Fortunately, we’re 85% done with montage, editing and packaging when the operatives arrived. The only key thing left was voicing over. But we’re sure any good broadcast journalist could read my script and have an editor slap report over footage. There, however, was that unvoiced fear among my gaffer, rigger, editor and driver that I was being abducted. There was no way I could allay their fears; I did not want to tell a lie either so I left them to fester in their fertile imagination. They sought to suggest I should call that politically aligned senior journalist to apologize to him because they thought he might be behind the invitation. I told them that journo could stew in his pot for all I cared. Their suggestion and my tailored rebuff emboldened me the more.
“You’re wanted,” they announced.
“How far are we going?”
“We cannot promise you.”
I followed them to their car and enquired for my lawyer about the invitation but was waved off, a decline. When we got to the hotel, one of the soldiers directed me upstairs without emotion- his bland face was one of disinclination. I was not perturbed in the least. I assured myself that I was not guilty of any offence. After all, a guiltless conscious ricochets acquisition without recourse. Should I be killed as a worst form of occupational hazard that journalist were prone to, I wished to die slowly through agony so I could appreciate the peace and tranquility I might have ever taken for granted since my childhood.
Upon arrival at Room QB415, I purposed a masculine knock but was shortchanged by the soft surface of the door which reduced a vociferous thumb to a mere peck. And that brought my surprise number one: I was received by Ghana’s finest pilot, Capt. Honesty Mayqueen Arqhu-One, all by herself.
“I sent for you”, she greeted.
“Great,” I grinned.
We walked to the rooftop bar in silence, watching the goings and comings. It still looked like a student-teacher relationship.
“Were you scared?” she quizzed.
“Nothing scares me,” I assured.
“I shouldn’t have asked. I know you too well.”
“The reason you’re a rough rider”, that was Olivia. And they both laughed.
I was surprised Honesty laughed in my presence but judging by the conspirator glances they exchanged I could surmise what’s amiss. In fact, her laugh jolted no surprise like the magical appearance and intrusion by Olivia.
How did Olivia make it into Honesty’s exalted circles? Was this prearranged or something? They were no friends in high school, … I could vouch Honesty kept decent company. The self-search for answers raged wide.
“Rough driver?” that’s my counter.
“Yes,” Olivia iterated with truculence that made her sound surer than was socially appropriate.
I was scandalized as I sought to plumb the full and true depth of this mild accusation. This should be considered pragmatically ill placed but one had to take it in his stride by waning a smile. When I realised she felt my suppressed shock, I lowered my headteacher gaze. I must relieve her.
“Sir was none such! I could bet my life on that,” Honesty volunteered plaintively.
“Thanks, dear. But I’m…….”
“… You don’t know him well. Fact is we, his students, never knew his downside.”
“Sir, is that true?”
“I’m retired. That’s history,” I rebutted.
“You were the best.”
Olivia was one student leader I enjoyed working with as a teacher. She had everything one would look for in a juvenile leader and more. Our relationship hit a snug when she, after her final examinations, asked me out. She dated me to pork and beer. On the day, she drank more Guinness at a siting than was courteous to mention. I then excused myself and left the premises after settling the bill. Later, she went on an assignment to find out what type of girl I liked. In any case, she was misled by one of my social media posts which sought to suggest I liked bad girls and was to spend the next eleven months scheming debauchery. I truly loved Olivia but won’t eat my own words by dating my past student in a typical sense of the word in local context.
“But you’re unfair.”
“Who’s the proponent of your fairness theory?” that was my first bold demand of the evening.
Her throat run desiccated and patched; one could hear her gulp a swallow of blob. She felt the joke was stale and beyond her social pay grade. In any case, the social barrier between us remained unaffected from my dashboard.
Honesty was long noted for her innate social mixing feat, her ability to zero out class and ideological differences stood out. And this was her time to shine again, a time to make peace. But she was funny about it.
“Olivia, you’re peeved my favourite teacher refused to date you?”
“Do not deny it. I read it in your diary.”
I felt vindicated and decided to celebrate by victory with golden silence. I now see why the joke could not cut its intended niche in this social intercourse…it’s musty and tasteless because it’s long expired.
“Can we make ourselves comfortable?” Captain requested.
When the waiter came, Captain introduced herself and that was all. The waiter excused us and left. Captain told us she had a surprised for us and for the rest of the wait time that we waited for the waiter, Olivia waited to be talked to. I also got engrossed in the conversation to the extent that I forgot to tell my crew I was safe.
“Turn all professional gadgets off.”
“I know your shock.”
“I thought you’re…..”
“….. a mathematician….”
“We, mathematicians, are capable of anything science.”
“I thought you’re……”
“….. a linguist……”
“We linguists are capably of anything…”
“How’s your wife?” Olivia shocked us.
“Not too bad.”
“Who’s that lucky one?” Olivia ventured again.
“Are you a bully?”
“A domestic terrorist?”
“What are you then?”
“A social democrat and a good lover of cargoes.”
A spurt of laughter with gusto.
“You did not go overboard.”
“So I failed to complain.”
“Bad for axle load….”
“Healthy for the piper.”
“You have not changed a bit,” that’s all Honesty could say.
“You have a Chelsea or Arsenal then..?”
“A good buy.”
“No. She’s unlucky.”
“You mess up paaa-oo.”
“She told me.”
Then it was my turn to quiz Captain.
“Your gold ring.”
“My second nature.”
Silence. Olivia had a call and left us. Good riddance! I was later told she was the receptionist on duty when Captain checked in, that’s the only connecting rod plausible. So they used the opportunity to connect.
“And what made you opt for Emirates ahead of Qantas?
“Turn all microphones off. We’re unwinding.”
“Yea. Emirates. My boyfriend’s advice.”
“How’s he now?”
“Almost… How did you know? ….. I almost forgot.”
“Who’s that lucky man to you?”
“You don’t wish…?”
“…wish…? … no!”
“Well, information about him is copyright protected.”
“You’re the custodian.”
“No, his lawyer is.”
“You pay the piper, so you can call the tune.”
“He pays her.”
“A certain Kweku,” she volunteered.
“You bet it’s not Kweku Shakespeare?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that.”
“What have we done this time?”
“Who told you?”
“Whistle blower identity protection mode activated.”
We’re gelled now. She could now look me in the eyes and speak. The social distance between us was now evened and we could crack level jokes. We ate, wined and dined and danced and jammed, teasing each other all along.
It was our first major interaction after she left school. Now we’re real friends, and out of the hundred and one journalists, I was the one she chose to hang out with that evening. She too said she’s happy seeing me change my career. And we’d both go joking like real colleagues.
“I never dreamt you’re a journalist. I’m happy for you.”
“I want to buy you another beer.”
“Don’t you drink three beers a night ever?”
“No more than three on Tuesdays.”
“You’ve had only one.”
“Suspense account mode activated.”
Presently, a police officer approached Captain. He introduced himself and his mission.
“Tell him I’m unable to move to another table.”
“Should he come?”
“Probably. If he’s keen.”
“Consider it done.”
The Minority Spokesperson on Aviation came over to our table in the bar. He had a band of bloggers, tabloid journalists and reporters from some mushroom radio stations and YouTube channels. Everything about him reeks of cheap popularity. We watched him seat himself and shake hands with Captain amidst the clamouring of camera flashes. She was tactically patient.
“Good evening, Boss… Captain rather.”
“Good evening, Honourable. How may we help you?”
I’m a Member of Parliament …erhmh.. Minority Spokesperson on Aviation.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
“You’re a hero.”
“I’m here to dialogue with you.”
There’s an air of pomposity and overrated self-importance around the dude.
“I read aeronautic engineering.”
“I have two research degrees.”
“Boss. Can we have beer?”
“Don’t you drink beer?”
“I do. But not on Tuesdays.”
He could have continued till Christmas. Captain showed she’s not interested in a conversation but her cosmetic cabin smile goaded this blind dude on.
What actually saved him embarrassment was the presidential alert.
CAPT. HONESTY MAYQUEEN ARQHU-ONE
When she appeared on the gangway, two miniature Ghanaian flags flew about her, each worked into an epaulette. Her crew sandwiched her as she came down the gangway with excitement. Halfway down, she stopped to acknowledge cheers from the crowd and for a first time raised her head and tipped the visor of her cap. And there was no mistake about the shock: Captain Honesty Mayqueen Arqhu-One. My heart bubbled with excitement. I happened to be one of the few journalists who knew her before now: she was my student years earlier. There were, however, those who knew close to nothing about her but had to fictionalize their knowledge about this fine lady in order to look important. Indeed, little knowledge does intoxicate. I kept my calm.
The press briefing was indeed brief. The Aviation Minister and her Chief Director, both women, came to meet Captain Arqhu-One and led her to the VVIP lounge. Security was tight. I couldn’t be sure but the Minister looked like one Etornam I knew, and her Chief Director was Sefakor. After preliminary talks and politicization of national efforts to project the ruling government, Captain Arqhu-One gave a picturesque account of the whole event.
Though aviation had its own set of idioms meant not for the uninitiated, Captain took her time to explain in a layman’s language what the problem was. She ran the briefing like the way a mathematics teacher could explain the concepts of differentiation and integration in calculus to a 9 year old pre-IG student. She spoke so fluently of the Rolls Royce engines and the technologies used, the aerolon, lift force, angle of attack, torque, spoiler, centrifugal force and what have you. She was able to make sense with all these so that when she was done, there was basically no technical question for her.
She informed us that the troubled jetliner was travelling from Murtala in Ikeja, Lagos State to JFK on a 10 hour 26 minute journey and had barely done an hour when the emergency reared its beautiful head. They thus contacted KIA, which was not the nearest but the only facility with functionalities to land a super jumbo jet (A830). She said they had over 807 souls aboard and at takeoff, the aircraft weighed nearly 1,265,000 pounds, with fuel weight in excess of 200,000 pounds.
She enumerated the problem by saying they detected an unfamiliar vibration in the cockpit just after takeoff and were trying to manage it. The immediate suspect, she intimated, was the throttle which straightaway was retired but its retirement undid nothing.
As to why they came in slowly but had to pitch away with a yaw, only to return at a fast sinking rate, she explained that their weight then was an unsafe landing one for Kotoka, and that’s why they went over the Atlantic, ostensibly to dump fuel, yet when all efforts to reduce weight by dumping failed, they were allowed to land. She made a lot of sense with this explanation. She told journalists she had had over 24,000 flight hours and was prepared to land the aircraft, no matter how heavy it was, save that she was prepared for the little turbulence anticipated. Captain said she was surprised the fuel systems were not responding and many of the control knobs had long gone dead. At this point, you could hear a pin drop.
She confirmed to journalists she was terrified by the sink rate before touch down, and that happened as soon as she reduced speed. She also confessed rudder control went sluggish, therefore, leveling and navigation became a challenge. She admitted she was not stunned only half of the brakes worked, because the plane was not designed to land that heavy. She narrated how she engaged the trust reverse force to increase the drag. Captain shared her experience pilot-testing the Beluga 3 XL which weighed way heavier than A 380, just to buttress the point that she was more than experienced to handle the emergency.
She teased her copilot who got terrified by the grief and turbulence from the ovoid CCTV so they had to mute sound on fuselage images hence distraction became minimal. She said she was shocked all buttons and knobs responded positively again after hitting the runway and that they nearly succumbed to the temptation of taking to the skies again. We were finally taken through the parking procedures and that was all.
For a moment, she benefited a standing ovation. There was practically no question for her. It was difficult coming out with a question immediately, unless one wanted to be mischievous or advertise ignorance. And a CBS photo journalist did.
“Madam, how do you feel being an African on this day?” he ventured.
“What exactly do you mean?” Captain beseeched.
“An African in charge of a large aircraft and being able to save…” he blurted out like someone suffering a verbal diarrhoea.
The gathering booed and hooted. Everyone wanted Captain to go gaga over him. We’re expecting either a Mugabe or Kagame response, but this was a lady.
“Or I see. Now, when Richard de Crespigny managed the Singapore Qantas airliner to safety in 2010, saving all 469 passengers on board, who questioned him about his skin color or country of origin? The world’s oldest university is in Africa. I hope I have answered you.”
Silence. Then there was another and another and another. There was nothing like regression; she treated every journalist by the attitudes in their questions and voices. The press briefing was rounding up before I caught the moderator’s attention.
“Captain Akudeka, … sorry… Arqhu-One, what was your greatest fear when dropping faster than usual, and how did you manage it?”
“I dreaded my passengers might fear the worst and panic, and knowing their panic might affect our collective judgment as it did my colleague, we muted sound on the CCTV that displayed images from both decks, I mean from both top and bottom decks”.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, that was the last question. Thanks for coming”, that was the moderator.
We were disappointed. I had two follow up questions but….
I was bagging my equipment when two men in military uniform came for me.
……To be continued
[MADAM SECRETARY GENERAL ARRIVES]
Today was Tuesday, a humid summer Tuesday. The Turkish-born maiden female Secretary General of the United Nations, Mrs. Ecrin Gogovy was visiting Ghana for a first time since assuming office. The nation went agog because she was the first female to occupy that seat, and being married to a Ghanaian, her acquired surname made everyone count her Ghanaian. She, indeed, was Ghanaian, was she not? And that, sort of, made Ghana the producer of a second Secretary General of the world union. After all, how many paused to question Mrs Gogvy’s maiden name?
The Ghanaian population bore this visit with a sense of pride. They were ever so happy her husband’s surname had dwarfed her real identity. They were at their political best, trying to speculate which of the two main political parties played a part in her appointment. As usual, a panelist on a morning talk show was funny enough to daydream that Dr Gogovy and his wife were likely to vote for his political party because they bore a name that suggested they hailed from his political party’s stronghold, but his conjecture was rebutted.
I could not recall how it happened, but I found myself leading a news crew from my Grandpa & Sons Multimedia colossus to the airport to cover a historic event of this sort. I was for a second time reporting for a medial house I owned. The last time I used knowledge from journalism school was when I covered the arrival of Komla Dumor’s corpse from UK. I questioned myself then why Africans always glorified the dead, only the dead. But today, we’re celebrating another Ghanaian achievement: Dr Gogovy, Ghana’s finest husband, married right. I took a cursory look at my silver wristwatch: 10:13 am. Mrs. Gogovy was still more than an hour away, I assured myself. I switched to rehearsing my last-minute notes on Turkish phonetics and phonology because I was certain to say a word or two in Turkish, most assuredly, “You’re welcome,” and I intended to get it right.
Around me, there was a new outpouring of journalists from all sides of the globe, positioning and trying to reposition their equipment when we’re 33 minutes from receiving Mrs. Gogovy. And that was when a full load of Airbus A380, with Emirates colours appeared in our airspace. The sheer spectacle of it communicated something awry. For one thing, the arrival schedule for KIA did not have Emirates that hour. It was a bit melodramatic. Journalistic perceptiveness led the way; this was indeed a newsworthy occurrence so we followed it with all sensorium.
At first it came in, descending uncharacteristically slowly. Yet as it approached the runway, it made a U-turn mid-air. That was the very moment the KIA bound Boeing 737 Max Lufthansa airliner carrying the UN Secretary General also announced its intent to land. Control tower acknowledged them. The next moment, Emirates went over the Atlantic and was soon out of sight, and we supposed that was the end. We presumed it had been declined landing permission.
Presently, the UN Secretary General was also disembarking. To everyone’s surprise, journalists moved to T3 to cover a blow-by-blow account of how the world’s largest passenger aircraft landed unscheduled at KIA. The main purpose for which cameras and microphones were bussed to the airport was momentarily shelved. Or rather, reporters were caught wanting because as they moved their equipment to T3, the behemoth airliner yawed away. They were undecided whether or not to return to the coverage of their primary assignment. When the wait became protracted, they returned to base only to realize Mrs. Gogovy was in the middle of a news conference. There was now a new definition for a newsworthy event. National television, however, kept faith with viewers by doing a cross cut into parallel actions. For sure, they had dispatched more than two teams to the airport and could therefore afford the luxury.
Mrs Gogovy’s arrival was given a political colouring that took longer than expected to fade. As Dr and Mrs. Gogovy made their way to the top of the gangway, that radio station was still having their discussion of the Secretary General’s arrival. The opportunist who thought Dr Gogovy would buy stale information from tribal political rumour mongers was reminded that Dr Gogovy was more a Fante than Ewe at heart. Secondly, he was told Dr Gogvy had no time for their polytricks and tribal political tomfoolery.
From afar, I could now see those international media icons I used to admire. There was BBC World Service’s Zeinab Badawi, the Sudanese-British television and radio journalist, then came Lyse Doucette and Julian Marshal. I saw also two faces of BBC that I reckoned destroyed the image of Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole: Joseph Winter and Will Ross. I could not blame them much. Of course, every media neophyte knew that reporters’ news angle was dictated by press house editorial policies which, in turn, were shaped by some territorial ideology or philosophy of the regime. They were just doing their paymaster’s bidding. The unmistakable face of Christine Amanpour was there. I saw Bilkisi Labaran of BBC Pidgin Service, Naija and of course Peter Ndoro. Then the man who insulted me few years earlier when I was seeking a BBC Pidgin Service reporter job. He told a colleague they could not hire me because I was hitching on an underarm crutch. There he was with a neck brace and an elbow crutch to match. At the press briefing, I greeted him politely.
“Hope you’re well,” I said sarcastically.
“Sorry, but I don’t know you.”
“Yea,” Bilkisi affirmed. “You’ve recovered fully now,” she courtesied.
“Yea, my sister,” I reciprocated.
“You’re in crutches too,” I jabbed.
“Sorry to say… I’m”, he cried.
“For the fun of it?” I mocked.
“How possibly? That’s rude!” he hollered.
“You denied me a reporter job on the grounds of physical disability. You now realize one does not pay to get fixed with a broken limb,” I smirked.
“Sorry,” he begged.
“Sir, when we unconsciously become what we, with clamour, fight or are unable to escape the contagion in what we vociferously mock, we unwittingly end up touting our failings like a boy does his utopian ideals,” I philosophized.
“Do you know who I am? I’ll show you where power lies,” that’s his threat.
“I’ll be waiting. Here’s my call card, in case you know not where to locate me”, I proffered.
… to be continued