One of the perks of my job is the opportunity it affords one to travel. My job takes me to places people pay to vacation at. I get paid to stay in 4 and 5 star hotels, hotels people save up annually to be able to afford. If you think that is cool, then maybe I should not tell you how I do not need visas to visit these places.
And like all roses, therein lay the thorns. Because work took me to all these places, I never bothered getting any visas for me – except for the UK which the company got for me. After two years, word got round that we would become responsible for renewing our visas once they expired. I held a 2-year visa due to expire in two months which had only been used once before. To justify my request for renewal, I made plans to travel, put it to use one more time before it expired.
As I had three days off work, I booked myself on a flight. The plan was to fly out at night, arrive in London in the morning; meet up with my niece and give her stuff her mum sent her, do a spot of shopping, then return home the following morning – essentially spending just one day in London.
At the airport that night I could not get on the flight, and after a night at the airport, I got my ticket endorsed to travel on a partner airline the next morning. I made that flight and arrived London in the evening – 12hours after I was originally supposed to.
Now, I had arranged to stay with one of my colleagues at the Gatwick Hilton where we stayed, but since this other airline landed at Heathrow, I had to make the trip between both airports.
I cleared immigration, and with only my back pack, should have made it out of the airport in record time. But I had befriended the passenger seated next to me, so I waited with her at the carousel for her bags. And did she have bags! Three big suitcases checked in, her cabin bag, and a handbag the size of my back pack.
We were both going to Victoria station where she was meeting a childhood friend, and I was connecting on the Southern train to Gatwick Airport. Her friend had asked her to get a District line from Earl’s Court, while I had planned on Baron’s Court. We probably would have argued about where to get off, but there was this guy on the phone in our carriage, he was so loud I could barely hear myself think. Another decibel and he would not need the phone, as the person he was talking to would have been able to hear him all the way across town.
As the train pulled into Hammersmith, we saw a District line pull into the next platform. We looked at each other, looked at the train and rushed off the Piccadilly line with me dragging two of her suitcases while she pulled the third.
On the train, I reached behind me to take out the comic I had been reading when I realized I had left my back pack on the train we just left. Fortunately the train was travelling in the same direction for a few stops, so I got off at the next station and was contemplating which carriage to start from when someone getting off the train behind me bumped into me. She had gotten off too, and what was more, she had left her bags on board! Classic blonde moment. I bundled her back onto the train and watched as the Piccadilly line pulled out of the station.
Got into Victoria where I reported to the Metro Police and got a written report. The next day I went to the Transport for London office to make a report. From there I went to the Nigerian High Commission, where I was given an interview date for six weeks later. Like seriously! All I was asking for was an Emergency Travel Certificate to LEAVE the UK, not papers to extend my stay there.
I notified my office of my predicament, then hunkered down to wait. My money soon ran out. As for accommodation, I was staying at a family friend’s.
A week later I got a call from a number I did not recognize. It turned out to be the girl from the flight into London. She said she had misplaced my number, and only just found it as she was packing for her return trip. We met up, and she introduced me to one of her friends whose father, coincidentally, worked at my airline.
We struck up an easy friendship, and when she invited me to come stay with her, I jumped at the offer. My friend was nice and all that, but her two boys were driving me mad. She shared a flat with another Nigerian girl who took a liking to me almost instantly.
As it turned out, she knew someone at the Embassy. She gave him a call and I was asked to come in the next day. For the first time I saw a light at the end of the tunnel – and I walked briskly towards it.
The power of a known man can not be overlooked in all facets of life. I actually got to go beyond the reception and into an office. As soon as I saw the man’s tribal marks, I breathed easier. Forgetting the English language, and my affected accent, I smiled and said “Olodudu”. He had already replied “Odudu ha?”, then he caught himself and reverted to English.
Long story short, I got an interview date for three days later. Interview completed, I was asked to return in two days for my ETC. To show my gratitude, I bought her a single rose. That night when she crawled into my bed for the first time, I hoped it was not supposed to mean more than two people working up some sweat to keep the English cold at bay.
Three days later – seventeen days after I left Lagos – armed with my ETC, I arrived at Murtala Mohammed International airport. And when the Immigration official took me into a room and asked “Wetin you bring come for us?” I knew for sure I was home.