Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London Heathrow airport. The local time is…’
Bruce checked his wristwatch, the time was 4:33pm.
‘Something is not right.’
Looking through the window he was sure it could not have been earlier than 8pm.
‘Did I fall through a time warp?’
No sooner had the cabin crew finished her announcement than a chorus of clicking went up around the cabin as passengers unbuckled their seatbelts. Some passenger rushed up from their seats and opened the overhead bins.
It was something Bruce would become familiar with, he just did not know it then.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is a reminder that the aircraft has not reached its final parking position. To avoid injury to yourself and to those around you, please take your assigned seats and fasten your seatbelts…’
By this time other cabin crew members had come into the cabin to ensure passengers complied with the instruction.
‘Ma, sit down!’ A red faced crew shouted at a woman who had one big bag slung over her shoulder and was struggling with another bag in the overhead bin.
Order was soon restored in the cabin and the crew returned to their seats too.
After weeks of waiting, the call finally came from the airline that Bruce was successful at the interview, and was required to come in at his earliest convenience to pick up his offer letter and fill out some paperwork.
‘Earliest convenience ke? What about today?’
The weeks passed like a whirlwind. There were forms to fill; some paperwork turned out to be a truckload of forms, and each one was filled in triplicate, most of them complete with passport photographs. Bruce did not think it was possible to use that many passport photographs in one lifetime, let alone for one job. Then there were uniforms to be fitted for and other uniform items to pick up.
He was in and out of the office at the airport a lot, and it was with no small pride that he flashed he ID card whenever airport security accosted him at the entrance.
He met some of his would-be colleagues at those times, and it was always good to see someone he recognised from the interview stages or from the days spent at the pool practising. He even saw a guy he met at the passport office, but he never once saw Inem.
‘Oh well,’ he shrugged on the third day when he still did not run into her at the office.
He was given some workbooks to help him prepare for the training he was travelling abroad for: Aviation Medicine, Standard Emergency Procedures, Aircraft specific workbooks too.
Apart from the AvMed which was really First Aid, everything else read like Greek to him.
‘Oh dear,’ a despondent Bruce thought. ‘How in hell am I supposed to understand all these? Especially since I fall asleep every time I try to read them.’
Soon it was 7am on Saturday and Bruce, with nineteen other bright-eyed colleagues, was at the airport checking in for the flight to the UK.
Apart from Emma who was travelling with them as a chaperon, Bruce only knew one other person in the group.
Karo was waiting to be called in by a nurse, and was reading a novel to help pass the time when a shadow fell across the pages of the book, blocking out the light.
‘Is that The DaVinci Code?’ An out of breath young man asked him. ‘It’s a beautiful book. I hear it’s getting made into a movie, I can’t wait. May I?’
Without waiting for a reply he reached for the book.
‘Wow! It’s in French.’ He sounded impressed.
‘You speak French? Like, really actually speak French?’
‘Yes, I do.’ Karo spoke in a drawl. He did not like this person’s intrusion on his solitude and he made to return to his book.
‘Forgive my bad manners, my name is Bruce Nwokolo.’
Karo looked up to see a hand thrust in his face. He took it.
‘He has a strong grip.’ Karo mused.
‘So, are you here for the medicals as well?’
Karo folded the edge of the page he was reading and closed the book. Setting it on the empty seat next to him, he put one one leg over the other, crossing them at the knees.
‘Yes I am.’
After a moment Bruce continued.
‘I don’t recognise you from the interviews.’
‘I was not at those interviews. I was actually one of the first set to be employed, but I missed my training because I had to go for a swimming competition.’
‘Why am I even telling him this? Like he really cares.’
‘Oh.’ Bruce lasped into silence. ‘You swim?’
Karo groaned inwardly, rolling his eyes.
‘No I don’t, I was there to admire the large body of water. And the scantily clad swimmers’ bodies.’
‘Yes I do.’
‘Wow, that’s cool.’
They were soon joined by others who also came for the medical examinations.
That was a week ago.
Now they were boarding the aircraft that would take them one step closer to becoming cabin crew.
‘Does anybody have a UK SIM?’ Ego asked with a hopeful look.
She was crushed.
‘Obi will be waiting at the hotel wondering if I have arrived, if I arrived safely. Wish there was a way I could reach him. At least I had the foresight to send him the hotel address.’ She smiled. ‘I can’t wait to see him.’
‘Ego isn’t that your phone ringing?’ Francisca asked, snapping her back to the present.
‘Huh?’ It was her phone. ‘I guess it’s roaming after all.’ Her smile widened. She knew who the caller was before she saw the caller ID.
‘Hello babe,’ she had butterflies in her stomach. ‘We just cleared immigration. Kedu?’
‘I’m good dear. I was worried and just tried your phone as a last resort.’ His gravelly voice set her butterflies to flight. She clutched her stomach to quell their fluttering.
‘We’re about to get on the bus, and I’ll be with you soon. I’ve missed you.’
‘I’ve missed you too.’ He replied.
The coach ride to the hotel seemed to take forever.
Napoleon wondered how big Heathrow was when, after passing what seemed like a long tunnel, they were still at the airport. On the walk from the baggage carousel to Queen’s Building, he wandered if they were not going to arrive back in Nigeria soon.
He had earphones on and was listening to music from his Discman.
It was dark outside and the sceneray – which was mostly streetlight, car lights and highway – flashed past. He sighed and closed his eyes; after the gruelling interview process, he was finally here.
Napoleon was on his way to work that morning, a work he hated but had to do because NYSC said so, when he saw a group outside a hotel gate. One special power applicants possessed – he considered himself one of the millions in the labour market, after all he was due to pass out from youth service in two months – was an ability to recognise other applicants at a recruitment exercise.
Another was the ability to produce at least two copies of all credentials at a moment’s notice.
So when he saw the crowd at the gate Napoleon mingled with them and soon found out an airline was recruiting flight attendants.
He did not know anything about flight attendants except that they led an exotic lifestyle, so NYSC forgotten for the moment, Napoleon joined the crowd. He wrote his name down on the list and hung around till he was called in.
He made it through the interviews, and thanked God for all those swimming lessons his sports master had made them take in primary school all those years ago.
Who could have thought he would need swimming for anything in his life?
The hissing of the coach’s pneumatic brakes woke him up. In front of him was the brightly lit foyer of the hotel. His colleagues were already pilling out of the bus, some stopping to stretch cramped muscles. It had been a long day.
A squeal made him look up. The girl who had asked about UK SIMs at the airport was running towards a man who had just come out from the hotel.
‘Ego, I think her name was.’
She got to him and jumped into his arms, arms which he wrapped around her in a tight hug.
That made Napoleon smile.
Her slight figure made him look as big as a bear.
A rumble started in his stomach and rose up his throat before exploding out his mouth. He threw his head back and laughed. This drew curious looks from those remaining on the bus.
He didn’t think they would get it if he told them that at one stage of the interview, when asked to draw an animal he thought best described him, Napoleon had drawn a bear.