Daniel! Daniel! Daniel! Idiot wake up, an irate voice woke me from my sleep. Just as I was about shaking hands with the President of the United States, my petulant step-mother revived me from my ecstasy.
“Idiot, what about the two bunches in the tray? Why are they still there?” She yelled. I knew she was talking about the offence of not selling every bunch of bananas in the tray. The day had been exceptionally hot, I was dehydrated and famished. After hawking on the streets of Benin for over four hours I couldn’t go any further. I damned the consequences. I headed for the one room shanty we call home and reclined on the jagged ‘mouka’ mattress – I drifted into a very deep sleep.
The fact that I had the guts to lie on the mattress might have accelerated my step-mother’s fury, I thought. With a quivering voice I said, “Mama abeg!! I was too tired, the akamu(pap) I ate this morning couldn’t sustain me, so I had to…” Before I could complete my plea, I was thrown into utter darkness, with lightening flashing to and fro, then I began to hear thuds on my back – my step-mother pounded on me with her fist. Conscious of the fact that staying any longer in the room would mean being beaten to stupor; mustering the strength in me; I pushed her off and darted out of the room.
She yelled all sort of threats, ordering me to get back into the room. I yanked open the cardboard gate that served more as a cover than a protection, left it ajar and ran into the street. I could see the stun on her face as she watched me blatantly defy her orders for the very first time. I knew going back home that night would be suicidal; my step-mother’s anger would be little-holds-barred. I decided to hang out with Osagie my very close friend in our usual rendezvous; we’d known each other since we were toddlers. Before my mother died of cervical cancer seven years ago she used to call us TWAIN, a nick name we hung on to even after her death.
Osagie and I used to attend Akpoborie community school until he was withdrawn by his dad who claimed that the standard of the school was too poor for someone his caliber. Trying to drown the episode that had played at home, Osagie and I gyrated with reckless abandon to the music of Psquare. Psquare were our favorite anytime any day, we’d planned on forming a dance group before Osagie’s withdrawal from Akpoborie community school made that dream infeasible.
It was 9pm, Osagie had to go and I knew it. Saying goodbye was very painful for me- Osagie left anyways. I had made up my mind not to go home that night; I knew my step-mother cared less. This was not my first time sleeping away from home in the street. What was different today, however, was the fact that I willingly ran out of the house. The apathy and unconcern my father shows never ceases to amaze me. Sometimes I wonder if he truly were my father, after binges and bouts of alcohol with his friends at his roadside mechanic workshop, he comes home excessively inebriated, saying gibberish. Last December my step-mother chased me out of the house like a rat, I literally lived on the street for a week, with no food, tired and worn out. Osagie stood by me all through this period; he brought me his meals and extra clothing to insulate me from the vicious harmattan wind. I eventually returned home without my father realizing that I had been away for a week. All he simply said was, “young man where have you been?” I didn’t reply him; he never expected one anyways.
The night was exceptionally windy; I had to seek refuge under a table lying useless in front of a makeshift shop. The night injected me with sorrow, pain and cold. Like a glacier, tears slid down my eyes. I began to reminisce on the good-old-days – the days when my father really cared about my where about, the days when I used to have my mother, the days when my father never had any cause to marry a second wife. Those days are all gone now; they are so buried in the past.
It was a new day, as I prepared to vacate the asylum, all I felt was pain – in my neck and back. The floor on which I slept was made of very hard stone. It was a Monday morning, school children were on their way to school, the morning rush was beginning to get serious and I knew that in no time the owner of the shop would be here. I knew I wouldn’t be going home anytime soon, I had begun to nurture the idea of running away from home and never going back. Since no one really cared; I also didn’t give a damn. I thought of running to another town where I could serve as a house boy, but I wanted something bigger – I wanted to flee to America and live forever in that ‘prosperous’ land.
I was at crossroads; I was at a point where living meant hell and dying held better opportunities. I had to make a choice – to keep-up with my step-mother’s torture or to make near-death decisions. Travelling to America would cost a fortune and the process involved was too bureaucratic. I did not have a dime neither did I have enough time to spare; I needed a faster and cheaper route out of the country. Going to the airport would also cost me, as the airport was in the outskirt of the town. I ransacked my pocket only to discover that I still had One Thousand Naira – proceeds from the bananas I sold yesterday. Immediate I began to make preparations to head for the airport. As unintelligent as my idea seemed, I believed it was the master plan. I began to envision a very blissful life in America, a life where I won’t suffer to get the basic needs of life.
While in the bus I began to notice people starring at me with such curious glares. I was sure some wanted to know why someone my age wasn’t in school on a Monday morning. Some wanted to know why I was looking so tattered and bedraggled. Some on the other hand didn’t seem to care. I didn’t care about their glares myself; all I cared about was getting off the shores of the country. I was quite familiar with the airport premises, my mother used to own a bar in one of its lounges, so I knew exactly how to secret myself into a plane. On reaching the airport, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stowaway in broad day light, hence I had to survey the premises until it was evening – and then I could hatch my plan.
Strolling around the airport, I discovered that there was an opening, wide enough to contain a squeezed body, on the perimeter fence that guarded the Benin Airport’s tarmac. This opening, I thought, was a golden gate to clinching onto the exterior of a plane. I lurked around the airport, perfectly studying every sentry as he manned his duty post. It was 8pm. The time was near for me to execute the plan, as planned, I got to the part of the fence with the hole, squeezed myself into it, and alas I was in the tarmac, in the tarmac all by myself. The tarmac was poorly lit; an elephant could have run across without anyone noticing. This was a corollary of government abandonment of its institutions, despite my poverty, I could identify a dysfunctional establishment if I saw one – the Benin local airport was the quintessential of dysfunctional. It looked so worn out and old, there were quite a number of derelict projects lying all over the premises. I saw different aircrafts taxi the tarmac before takeoff.
Like an epiphany I saw an aero contractors’ plane parked on the tarmac preparing to load its passengers. Immediately I ran towards the plane, without anyone noticing, grabbed its wheel and climbed up into its wheel well. I curled myself delicately in the plane’s wheel well to avoid being seen by anyone.
The plane began to taxi the tarmac slowly; it then stopped abruptly for reasons beyond my knowledge. It might have waited to load passengers, I thought. The plane stood still for about 20 minutes, and then it began to taxi again. This time it began to make maneuvers. From my study of airplanes, I knew immediately that the plane was about to hit the runway, I braced myself well for this. The engines began to whirr louder; the plane began to move faster, faster and faster, until I was terrified. Before I knew it, the wheels began to retract into the wheel well. Disregarding my delicate curl, I would have been terribly crushed by the retracting wheels of the plane. In seconds the Benin local Airport was just beneath me. The wind was very violent as it kept tugging at my cheek and clothes. I knew, immediately that this was a-near-death experience and making it out alive would be a miracle. The plane was headed for America. I knew I couldn’t last an hour in the wheel well. The cars on the road looked so tiny. Now I was above the thick rubber forest of Benin, the thought of falling off into this forest terrified me, I immediately shrugged it off. I was probably over thirty thousand feet in the air. I knew I had made a very terrible choice. It was very cold, I found it hard to breathe and all I could see at this point were clouds.
I had been in the wheel well for well over 20 minutes and I knew that the journey to America would take hours. I was definitely going to fall off the plane at a point. About thirty minutes after takeoff, the plane began suddenly to glide down. I was awestricken, I understood immediately that the plane was about to make a descend. Was it an emergency landing? Are we in America already? Where exactly are we right now? These were the puzzling questions I began to ask myself as the plane began to descend. Sighting the skyline, I knew immediately that this place wasn’t America; I could see it was a town in Nigeria, at least somewhere in Africa. At this point the landing gears began to come off the wheel well. I could see a new airport afar with the aircraft ready to land on its runway. The tires made screeching sounds as it collided with the asphalt runway of this strange airport. The plane touched down and begun to taxi the runway, then there was an abrupt stop. This was an opportunity to get rid of my suicidal escape. I leapt out of the wheel well and was immediately sighted by one of the airport guards. He interrogated me and immediately discovered that I was a stowaway. I still didn’t know where I was, but I knew that the airport had this very big sign that read: Muritala Mohammed Airport 2.
I was handed over to the police by the airport guards. It was on a Monday evening. I was immediately taken to the hospital, where I was fed and given drugs, for medical checkup. The doctor assured the police that I was fine, only that my lungs had foreign materials in it. I woke up the next day only to discover that my picture was gracing the cover pages of newspapers, the radio was chanting my name and people were discussing me on TV. Only that I had a new name now: Daniel, the stowaway boy. Muritala Mohammed Airport did three things to me; it saved my life, it spoilt my America dream and it made me famous. I bet my step-mother would be sucking her fingers in shame in Benin. After I had my bath and had taken breakfast, a police man came to my bed in the hospital ward and said, “Daniel the Governor would like to see you tomorrow.”