The man seating across the aisle from me is what Nigerians call Kora, which loosely means that he hails from somewhere in the Middle East—Lebanon, Syria, Israel.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” he calls to the flight attendant. “Can I use the toilet over there?”
He gestures to the business class section, which will be cordoned off with curtains after the airplane takes off and reaches cruising altitude.
The flight attendant says, “There is a toilet over there,” and points down the aisle.
The man and I are seating on adjacent sides of row 11, immediately behind the curtains that define our class; those seats with a little more leg room and no trays.
“But that means I have to go to the back.”
He speaks with a Nigerian Pidgin accent. I place him as Lebanese. Many Lebanese families have been in Nigeria for generations.
The flight attendant is quiet, his expression stoic like a doctor.
“What’s the difference? Is it not the same toilet?” the Lebanese man turns his hands so his palms facing upward, are asking the questions too.
“It’s for the business class passengers sir.”
My view is limited, but the business class section looks empty and passengers have stopped entering the airplane.
“Yes, but what’s the difference? Is it not the same toilet?”
“Sir, you can use the toilet at the back.”
“That means I have to walk all the way to the back. This one is closer.”
The Lebanese man places emphasis on the word all, in a way that reminds me of how petulant teenagers roll their eyes. I peg him at between 47 and 52 years old. His stomach strains against the buttons of his white shirt and his hair is mostly grey with silver highlights.
He looks at me, maybe because I have been following the conversation, but I look away. Although I am fully Nigerian, I have no desire to moderate the debate.
The flight attendant adjusts a bag in the overhead luggage compartment. It seems like a passive way to deal with a belligerent child.
“The toilets in the back are cleaner than those in business class, sef,” the man tacks this sentence to the conversation, like an insult.
It should provoke a reaction, but it does not. The overhead luggage compartments demand so much of the flight attendant’s attention.
He continues, “I have been waiting since 9 in the morning for my flight. You people are just useless.”
My 13:30 flight was also grounded. All Lagos-bound passengers finally boarded this 18:30 flight. I commiserate with him.
Communication is like dance and grouse takes many forms. If a man asks a woman, what’s wrong, and she answers, “Nothing,” he knows that something is wrong. The toilet, business class or economy, is not the problem here.
“I’m very sorry about that sir.” The flight attendant’s voice has a professional inflection, sympathetic but detached.
“Sorry, sorry. Take your sorry. I don’t need it!”
Minutes later the flight attendant demonstrates the safety instructions coming from the airplane’s public address system. Twenty minutes into the flight, the man ambles down the aisle, all the way to the back, to the toilet. The flight attendant serves refreshments. The man gists with his travelling companions in Lebanese.
I am still rolling their conversation over in my mind, intrigued by it because of something I once read: two monologues do not make a dialogue.
What if the man had started out by stating his displeasure over the delayed flight and the inconvenience it caused, explaining his tiredness because of waiting all day in the airport, before requesting to breach protocol, would the outcome have been different?
But in Nigeria, to be polite is to be weak and to be aggressive is to be right.
©Timi Yeseibo 2017
Photo credit: Photo credit: artforeye via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.