For days, Adesuwa has been daydreaming of warm, red sand. She throws memories of it into everything she does. When she eats food conjured up in her apartment, she swallows painfully. When she makes use of the company of her loud African-American friends, or goes to the Nigerian restaurant close by to eat iyan with egusi, she still does not get the sweet taste of home. Was it the genetically modified fish, or the preserved pumpkin, or the clinical air of North Carolina? Or was it that her mind had been totally disconnected after ten years, and she had lost the recipe for cheerfulness? She could not tell.
At Asheville Airport, she sits in a compartment and works as a Reservation Sales Agent, making calls and receiving calls and gasping for air at the end of these calls. This morning, she concentrates on the legs of flight-hopefuls and takes note of those with black and grey suitcases, and the straightness with which they hold their faces. For the first time, she wonders where these people wish to go. Was it home? If it was home, colourful suitcases would have been better, she thinks. She whispers this thought to her Latino colleague but Elisa cannot relate with Adesuwa’s sudden interest in people’s faces and luggage —her mind is on the calls.
Once, Adesuwa had gone home herself with a big dull suitcase and had regretted it:
“Why did you come? It’s only Christmas. You should have just sent these things you bought for us. Afterall, we speak on the phone.” Her father had said, chomping on a chewing-stick.
“Sister, I heard your ticket money can still raise a building from dust to lintel level after buying a pregnant cow from it.” Her brother scratched a smile on his face. He told her Nigeria was not where one comes back to “just like that” − someone at home had to die first, someone very important. Her father assented and said, “Christmas is like any other thing here. The money you used in buying your ticket could have completed the house in the village.”
She wanted to remind them that she had been away and under the rain for five years, that she burrowed at different jobs to save for her ticket, send down whatever she could, when it was called for, and that she was not complaining. She wanted to point out that she had the same right to be at home, she was not in exile, and it was unfair for them to make home somewhat forbidden to her. But her mother covered her mouth with an impromptu hug. That night, she let the tears flow in her room—hating home and feeling nauseous until she returned to America without turning back to look at her father’s whitewashed walls.
Adesuwa got close to a real aeroplane when she was 21. She won a Visa Lottery. Before then, the U.S embassy at Lagos had used the water in her eyes to irrigate the surrounding lawns. She remembers the consular officer speaking to her with a flat voice from a glass cubicle distancing him from oversea ambitions. He was like a Russian spy. The green in his granite eyes glowed when he lifted the voice transmitter:
“I want to further my education.”
“I know but what of the many schools in Nigeria?”
“Nothing wrong with them, I just want to see the other side. And the school in view is more tailored to my interests.” He dropped the transmitter and nailed his fingers to his keyboard. Then, he raised his cold white head. His look told her what she had prayed and fasted against: ‘No admittance’. It was the second time and she could not tell why.
Now, from her compartment she hears heavy footsteps. They resonate inside her, causing a surge of beautiful emotions to envelope her. Her mind races to the red sand again. She looks up to catch the rising and falling of these particular legs and she sees a man clomping away. He is flanked by a round Immigration officer. He must have overstayed his visa.
“Please find out his angle?” She whispers to Elisa, raising her chin in the direction of the man about to be deported. After some time, Elisa drops her receiver and then rushes the words, “Él es para ser deportado a Nigeria,” and then smiling, she said “Copy that? You’ll soon catch up with Espaṅol”. Adesuwa rolls her eyes, contorting her lips she says, “Bound home? I copied that! Gracias.”
Something moves in her bosom like the opening of an old mahogany door. The creaky sound it makes puts her hands aflame with a strange need to mesh with his. She drops the file she is treating, pins a green-white-green chest emblem on her shirt and tails him to where the officer sits him down. As she heads for him, she thinks of how ashamed and horrible he feels in the metal yoking his wrists. When she gets to his position, she exchanges some happy words with the officer who calls her by her last name—Adoghie. He allows her a little space and time.
Adesuwa calls at the deportee with a reverential tenderness, “Hey, brother!” He is thick skulled and his neck is freshly splurged with a tattoo. “I feel like I know you.”
“What?” He is taken aback by her deep smile.
“My world is upside down,” she gesticulates the turning of something imaginary. “I feel I know every black person today but I feel I know you more.” She taps her right arm to flaunt the colour they share.
“Piss off! Who diyu think yua?” He raises his voice. His accent gives him away within seconds. Her mother tongue is heavy in his mouth.
“Oh my God!” Her face glows with surprise. She draws closer, and says “Today, the power of sight and sound is supreme. You are Bini? I cannot believe it.”
Her words freeze him. He cringes like a tortoise. His eyes pump out in the Bini way—he is really a Bini man. But, he quickly gleans the pieces of his shredded arrogance and says, “Lea me alone!”
“Permit me─” she says, her voice getting shaky with excitement, “permit me to—to greet you in the ways of our people.”
“To hell with yuand awa dead people! Immigrant.” He stamps one of his foots and balls his fists.
“I am not an immigrant, I will go back home someday and I will meet you there.” Her reinforced smile pelts his brain. He spits on her and looks away. She wipes her shirt with her hands and continues, “Out here I keep my head down like a giraffe eating in a wilderness.”
“Yo!” He cups his hands at his mouth, calling the immigration officer. Adesuwa is not ruffled by this act.
“Hold your head up high in Nigeria, brother, while I carry home wherever I go from now.” She gets closer.
“This bitch uhz disturbing me. Yo!” He raises calls again.
She puts her hand through the air and makes to touch him but he leans back. The immigration officer strides towards her. She turns to face him. They nod at each other. “Thank you, Officer Timmons.” “Any time, Ms. Adoghie.”
Sauntering down to her desk, Adesuwa feels reconnected once more. She is happy to know she can still take blows for home and not cower. The voice of the thick-skulled deportee rages in her mind, but she does not let it dampen her mood. Instead, she envies him and counts him lucky to be going back. She hopes his friends and family will welcome him and not tell him that he was not smart enough. Elisa gives her a curious stare.
“Let me tell you about the red sand of the ancient Benin City.” Adesuwa says, dropping on her chair.
“Arena roja—I mean red sand?”
“Yes! Arena roja or whatever,” She beams and nods her head, “it is what my home stands on.”
Tega Oghenechovwen (@ ) was born in Nigeria. He is an alumnus of Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria. His works have appeared in The Kalahari Review and African Writer.
Related country: Nigeria