I lay still in the dimly lit room, not daring to breathe, wishing the knocks on my door were mind tricks. By the fifth knock, I knew whoever it was had no plans of going away. I sighed and rolled off the narrow bed. My feet connected with the cold tiled floor and my toes curled as I quickly lifted both feet off the floor and gingerly searched for the slippers I was sure I was on the floor close to the bed. I opened the door to find the same group of people that had just been here less than … I peered at my watch … Less than fifteen minutes ago.
“Any news?” The elderly caucasian who was the (self appointed) head of the delegation asked me, the beginnings of a smile froze on his lips as he saw the look on my face. It must have been something between a stony stare and a weary look, because weary was how I felt.
“It’s the same as it was the last time you came calling sir, no word yet.” I told them, the exasperation in my voice unmistakable. I looked from one anxious face to the next and the next and the next after that till I had covered all six of them standing in the not-so-brightly lit corridor, huddled together like students awaiting a test result. And in a way that was what they were, except these were grown men and women, older than me even. For a moment, I wished I had more to share with them, but then I remembered how they won’t let me rest, and I silently cursed Alioun the manager on duty who had checked these passengers into the same hotel as the crew.
The night before, my crew and me had flown out of Accra on our way to Dakar. We had spent all of that day at a hotel in Accra, ostensibly to rest up before the all night flight.
I had spent that day at the pool, I even had a couple of friends over – I had been assigned a suite and I thought it was a waste of space spending my time there cooped up, alone.
Halfway through the flight from Accra to Dakar, I tried to make a cup of coffee but only got cold water from the boiler. I was about to call the Captain for galley power when he called me instead.
“Hey Captain, I was just going to call you sir,” I said to him.
“Can you please come into the cockpit?” He asked me in response. It was a fairly regular request which could be for any number of reasons.
I walked into a cockpit that was in darkness.
“Franque, walahi we have a problem.” Very reassuring words. “It seems we have lost the second generator, the left one…”
“The second generator?” I asked. “We already lost one before?”
“Err Franque, the right generator was dead before we took over the aircraft. Whether it happened between Lagos and Accra or earlier, I cannot say. What I do know is that it happened before we took over the aircraft.” He must have seen the consternation on my face because he said, “It’s okay to fly with two generators out of the three, but it’s better and safer if all three worked.”
“So, what do we do now?” I asked him.
“Well, I have cut off power to the boilers and ovens, anything we are not using. Keep the cabin lights dim unless absolutely necessary, I am trying to keep as much strain away from this last generator. Gaskiya if we lose that one then we are in soup.” He finished.
“What kind of soup are we talking about?” I needed to know.
“If that generator goes, we have a battery pack that will last about 30minutes. After that, it is all in Allah’s hands.”
“…So we basically take our seats, lean forward as far as we can go and kiss our asses goodbye.” I finished as I briefed my crew about the situation we were in. I was working with three ladies: Funmi, married with an eighteen month old son; Mabel, married with a child still at her breasts; and my girlfriend. Naturally, we all fretted, then the ladies prayed together – I prayed by myself, in my head. When the aircraft touched down at the airport in Dakar, I doubt there was anybody in the world at that time happier than me, or more thankful either. My grin as I bade the passengers farewell was from the bottom of my heart and it crinkled my eyes.
Without an engineer on site, the aircraft was not going anywhere, plus parts had to be flown in to fix the generators. Minimum ground time was going to be a day, so we had to be checked into a hotel. We were still at the reception of Hotel Des Almadies when a bus load of people arrived. Seeing as we were still in uniform, it was easy for the passengers to recognise us as crew. They somehow got our room numbers, and right from after lunch, the knocks started. We explained to them how we were waiting for parts to be flown in on another airliner with engineers who will attempt to fix the generators before we can return home, and that the airport manager was going to keep us posted. One would expect this information to suffice, I expected it to suffice. The knocks on my door that made it impossible to get any rest told me otherwise.
We eventually spent almost two days in Dakar while the aircraft got fixed, and those were the longest days of my life. By the second evening, I was ready to either climb a wall, wring somebody’s neck or take a dive in the sea.
Some passengers were very upset, visibly and volubly so, others were just glad to be on their way.
Me, I was happy to be heading home, but not as happy as Funmi. Definitely not as happy as Mabel whose breasts had started to hurt before the end of the first day.
The other day I was watching Air Crash Investigations on Discovery channel and a similar situation was being investigated, though from long before my time, and I felt a need to share this. This is my way of saying, I know I got off easy.