The Delta Airlines N1290L touched down at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, at exactly 3:55pm. It sped along the runway, turned to the left and stopped, the roaring of the engines slowly dying out. Its doors opened and the passengers began to descend the steps.
The late afternoon breeze whipped across Aidee’s face, stirring strands of loose hair across her face, tendrils which she tucked behind her ear as she emerged from the airplane, one hand inside the crook of Ifeanyi’s arm. They both looked striking as they strolled across the tarmac, tall, clad in denims, and moving with the easy stride of a couple refreshed from their travels. An Hermes handbag hung from Aidee’s unattached arm, and Ifeanyi pulled at a small valise behind him.
The airport was a complex maze of boarding areas, escalators and shops. With the ease of those who were familiar with the layout, they were able to locate their baggage from the Claim Area without much trouble. It was a matter of minutes before they were done with the customs, and were marching back out into the afternoon, with Aidee chattering beside Ifeanyi, as he pushed at their trolley of suitcases.
“Kai, this Naija sun sha,” Aidee lamented as she adjusted her sunglasses against the sun’s glare. “I can already feel it sapping away all the energy I cultivated in New York.” She tsk-tsked in mild disgruntlement.
“At what point were you cultivating all this energy?” teased Ifeanyi. “You that was busy running from one department store to the other, accumulating luggage” – he waved a hand at the trolley – “that only the Sultan of Brunei and his wives travel with.”
“Hey, for your information, all that shopping gives life to a bride-to-be,” Aidee retorted with a smile. “I had a list before we left Nigeria in December, and I had to get everything on it just right.”
“You mean, get it three or four times right?” Ifeanyi sallied back. “You bought three different kinds of evening dresses for our rehearsal dinner, Aidee. Three!”
“Well, I wasn’t sure which one I’d be in the mood to wear when that time comes,” Aidee protested with a pout. “Better to be prepared than to find out you wanted the Givenchy instead of the Dolce and Gabbana.”
Her fiancé shook his head with an indulgent chuckle. “Aidee Erhime Agoreyo, whatever shall I do with you?”
“You can first of all make sure you’re standing next to me in that church on Saturday, ready to take your vows with me.”
Before Ifeanyi could reply to that, he glanced ahead of him and something caught his attention. His brow furrowed and he said, “Did you inform our friends to meet us here at the airport?”
“No,” Aidee said distractedly, as she picked out her phone to get herself reconnected. “I pinged Chinyere though. She’s my Chief Bridesmaid, and has been agitating at our prolonged stay in the US.”
“Well, the entire gang appears to be awaiting our arrival,” Ifeanyi said wryly. At the quizzical look Aidee shot him, he jerked his head in the direction of the cluster of people waiting beyond the barriers erected outside the Arrivals, to separate the travelers from their welcome parties.
Aidee looked, spotted her friends and squealed with delight, promptly abandoning her fiancé and tottering forward to meet them. The three women hugged and chattered and laughed boisterously, with Aidee sparing exuberant hellos for James and Tobi, who both stood a bit self-consciously on the side.
“Oh girl, you look like a real chikito,” Chinyere enthused, running an envious look and her fingers over the shiny, long tresses of Aidee’s hairdo.
“Chikito? Who even says that anymore?” Julianah said with a mocking laugh.
“Come, Julianah, I’m not in the mood for that your bad mouth this evening o,” Chinyere shot back with a mock scowl.
“It haf do joor,” Aidee interjected. “I’m back now. Let’s get this party started.”
“The party you had me worried would never start,” Chinyere admonished. “Haba! How come you two lovebirds decided to spend all of January in the US, with your wedding fixed for March?”
“Was that why you decided to bring the entire cavalry to welcome us?” said Ifeanyi as he drew abreast of them.
A few moments went by while he shook hands with Tobi and James, before hugging the women.
“I didn’t tell everyone o,” Chinyere protested as she and Ifeanyi disengaged from their embrace. “After Aidee pinged me, I merely told Jules.”
“And since this one is my husband,” Julianah said, sidling up to James’ side and crossing a hand around his back, “and what’s mine is his, including my gossip, I told him.”
“And then I told Tobi when we went to church on Sunday,” James rejoined after his wife.
When five pairs of eyes fell on him, Tobi deadpanned, “And I took everything to God in prayer.”
An outburst of laughter ripped through the six men and women, and for a few moments, they indulged their mirth. However, as they sobered up, the party of four, who had come to welcome Ifeanyi and Aidee, exchanged uneasy looks. Their eyes at once asked the questions and rejected the answers.
“Whatever, man!” Ifeanyi was saying with a grin, as they started for the sidewalk. “I’m just glad you all are here. We should all go hang out somewhere and catch up before calling it a night.”
“You guys aren’t jetlagged?” James queried.
“Nah, we’re good,” replied Aidee, rearing to go.
“You sure you don’t want to get to your house first?” Julianah said, after a quick visual communication with Chinyere. “You know, to rest? We can all take the party there and catch up…”
The others were beginning to murmur their agreement with the idea, when Ifeanyi, who had caught the look between Julianah and Chinyere, cut in, “Ok, guys, what’s going on?”
“Nothing’s going on. Why do you think anything’s going on?” Chinyere said quickly, too quickly to sound convincingly flippant.
“Well, for starters, all four of you came to the airport to meet us,” Ifeanyi said.
“Yes, and that’s very curious,” Aidee added, her gaze sharpening on her girlfriends. Her alarm began to climb when she observed that neither of the other two women could meet her stare. “Please, tell us, what is the problem…?” Her voice choked to a stop.
Tobi cleared his throat then, drawing the collective attention to him. He divided his characteristic solemn gaze between Ifeanyi and Aidee, before saying, “It’s about your wedding date –”
“What about it?!” Aidee said with a small shriek.
“I’m afraid, it can no longer hold on the twenty-eighth of March. The elections were shifted from February fourteenth to March twenty-eighth.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Ifeanyi was outraged.
“No, I’m not –”
“This cannot be…” Aidee’s panicked voice cut through his words. Her gaze flew over the faces of her friends, shocked, wounded. “Guys…please, this isn’t April first. You can’t want to pull an April Fools’ practical joke on us –”
“It is not a practical joke, Aidee,” Julianah interrupted softly.
“The announcement was made this morning,” James added.
As Aidee stood staring, aghast, at them, she felt her stomach tighten. Fleetingly, she wondered if she was going to be sick. “Are you telling me… All the planning… Since last year… Everything we’d being preparing…” Her breath began to come in hard gasps.
“Aidee, are you okay?” Ifeanyi said concernedly, as he reached out a hand toward her.
“It can’t be… Oh my God, it can’t be…” She struggled to breathe.
The entire surrounding seemed to swirl in a bleeding mass of people, structures and sunlight. And she pitched into blackness as she fell back, to be timely saved from dropping to the ground by Ifeanyi’s arms.
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