Her complexion & her disposition weren’t like the rest. She seemed different. She didn’t have the air others had- no family members accompanied her- or maybe I didn’t look hard enough.
Dad didn’t want me to be in the team, but he got convinced otherwise. It was November, 2008 and time for the pilgrimage to Mecca. After hours of waiting idly, it became apparent that prospective pilgrims weren’t getting airlifted that day. Or the next.
It was getting dark and the thought of where to pass the night crept in. Certainly not on the curbs of MMIA. Hotels were out of it because Hujaj- as pilgrims are called in Islam- are enjoined to stay together. Eventually, the airport mosque, about 70 metres from the terminal, turned to our sanctuary for the next few days. That’s where I met her!
Just about 5 metres from us, she lounged. She must have been in her 3rd trimester. With hundreds of Hujaj cohabiting, waiting for the announcement, it was easy to get apprehensive and bored- even for well wishers who came to see them off. I would stroll near the airport terminal to watch planes take off and land and sometimes, read the book, Hajj Mabrur to fend off the ennui. That was when she asked if she could read that book whenever I was done!
My life had mainly been triangular, but had been linear for the previous few months. I saw the same faces and had the same good discussions everyday. What I lacked in physical activities, I made up for in mental exuberance. Giving her that book sparked up a conversation. Having just finished secondary school, it wasn’t everytime that I met new people. I guess being a twin endeared me to her. She would rather call me Taiwo- only Mum calls me that!
There was a feeling of trust. Maybe it was from the concept of tabula rasa– the immunity that being a stranger confers. There are only a few who’ve had such effect on me. I felt comfortable discussing with her. Felt like I could divulge some of my thoughts about anything to her- empty my mind in her front.
Then on that afternoon on Thursday, about 5 days after living in MMIA, the aircraft was ready to leave for Saudi Arabia, with the Hujajs onboard. The chaos- for me, ambivalence- that followed the announcement can only be imagined. Hundreds of pilgrims and an ocean of well wishers besieged the terminal, with a corresponding number of luggage. In the midst of this, she saw me and bade me farewell.
‘Take care of yourself, Taiwo!’
The next few hours, while waiting to be driven home, can be summarised in one word- saudade.
Her name was ‘Tanwa.