous at my possible peace and tranquility in the face of death.
That understanding made the voice in my head switch to one that sounded like it was coming for a calm and sophisticated British lady of the eighteenth century, most likely a royal and it said, “Well Sir, I hope I am warmly tucked in bed, old and exhausted after living purposefully and making all my dreams come true. when death comes for me… err especially after a hot and deliciously calming cup of chamomile tea.”
Instead of saying what was on my mind to him, i just turned my face and went back to sleep. We were to wait on the tarmac till the volcanic ash cleared a bit.
Two hours later was when the thing happened that made me question my philosophical stand point which frankly is the entire point of this post. But like I said, series of events.
Naturally because we were in Mobassa, waiting for the ash cloud to clear, we missed all our connecting flights in Nairobi. The airline gave us hotel accommodations for a day to stay in Nairobi and then connect to new flights the next day. While I was waiting for the bus to come take us to our hotels, I saw my fellow Nigerian sister trying to buy a sim card. She still looked agitated and frazzled. I remembered her from the line to get off the plane so I walked over to talk to her with the aim of calming her down. In the process I curiously asked for the details of the near crash. She looked confused and couldn’t understand how I didn’t know the details and I told her it was because I was asleep.
Bam! I was hit again with the crazed, disgruntled, disappointed look. This girl literally yelled at me, ” How could you be asleep when we almost died?!”
I yelled back, in my head of course, “there was a two year old involved, can I live? Can I live Charlie, Bitrus, Zebbrudiah?* Can. I. Live?
I tried to smile to sort of calm her down but then she said in a more subdued voice, “I mean we almost died, how could you be asleep?” then she said more to herself, “Now imagine if I had died, then who will marry me?”
I busted out laughing. Honestly, I thought she was joking but she looked at me with the saddest eyes that said, ‘I dared to laugh at life’s most important and profound question’.
Like crap is how I instantly felt. Have we been so traumatized with the importance of marriage that even in the face of death it is all we can think of? I looked at this beautiful girl and she was very pretty, and thought of the millions of things I could say to her but I was speechless.
Gosh, she had figured out the entire sum of her life and there I was just happy and giddy to be in a new country with a free visa stamp on my passport. And I wondered for a second who was the better of the both of us; the one who aspired to marriage or the one who could care less. And in that moment of honesty, I couldn’t tell and that really made me sad.
*By the way Charlie, Bitrus and Zebbrudiah is my name for the anonymous ‘them or the people’. If you are Nigeria born and/or raised , you were always told not to do certain things so that ‘they or the people’ shouldn’t talk.