My family and I lived in one of the houses just behind the airport in Benin city. Every day, we are privileged to see the planes take off and land. Both experiences leave us with mixed emotions. The first is that as the aircraft take off, they appear to be in a mighty struggle to attain altitude. At such times when the planes are in this near-ground-and-air tussle, my wife stares at me as I stare at the aircraft in its from-ground-to-air effort. ‘You look like someone who has never see a plane before,’ she tells me. But I do not blame her one bit.
She cannot see my innards and the thoughts that assail me as I marvel at this accident just waiting to happen. Why would I be saying that – wishing the deaths of the passengers on board? No God forbids. What passes through my mind as I stare is what I would regard as childlike wonderment at a thing as heavy as this leaving the ground, defying the best-known laws of gravity and only to land safely on the other side of town. Okay, I admit that at times, I sincerely hope and pray that just at that point when the plane takes off and begins the battle for altitude, that nothing untoward should happen to it. I imagine the people on board. I imagine their families and the anguish they would experience and I pray silently as I stare, God please, take a hold, I mutter in my stare.
And so, as the plane takes hold and continues on its journey, I do not let it off my gaze until it has safely ensconced itself in the clouds like a sauntering but a languid bird. But the experience with its landing is a lot different from it take off. As it approaches, if you are tall enough, you could stretch and touch it. At these times though, I smile at it even though my wonderment as it tries to settle down is still there. The smile is a smile of joy that from somewhere while it struggled to altitude, here it is very close to landing, and even if something were to go wrong, fatality would be minimal.
There are other reasons I say my silent prayers for these big birds. In 1995 or thereabouts in Benin, after a plane crashed in Lagos, a pilot who analyzed the crash said: ‘because the plane crashed less than five minutes after it took off, none of the passengers had even the time to know that they had died.’
The other reason I stare is Benin airport over the years, has become decrepit. There was no government attention whatsoever, before renovation about a month or so ago, planes were just waiting to crash.
By Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku
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