“Welcome aboard Mr. President, I hope Kisumu has been good to you.”
“Thank you Robert.” The president stepped onto the threshold. He straightened the hem of his black coat. He huffed slightly, smiled.“Kisumu has been wonderful to me. In fact, I think I am going to start sprouting scales considering the number of fish I have eaten in the last three days.”
The president’s aide chuckled behind him and stepped around the president into the plane. Robert smiled. “I am flattered, your excellency, that you think so highly of my county.” He stepped out of the way. “Please make yourself comfortable, I’m headed up front.”
The president smiled again, turned around. He raised his hands and waved at the people on the apron below. The suited dignitaries whose hands he had shaken a few seconds ago were still lining the maroon carpet on the concrete. At the far end, members of the press did their business, a myriad flashes erupting from among them and camera lenses following his movements. Then he also stepped away and the aide pressed the button that closed the door. Outside, the ramp with the maroon carpet was driven away.
The president and his aide walked towards the president’s suite. Somewhere along the corridor, the aide fished out a tablet from inside his coat. Outside, they heard the low whine that told them the engines had started.
“Well, sir,” the aide said, his fingers flying over the screen of the tablet. “You have finished with Kisumu, but your schedule is still here. The meeting with the oil sector stakeholders will be at eleven, about thirty minutes after we land.”
“Come on, Johnson,” the president replied playfully. “Can’t they postpone the meeting? The beat of the drums from Aguch Kisumo are still ringing in my ears.”
“I wouldn’t be having my job if I didn’t tell you about it sir,” the aide said, smiling. He touched the screen.
“But before you go on, can I talk to Jane first?”
Three hundred kilometres away to the east, Jane pushed a swing in her backyard. On the seat of the swing was a five year old boy. The swing went up in an arc, swinging gracefully in the air. The boy’s feet kicked as he laughed blissfully. He closed his eyes against the wind. The swing came back into the hands of his mother, who pushed it up again, a wide smile on her face. A small breeze whistled through her hair, pushing some strands across her face. Shebrushed them away with a finger and pushed the swing again.
She looked up between her pushing, and noticed the female servant in light blue uniform and a green apron heading toward her with a phone in her hand. Beside Jane, bees buzzed in the beds of roses and azaleas, creating a droning music which mingled with the low sound of the ringing phone. She stepped away from behind the swing and walked to the worker, the soft grass grazing the sides of her feet in the open slippers. The boy in the swing swung down, but did not get another push. However, his momentum gave him another giant swing, and halfway in the air, he saw his mother taking the phone from the servant’s hand. Then his shoes concealed her from him.
“Sorry to disturb you ma’am,” the servant said as Jane took the phone from her hand. “It’s you’re the president.”
“You don’t need to be sorry, Frances,” Jane smiled and patted the maid on the shoulder. “It’s ok. Thank you.” The maid nodded unsurely, turned around without a word and walked away, the white strings of her apron dancing on her back. Behind her, Jane brought the phone up and touched the button that stopped the ringing. The call connected and she lifted the phone to her ear, shaking her head before she did so to drive away her hair. “Hi.”
In the cockpit of the plane, Johnson checked dials and screens, flipped switches, pressed buttons and pushed levers. The whining sound of the engines had now stabilized. He looked across at his co-pilot and lifted an eyebrow. “She’s good.”
He adjusted the mouth-piece that curved in front of his mouth. He pressed a button near his left ear.
“Well, gentlemen,” he said into the mouth-piece, a comical edge tingeing his voice. The plain shuddered and started moving. “Again, welcome aboard. The flight to Nairobi will take us thirty minutes. Weather conditions are calm so the flight shouldn’t be unkind to your bones. We will be taking off in three minutes. So, settle onto your seats, fasten your seat belts, switch off your phones-even if you are flirting with the first lady, Mr President-and don’t forget to enjoy the power of take-off. Thank you.” He pressed the button on his ear again, winked at the co-pilot and reached for the leather-covered white yoke.”
Outside the plane, the dignitaries that had gathered along both sides of the maroon carpet were now standing at the edge of the apron. They watched as the plane entered the taxiway and gradually moved to the end of the runway. They saw as it turned at the end and entered the smooth runway. They heard the whine of the engines change into a very high-pitched whistle against the calm of the mid-morning air and saw the denser smoke leaving the tail ends of the engines. Then the plane started rolling down the asphalt, slowly gaining speed.
Jane cast a quick glance at the boy in the swing. The boy’s head leaned against his right hand on the steel chain. He had stopped swinging and now only shifted slowly in the breeze. He smiled invitingly. She winked and held up a finger. He stared back glumly. Jane actually felt a little bit of guilt walking away from him, towards the partly open door in the white wall with a brown rag. But she didn’t stop.
She stepped on the rag and pushed the door wider open. She didn’t know why she had the sudden urge to go inside and return the phone to the servant. She just felt her limbs pushing forward, refusing to turn around and wait for him to call again. He had said the plane was taking off, that he would call as soon as they started cruising. She again stole a glance backwards; saw her son trying to revive the swinging by shifting the position of his feet.The swing refused to move much. She stepped into the house.
“Ok, gentlemen and two ladies,” Johnson said. “Here comes the take-off.”
His hands started pulling slowly at the yoke. From the corner of his eye, he noticed random things in the cockpit. The black ends of the yoke in his hand. The blinking green light in the middle of the display panel. The black ends of the yoke in his hand which contrasted with the rest of the white leather. The fingers of the co-pilot twirling on his lap. The white characters B-787 written on the cyan roof.
He felt the powerful pull as the plane’s front wheels lifted off from the asphalt. The whining of the engines grew louder, and two seconds later, he sensed the hind wheels hesitantly leave the ground. He steadied his hand against the yoke and let the plane start rising into the clear blue sky. He saw the shimmering surface of the lake break through from behind the woods on the south, saw a white boat with sails bob in the tiny waves.
They were sitting in front of the television. Frances and her elder sister, Judith. They turned around when she stepped into the room, rose to their feet apologetically. They had started working here a week earlier and were still not used to being around her. For some reason, they feared her. She smiled harmlessly, and almost felt sorry for startling them, but then she noticed what was on the television. The plane taking off from Kisumu. The plane bearing him. She should have been happy to think that her husband was now on his way back, but suddenly a sharp pain was brooding at the pit of her stomach. She stopped in her tracks, the phone dangling loosely from her limp left hand, and watched the rising plane. Outside, in the woods beyond the swing, a crow screeched loudly, and the boy fell from the swing with a high pitched scream.
And she saw the little spark at the root of the wing.
The president looked down at his aide’s tablet and smiled. The joke by the pilot had caught him off-guard. He knew the pilot couldn’t have known he was using the phone, but he had been true. He had missed his wife. It had been three days since he was with her, and he couldn’t wait to hug and kiss her again. His hand rose and straightened his coat. He stretched out his leg on the purple carpet, yawned.The tablet almost slipped from his hand. The aide reached forward instinctively, but the president managed to salvage the tablet before it hit the floor. He steadied himself against the chair. He had always liked the powerful tug of a plane as it took off, and he was enjoying the moment. From the corner of his eye, he noticed the small light. Half a second later, he leaned to look outside the window, but it was too late.
The first thing he felt was the rumble, as if the plane was caught in an earthquake on the ground. The noise deafened his ears, and he felt like stopping them and screaming his hear out. Then the walls somehow disintegrated and let in the flames, roaring and licking at his clothes and face, sizzling the hairs on his face. The last thing he felt before the pain was the smell, acrid, choking odour that made his throat burn as it made its way to his lungs. Then the pain came.
It was just a second, but the agony felt like forever.Intense, excruciating. The smell of burning flesh reached his nose. Then, mercifully, all became still and black.
The people at the edge of the apron watched in utter dismay as the plane disintegrated in the air. It hung suspended above the runway, the explosion having its turn at deciding the course of events for the morning. The people from the press left their cameras and microphones untended and looked up at the scene unfolding right before their eyes. They watched as the wings tumbled loose from the plane, saw the engines detach themselves, they saw the tail fin become loose. But above all this, they saw the flames, a huge orange fireball with a sooty lining that soon engulfed everything, spitting out at intervals blackened, mangled chunks of the airplane it had consumed.
It was when the sirens started wailing and the lights started flashing when they realized that the country was now without president. The first lady was a widow, and her son was an orphan.
Ten kilometres away, on the opposite shore of the lake, inside a classroom, a student pulled out a phone from his pocket. He was sitting at the corner in the back, and the teacher who was standing in front did not notice as he proceeded to read, under his desk, the message he had just received on the phone.
FR54DT237 confirmed. You have received Ksh100,000.00 from Abdulrahman Faizula 724567675. New M-PESA balance is Ksh.120,000.00.
by Matthew Odhiambo