You know how waiting makes your skin crawl and you hate it. It is why you never wait for your friends to finish dressing up before you go for lectures. You are always ahead of them. It is also why you cannot stand your mother and the hours she spends in applying her makeup before you go to church or attend any event together. But here you are, at an airport full of a sea of voyaging humans, waiting for your flight to be called. You hate crowded places, and the idea of too many people in one place makes you uncomfortable. It causes your asthma to act up sometimes even.
The airport is crawling with people. There is a woman at an airline check-in pleading with the attendant to accept less charge for her excess luggage. It is the same airline you are travelling with. She looks distraught. You assume she must have been pleading for a while now. A toddler, about two years old, is pulling at the woman’s feet. She is eating an ice-cream. You watch her keenly. She is adorable. There are impatient people on the queue. You see a thin, slender, quite unattractive man mouthing words of complaint. Another man pushes forward to the counter. He is obviously pissed off by the delay. You sigh and look away. There is news showing on the television. You do not pay any attention to it.
You checked in about an hour ago and were fast becoming impatient waiting for your flight. The wait is exhausting. You are at the lounge now. Your mother phones you.
Good afternoon passengers. This is a boarding announcement for flight 86A to Abuja. All passengers for flight 86A to Abuja please proceed for boarding. Please have your boarding pass and identification ready. Thank you.
“Alright, mum. I’d see you when we touchdown,” you say. “I’m about boarding now.” A pause. “Alright, mum. Thank you.”
You hang up, pick up your carry-on suitcase and walk towards the gate. You must feel really good returning home for the holidays from university. It’s your first year holiday. You are glad to be boarding and getting out of the hall. It smelt like a storeroom of old clothes and was as hot as a furnace. You cannot seem to understand how an airport lounge will cause anyone to break a sweat as much as you are.
The boarding attendant is pleasant. She wears an endearing smile as she takes your boarding pass and ID. She has better customer service than the check-in lady.
“Have a nice flight,” she says, handing you your boarding pass and ID.
You smile at her. “Thank you, I cannot wait to get this holiday started.”
“Welcome on board. Thank you for choosing Azman air,” the flight attendant says.
You walk down the aisle to your seat at the end. Window seats were always your top choice. The view of the clouds, hanging as fluffy and weightless as gigantic cotton candies; the ray of the golden sun and the azure of the sky were a glorious sight from such angle. You loved to watch the cities and land mass thousands of feet below. You place your suitcase in the overhead bin above your seat and settle down. The seat next to you is empty. Even better for you, you think. You take out your phone from your pocket and send your mother a text informing her that you are ready for takeoff.
See you in 45, the text reads.
You turn off your cell phone. The flight attendant gives the safety briefing and the Captain announces that the flight is ready for takeoff. You plug your air pods in. You are later going to put on some music and sleep through most of the flight as you always do. Soon, the flight takes off. You turn on your cell phone to play some music. Just when you shut your eyes, you feel a hand on your shoulder and hear a soft voice speak.
“Hi, Ovie. It’s been ages. How are you?”
You take off your air pods and turn to this stranger who you are apparently no stranger to.
“Hi. I’m sorry, have we met?”
“Ovie, ahn ahn, is this how you forget old friends?”
She is a smallish girl, quite svelte, with a thin face and beautiful eyes. She has a head full of hair which she wears in an afro and she looks very friendly, yet you still cannot recall where you had previously met. Her visage is however a familiar one.
“Anyways, I was seated in front when I saw you walk all the way here to your seat. I wasn’t sure it was you at first but then I decided to come see for myself,” she says.
Your confusion heightens.
“Please help me out here. I’m really sorry but I can’t seem to remember you or where we know each other from.”
“Does the name Veno ring a bell?” she asks.
“We used to be playmates growing up. Remember when you still lived in the staff quarters at Government College, Warri?”
You try to remember.
“Now, I will be very offended.” She frowns.
“No, please. That’s just been a very long time. Like twelve to fifteen years ago?”
“Yes, true. But you know, I still remember so much from that time. Evidently, my memory is stronger and more vast that yours.” She laughs. Her laughter is like music to the ears — soft, sweet and sonorous.
“Tell me more about yourself, Veno. Just maybe I will remember something tangible.”
She places her hand under her chin.
“Do you remember that time when we were playing with your mother’s crochet pins and you got stabbed in the eye?” Veno says in an attempt to jog your memory.
“Wait, you were there when that happened? I remember that incident. I was six.”
“Of course. We were really close, Ovie. Well, not until I had to leave and then we could not get to reach each other anymore.”
You scratch your head.
“I think I remember you but only faintly. I’m really sorry.”
“There’s no need to be sorry. People leave; people forget them.”
The two of you are silent for a minute. She tells you she is going to Abuja from a Students’ conference in Kano. You do not ask her what conference. She does not tell you either.
“Would you like to listen to some music?” You ask.
“Is green still your favourite colour?” Veno asks, unwarranted, ignoring your offer.
“You remember? Your memory is really as sharp as a knife.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” she winks.
“What else do you remember about me?”
“I remember how much of a shy and timid boy you were back in primary school. You would only ever play with me. It’s why I’m hurt that you don’t even remember me anymore.”
“I’m really sorry, honestly. I’m very terrible at faces and names. Please forgive my impudence.”
She says something. The roar of the airplane is as loud as waves crashing and you cannot hear her for a minute.
“My ears. Oh God, I hate when they do this,” you say, placing your palms over them.
“I thought I was alone. Here, do this.”
She gestures to you to pinch your nose shut, while keeping your mouth closed. She tells you to take a deep breath and try blowing air through your nose in that position. You do as she says and feel relieved.
“It feels better,” you say.
“Do you know the medical term for this sensation is called ear barotrauma?”
You shake your head.
“Well, now you know.”
She looked prideful of the fact that she had just dished out some knowledge.
“I was always the smarter one of the two of us,” she adds.
The flight attendant comes to your seat and serves you complimentary snacks. She does not offer Veno any. You wonder why as she trolleys to the next passenger. When you try to gesture to the attendant, Veno stops you. She says something about cutting down on sugar. You place your pack on your tray. You do not probe when she passes on the snacks. She is weird, you think. Nobody turns down complimentary snacks on a plane.
“Yes,” she says.
“Music. You asked if I’d listen to some.”
You hand her an air pod. While she puts it on, you ask,
“What kind of music do you like?”
“Whatever kind you like.”
You laugh. She asks why and you tell her statement reminds you of Prince Hakeem’s betrothed in Coming to America. She has no idea what movie that is. You wonder if she lived under a rock. How does anyone not know Coming to America? She tells you she only remembers some kiddies’ movies from the ‘90s.
“Shhh,” you hush. “Let’s listen to sweet music.”
She shuts her eyes. She is beautiful. Her face is as calm as still waters, as refreshing as white waters from a fall, and as clear as the blueness of the sky. She is soon fast asleep. You smile, mostly because you are surprised that a chatterbox as this new-old friend of yours can look so calm just like Sleeping Beauty. You close your eyes to sleep, too. The music plays softly in your ears. The Captain speaks. You are not listening.
While you slept, you had a dream.
A six-year old you is outside playing with your friend. She is your age; petite, dark chocolate skin, with a head full of hair. You are both kicking your ball around. Your mother is seated on the verandah watching you play. She calls out to you from time to time. Are you okay? She would ask. I’m fine, mummy, you would reply. Your little friend tells you she wants to cook and play Mummy and Daddy. You say you should cook first and afterwards, you will go in to play Mummy and Daddy.You look for a tin which will serve as your pot.
Mummy! You call to her. We want to cook.
The clouds start to darken and rumble and your mother says to you, OV, please come in. It’s about to rain. It’s not good for you to be out in the cold. Six-year old you responds, Okay, Mummy, but Veno and I are still playing.
Your mother shakes her head and smiles. You play too much, she tells you. Come in with Veno, then, she should also not be out in the rain or what would we tell her mother if she falls sick?
Right, Mummy, you say. You turn to Veno and say, let’s go. We would continue playing inside.
The pilot’s announcement wakes you up. Touchdown is in a few minutes. You tap Veno. She stirs.
“Wake up, Veno. We are touching down soon.”
“Huh,” she mumbles.
“Sleepy head,” you tease.
She sits up and rubs her eyes.
“We should take a picture, you know,” you say.
She nods. You take out your phone for a selfie. She smiles and looks into the camera. Click. Click. You are beautiful, you want to tell her, but you do not want to sound like a pervert.
Passengers, we would be touching down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja soon. Please fasten your seatbelts and turn off your mobile phones. Thank you.
“I really wish we had more time to talk, Ovie. I have really missed you.”
“Why don’t you say hello to my mother. I’m sure she will be delighted to see you after all these years.”
“I want to tell you something. It’s about why I left. I know you don’t remember but I don’t want you thinking that I was a bad friend.”
Now, you wonder why she is sounding so deep. You have not fully recollected who she was or what your childhood friendship was like, yet, here she was, telling you about some explanation she had to give to you. You tell her not to worry; you would listen to it all, but first, you would love her to meet your mother again. You ask her who is waiting to pick her up from the airport. She tells you no one. She would hail an Uber.
You hate landings. They make you dizzy. She laughs at you as you hold on tightly to your seat.
“Fear, Fear,” she teases you.
You ignore her.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have now arrived at the NnamdiAzikiwe Airport, Abuja. Thank you for flying with us.
“Let’s go,” you say.
There is a moustachioed man at the other side of the aisle who keeps staring at you. You wonder what he is looking at, so you poke Veno signaling her to see the rude starer.
“Perhaps, he has not seen such a beautiful girl before,” you whisper in Veno’s ears. She giggles.
“Come on, he’s a daddy.”
You take your bag out of the bin and walk down the aisle out of the plane. The windy air hits your face.
“Let’s take another picture,” you say to her. She is not excited to but she poses for it.
“You would look more beautiful if you smiled,” you say.
She forces a smile.
“Let’s go see your mum.”
You both walk to baggage claim. All she has is her carry-on luggage. After baggage claim, you call your mum. She tells you she is just outside waiting for you.
“There’s someone with me you’d be excited to meet,” you tell her.
She wonders who that is and you tell her to hold the excitement. You turn to Veno.
“Ready?” You ask her.
“I need to explain why I was away all those years,” she says. She is moody now.
“Veno, you will tell me everything. Let’s just go.”
Your mother is all smiles. Her arms are outstretched.
“My boy, look at you!”
You are just as excited to see her. She asks you everything. How you’ve been. If you’ve been eating right. How the exams were. She squeezes you so hard, kissing you all over. You are getting embarrassed. You ask her to stop treating you like you were still two. She laughs it off.
“Okay, I’ll stop. So, where’s your friend?”
“She’s right here. Mum, meet Veno.”
Your mother looks above your shoulder. She raises an eyebrow.
“You’ve started with your silly jokes again, right? OV, you and I know there’s no one with you.”
You turn to your sides and then a full three-sixty. You are befuddled.
“I’m confused. Veno was just here with me, Mum. Did you see her leave while we were in a hug?”
Your mother is equally confused now.
“What do you mean she was just with you? You walked down here alone, OV.”
You are getting scared now. What’s going on with you? You start to think. Your heard starts to hurt. You remember the pictures you took on the plane.
“Mum, wait. I… I…I have pic…pictures” you say, struggling with the fingerprint lock of your cell phone.
“Ovie, calm down, let me see the pictures. By the way, who did she say she was?”
You scroll through your gallery’s most recent pictures. None of them has Veno in them. Not the one you took on the plane. And not the one you took upon arrival. You see the air pods you handed over to her on the empty seat next to you in one of the photos.
“She’s not here! She’s not in any of the pictures, Mum!”
Your mum takes your phone. She scrolls through the pictures.
“There’s nobody else in these pictures,” she mutters.
“She said she was a childhood friend, something about us being playmates growing up. Mum, she said her name was Veno and she had something to tell me about why she left or some other stuff I can’t understand. She was real, Mum. She was flesh and blood!”
“Did you say Veno?”
Your eyes widen. You recall the moustachioed man from the plane and the bizarre stare he gave you. You think about the pictures. The air pods. The flight attendant with the snacks. You can feel your chest tighten now.
“Who was she, Mum?”
“Oh my God! Ovie, calm down. I need you to breathe, okay?”
“Veno was the name of your imaginary friend growing up. We had to get help to…”
You freeze. You cannot breathe.
“Imaginary what? Wait, Mum, wait, am I crazy? Am I…?”
You are hyperventilating now.
“I can’t… I can’t… br…”
“Ovie! Ovie! Somebody help me! My son! Please!”
You are in a doctor’s office with your mother. It is not a regular doctor’s office. Yet, your mother calls this woman doctor. This one has beautiful ornaments sitting on an étagère. Another shelf holds books—literature, academic and motivation. Your mother is seated next to you. The doctor is seated across the room speaking. Your mother is listening keenly. You don’t pay much attention to them but to the ornaments and figurines on the étagère.
Ovie, the doctor calls out to you.
You look away from the ornaments to her.
Yes, Ma’am, you reply. She smiles at you.
We are going to be good friends, she says.
You smile back at her. Your mother sighs. She says something about wanting it all to go away.
I thought it was just a regular child’s affair—keeping an imaginary friend, but now I’m really worried because that’s the only person he talks about. Ma’am, he speaks of her like she is real. Like, like she is in the flesh.
As a nine-year old, you hear the fear in your mother’s voice. You see it in her eyes. You know she is scared to her bones knowing that there is a Veno in your life. Your mother wonders if it has anything to do with the mental health history of your father’s family. The doctor assures your mother that you will be well.
It will all go away, Ma’am. Don’t worry, Ovie is in good hands.
You wake up and look around you. You are in a hospital. Your mother is sitting next to you. She smiles and strokes your hair.
“My baby, you’re alright now,” she says, gently taking your hand and making sure not to disrupt the IV. “We are going to get you all the help you need to be better.”
You lift your head and shoulders away from the pillow in a bid to sit up. You see Veno, standing at the door, smiling at you. In that moment, you knew that she was back, and this time for good.
is a fiction writer, novelist and developing screenwriter. She had her debut novel, Lettars from an Imbecile, published in 2014. Her works have appeared on The Kalahari Review, African Writer, Punocracy, Mbari and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2019 Awele Creative Trust Award. When not writing, she is reading a book, listening to music, watching a movie or plotting the next story. She blogs at ufuomapensfiction.wordpress.com. You can connect with her on Twitter @ufuomabakporhe.