A very short story
Layover is a story about hopes, prayers, and love. Life doesn’t have a checklist or a do-over. That’s why you can find surprises in unexpected places.
Copyright © 2020 by Grace Ecklu
From Jos Nigeria, to Accra Ghana, and places in between, Grace Ecklu’s love of words, faraway places, and intriguing people inspire her writing.
The only prayer she had prayed was that by the end of the year, she would have a boyfriend. That was all. Simple. Easy for God. And she had stayed consistent, not adding any more requests to complicate things.
A responsible boyfriend like maybe that guy in the duty-free shop, fingering a scarf he would probably buy for a wife or girlfriend at home. Maybe a last-minute gift but at least, he remembered, and he was willing to pay for it.
And it was December, December 20th to be exact, and here she was, still single. She sighed and sat down on a hard airport bench and stretched her legs over her carry-on bag. She shut her eyes and hoped that the next time the airline official appeared, it would be to say that their flight was ready to board. Five hours of waiting was enough to give anyone a headache and a bad temper.
Sarah tried to focus on what was waiting for her at home. Parents and friends and family who were all in pairs. Husband and wife, fiancé and fiancée, boyfriend and girlfriend. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy for them, it’s just that they expected her to be like them and she wanted to. But no one knew how hard it was to find a good man over here.
She smelled something and her eyes shot open. She was like that, very reactive to smells. It was an elderly- okay old– woman adjusting herself in the seat beside her. Expensive perfume.
“Oh, did I wake you?” Wavering, trembly voice.
“No, I wasn’t sleeping.”
She nodded. “How long have you been waiting?”
“Five hours and counting.”
“I’m sorry.” Somehow it seemed appropriate for her to apologise to the old woman even though she had waited less time and none of it was Sarah’s fault. Didn’t the airlines have special consideration for elderly people like her, she wondered.
The woman waved a hand. “I took the time to catch up on my daily walk.”
Was she trying to be funny? Sarah wasn’t sure so she merely nodded.
“So where are you connecting from?”
If it had been someone younger, Sarah would have gone a roundabout way to avoid answering the question. But this woman looked like she could be her grandmother. And you didn’t get smart with old people.
The woman nodded slowly. “Bad storm, eh?”
It was becoming very usual, storms and Christmas. A West African Christmas would be the perfect antidote. But not without a boyfriend. Not without a boyfriend. All those parties with many cousins and even more questions, asking what was new with her.
“Do you read?” the old woman asked suddenly, her wrinkled face and piercing brown eyes directed at Sarah.
“Uh, yes ma’am,” Sarah stuttered, wondering if it was a trick question and she had heard correctly. Mostly everyone read, right?
“And are you on Instagram?”
Okay, where was this going?
“Enough with the ma’am. Call me Auntie Mary.”
Auntie? More like mama Mary.
Auntie Mary brought out a smart phone from a handbag Sarah hadn’t noticed was there until now. She saw the Instagram homepage spring to life.
“What’s your handle?”
Sarah told her and for once, was glad that she had an intelligent username like @ladysara_online.
She said nothing as auntie Mary peered through her profile and realised with a start how intrusive it felt. She had never seen the need to switch to a private account until now. But what was an elderly woman like her doing on Instagram in the first place?
“I like sunsets, too.” She nodded, still scrolling through the many pictures which were as a result of many holidays and spring breaks. “I’ve never been to Niagara falls.”
“So I hear. You love nature.”
“Yes ma…” Sarah stopped herself in time. “I do.”
“You don’t like to cook?”
“I do. But I eat out a lot.”
“Why is that?” She looked up from her phone to look at Sarah.
“Well, my friends and I like to try new things. Eating is one of them.”
“I see. And your friends, are they African, too?”
“Some of them. They come from all over, really.”
She nodded. She clicked her phone and the screen went dark. “I’m a teacher. Well, I retired long ago but you know how they say you never stop teaching.”
Sarah smiled, glad that at least the strange woman was sharing something personal, too. And she wasn’t bored any more. That was a good thing.
“And I like to talk about books. I have a lot of stories too, you see, but my family says I go on and on. So I formed a group on Facebook and then one on Instagram. We are talking about Sense and Sensibility right now.”
“Is it a book club?”
“I read Sense and Sensibility once, after exams in college.”
“What do you think of it?”
“Well…” Sarah was cautious. What do you say to an 85 year old-looking woman who has been a teacher all her life? She decided to make it general. “I like the way Jane Austen writes about what you feel but does it all in very proper English. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss it.”
“Not if you’re smart,” Auntie Mary was grinning. “And I think you are.”
“Well, I …” Sarah looked up an airline attendant who approached them.
“Ma’am, we have a lounge available for some of our elderly passengers if you’d like something more comfortable.”
“Yes, yes,” Auntie Mary waved her hand. “I’ve been there. Now tell me, when will our flight leave this airport? I feel as if I’ve memorised every gate number.”
“We’re still waiting for confirmation, ma’am.”
“Then you have no new information.” Auntie Mary had a kind voice but a no nonsense manner you didn’t really want to contradict.
“No ma’am. We’re sorry about that. However, we’ll be happy to assist you in any other way.”
“You know what, I will stretch for a bit in that lounge of yours. Come on Sarah.”
The airline attendant looked suspiciously at Sarah but said nothing as Sarah pulled her carry-on behind her and walked beside Auntie Mary.
“We can get there on our own, thank you.” And just like that, she dismissed the airline attendant.
Sarah noticed that she was looking around. “Are you looking for someone?”
The lounge indeed allowed you to stretch. Sarah felt she could fall asleep in here and miss her flight.
“Ask me one thing,” Auntie Mary said suddenly.
“Yes, just one thing.”
Sarah thought about it. Just one question was tough. So she decided to not overthink it. “Why did you check my Instagram account?”
“You have one chance to ask an old woman a question and this is what you come up with?”
Sarah shrugged. “I know I’ll be thinking about it so I’d better ask.”
“As it happens, it’s a good question actually. I wanted to know what kind of woman you are.”
“Through social media?”
“You’d be surprised at just how much social media can tell about a person.”
“That’s one question too many.”
“Just a private thought.”
“Uh…” How did Sarah say this? “I’ve been praying for one thing. Just one thing. I haven’t given myself the luxury of praying for other things.”
“Why one thing? God doesn’t give us limits, you know.”
“I know. It’s just that I want to be ‘faithful’ in this.”
“I see. And how is it working out?”
Sarah shook her head. “I don’t see the answer yet.”
“Well, don’t lose faith. Nothing is impossible with God.”
“I know. It’s just so hard sometimes.”
“If it’s hard, then you need to let it go. It’s not meant to be hard.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t make it a do or die. God loves you, He’ll definitely do what’s best for you. If you trust that, then nothing else matters.”
Easy for you to say, Sarah thought. Auntie Mary probably had all she needed. First class lounge benefits and all.
“I know that look.”
Sarah raised her eyebrows.
“When young people think old people don’t really know what’s happening. But I’ve been there, done it, and got the t-shirt and the wrinkles.”
Sarah laughed. “Then I’ll let it go. God is faithful.”
“That’s better.” She popped an olive into her mouth.
Sarah looked up and saw a young man striding towards them.
“Grandma I’ve been looking all over for you! Why didn’t you tell me you’ll be coming back here?”
“Oh, David you worry too much. Come, look what I found for you.” She grinned at Sarah, her eyes dancing in her face.
Sarah looked from one to the other. It was the man in the Duty-Free shop. The man with the scarf.
“Grandma, what are you talking about?” he knelt beside his grandma and it was cute, but yes, he was fussing over his grandma.
Auntie Mary pointed her chin at Sarah. “She reads.”
This time, she felt the man called David shift his attention to her. He was really looking at her now. Up close, he was even more gorgeous.
He got up and sat down beside his grandma. “Grandma, this is not a game.”
“Who said it was? I did all right, huh?”
David stared at Sarah once more and then seemed to shake himself. “I’m sorry, forgive my grandma. I hope she hasn’t been bothering you?”
“Are you your father’s son or what? Or did all those burgers finally ruin you?” Auntie Mary was shaking her head. “And please don’t go apologising on my behalf.”
The man called David sighed. “I’m sorry grandma.” He looked at Sarah. “I’m David. It’s nice to meet you.”
They shook hands firmly.
“Ask her what she reads.”
“Grandma…” David gave her a warning look.
“I like her,” the old woman added.
Sarah was surprised but pleased.
And it looked like his grandma’s declaration made David take a second look at her . “Sense and Sensibility?” he asked finally.
Sarah wasn’t sure what he was asking but she nodded. Maybe the grandson was just as odd as his grandma. And then he smiled. A wonderful smile that lit up his previously worried face.
“Go and get her a book or something.” Auntie Mary commanded, her hands shooing the both of them. Sarah stood up, more confused than ever and David shrugged, getting up also. They walked slowly towards the door of the lounge. Sarah glanced up at him. He was a head taller than her.
He glanced down at her. She didn’t look like a nerd. He wondered how his grandma had found her. And then he remembered what grandma had said and discovered that they were going to be on the same flight, spending Christmas in the same city.
Auntie Mary looked after them. What a generation, she thought, hoping to find love on Instagram when it was staring at them in the face. She fingered the silk scarf David had gotten her. Now she could die in peace. She would leave instructions for them to use the scarf for her grand exit. Bloody cancer. But you only lived life once.
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