Reflections from My Flight Back To Nigeria

It’s the middle of March in New York and I’m on my way to JFK Airport. I pass by residents of Queens shoveling snow around their houses or cars. There was a snowstorm the night before which makes me anxious about my flight for the following day. Fortunately, there’s no delay or cancellation.

I arrive at the airport and say goodbye to my brothers who appear to be worried about my navigating my multiple flights. “I don’t want you to get stranded at the airport. Make sure you ask for help,” Goziem says. I’ll be fine, I affirm. I hug my brothers’ goodbye.

My first flight is to Atlanta. The duration of the flight is three hours. It goes by quickly  while I watch “The Meddler.” The plane arrives in Atlanta and I have 10 minutes to get on my connecting flight to Lagos, Nigeria. With my handbag to the right and my laptop bag to the left of my shoulder, I powerwalk to Gate 14. A bulletin reads Lagos. I sigh in relief.

I board the plane and my seat is 34D. As I walk towards my seat, I notice the people around me seem to be in their mid-thirties or older. To my right sits an elderly man in a tracksuit. During the eleven-hour flight, he either sleeps or watches the map of the flight status. When a passenger opens the window pane, the elderly man peeks. To my left sits an elderly woman. She gets up every twenty to thirty minutes to use the bathroom. She appears uncomfortable, turning around and dropping her pillow. I notice that she often gets her meals before everyone else. To my back, I hear a child and a man speaking friendly: “How are you doing?” says the man. The child responds “Fine.” The man asks: “Do you know where you are going?” The child responds eagerly “I am going to Nigeria.” “That is good. That is good” says the man as he laughs.

I watch movies, eat, sleep, write and I check the flight duration. It’s time for the plane to finally land in Lagos. As we’re about to land, the child in the back says: “Mommy, I want to jump in the sky.” “Ahh you want to skydive?” the father says laughing: The child says again “Mommy, I want to jump in the sky.”  As we land, people start clapping and making the sign of the cross. It’s Thursday at around 3 pm in the afternoon and I’m in Lagos.

My father meets me at the airport to help me retrieve my bags. “Ahh, Isi baby,” he says as he hugs me. His friend looks at me and says “Americanah, you’re now in Nigeria.” As we exit the airport, I take off my long brown jacket.

We drive past the airport as I stare through the car window. I haven’t been to Nigeria in eight years. Three years in Mexico City and five years in New York. Eight years away from home. I’m a stranger. Yet, it feels familiar. The accents I hear. The men and women dressed in multicolored traditional wear. It’s familiar.

My father and I spend Thursday night in Lagos. Friday morning, we board a 50-minute flight to Kaduna. We can’t fly directly to Abuja because the airport is under renovation.  During the flight, I take out a book from my handbag: “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo. We arrive in Kaduna and retrieve our bags. Next, it’s a three-hour drive to Abuja.

On the drive through Kaduna, I smile as I see children in uniforms. They run around in their white shirts and green shorts as they play in a field. I see women with white and brown hijabs walking. Some have bowls on their heads. I fall asleep as my eyes have become red.

I open my eyes. As we’re driving in Abuja, I remember a particular dream I took note off in New York. I was standing on the threshold of a door I didn’t enter. To my right were my childhood friends from school: CSS Asokoro in Abuja. They stood in line wearing our school uniform: red checkered blouses and blue skirts. To my left, I saw a man smiling at me as he dances in his traditional wear. I woke up from that dream feeling confused and bothered about the possibility of returning to a country I hadn’t lived in for many years.  But now, the driver stops at Kado Estate. There’s the white gate.  I’m home.

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