You are sitting in your best friend’s car, in your house’s compound, listening to music from his stereo speakers. Without warning, next to you, the headlights of your father’s car flash on and off. There is no-one in the car. There is no-one around the car. You debate this strange occurrence with your best friend for a moment before you simply let it go.
A few minutes later, you have gone inside at last with him and you are explaining the exciting events of the day prior to his arrival, including how a kettle started melting itself so that one could smell the burning from any part of the house, how your parents argued over the positions of some new fire extinguishers, and a gentleman known as Tony the Carpenter kept interrupting it all either by phone-calls announced by your brother or by his physical presence at the front door. Your best friend remarks that the amount of strange chaos in your family is movie worthy.
Before you are done telling your stories, your brother bursts into the room. While he hastily searches shelves and couch cushions, he announces, “Daddy has lost his car keys.”
You rush out to aid the search for the missing keys, but only a minute later, your father yells that he has found them—in his dressing room—as he shoots downstairs and outside.
This is the beginning of the evening’s madness, and you don’t even know.
You are outside again, around 7:30 p.m., bidding your best friend goodnight, next to his car. Your father appears suddenly, looking harried.
“I’m going to Cape Town,” he says, dashing from his car to the front door.
“When?” you ask, in utter surprise.
“Tonight,” he responds. You are even more amazed. Your best friend is amused.
A small argument ensues about whether or not your father told you about this trip in advance. You both remember things so differently that the argument amounts to nothing. In any case, well… the flight is tonight and there’s much to do before then.
Earlier in the day, your mother sat in her room, waiting for your father, though she knew she had a party to attend. She was expecting him back this afternoon and had only waited this long so she could help him pack for his trip. Your father did not return. Your mother finally became perplexed enough to call him on the phone.
“Ah, is it not tonight that you are going?” she asked.
He responded that yes, it was. She enquired as to his whereabouts and he responded to the effect of: I’m with my friends at the sports club where I usually play golf and I can’t leave yet because there’s some frightfully important casual social gathering going on and it wouldn’t please me greatly if I had to forfeit all the enjoyment too early.
Your extremely wise mother knew then that whatever ensued upon your father’s belated arrival would be something she had no desire to become ensnared in. She dressed for her party and got into her car, looking gorgeous. You and your best friend were outside, and you both watched her leave.
If only she had taken you along, maybe you could have side-stepped all the stress that was to come.
The real madness starts only after your best friend is gone.
You are trying to treat it like an ordinary night. You sit down at your desk downstairs, switch on your computer, and try to get some work done. But there is so much yelling.
Your father is escalating from mildly harried to hurricane. You can hear him shouting instructions to your brother about where to put what—which items are going to hand luggage and which into checked bags. You can hear your brother yelling back at your father to confirm instructions, sometimes from upstairs, sometimes from downstairs and outside.
Soon, your father—not yet done packing—decides to request the Uber that will take him to the airport. Your brother advises him against it, for good reason. Your house is in a very popular, accessible urban area, where requested rides are liable to arrive in under a minute. Your brother thus advises your father to finish packing entirely, then go outside with his bags, before hitting the request button. Your father disregards the advice, he knows he’s carrying enough to cover extra waiting charges, so why not risk it?
Your father dashes quickly downstairs and then upstairs again, yelling for your brother. Outside, the security man starts yelling for your father, who doesn’t hear him at all, given how preoccupied he is with yelling at your brother. You yell for your father from downstairs on the security man’s behalf, and the security man chooses that moment to explain in Twi that he’s yelling because the Uber has arrived. Anyway, your father doesn’t hear you either, but your brother does, so you yell to your brother about the Uber’s arrival, and he kindly yells it back to your father, who then yells loudly enough in English for you to hear, “Tell him to wait, eh! I’ll pay him extra for waiting time.” This, you faithfully convey back to the security guard in Twi, who then conveys it to the Uber driver outside.
The shouting and rushing about continue right up until you bid your father goodbye and he leaves the house. If this was all you’d have to go through tonight, you’d have gotten off easy. Unfortunately, life in your household doesn’t work that way.
A few minutes after your father’s departure, you are still at your desk, when you are interrupted by a phone call. It’s from your father.
“Akotz, hi… Check on my bed, see if there are some sets of padlock keys…”
Your father sounds extra calm—uncharacteristically so—but you are already sprinting up the stairs, and into his room, where the lights are still on and the fan is still spinning. It looks like your father left for a quick, three-minute trip to the kitchen, as opposed to a whole other country.
“I’ve found the keys,” you tell him immediately.
“Two sets, right?”
“I might want you to bring them to me at the airport,” he says. You wonder briefly why he is speaking conditionally when you know his timer for you has already started ticking down. The calm in his voice does not delude you. The frenzy in your head began long ago.
After you grab the keys, he asks you to check if there’s a blue-and-white tie hanging on a hook behind his bedroom door. There is, and he wants you to bring that too.
The call ends, you grab a bag and stuff the required items in it. You dash downstairs and are on the verge of heading for the front door, when you receive another call from him.
“If you can,” he tries to say gently, but there is more of an edge in his voice than there was before, “Look into my wardrobe and see if you can find a purple tie… If you can’t, it’s okay…” But in your mind, it will absolutely not be okay if you can’t find it.
You run upstairs again and only then do you remember that your parents have several wardrobes and you don’t have a clue where they keep what, and how they organize shelves between themselves. Frantically, you open and slam drawers and doors, but you can’t seem to find ties anywhere! Finally, you go into the dressing room, where you know your mother keeps most of her shoes and handbags (and where your father earlier lost and found his keys).
At last! You see a purple tie hanging on the back of the chair and breathe a sigh of relief. No sooner do you cast your eyes a little to the left and discover another purple tie lying crumpled on a shelf. You move closer to the second to pick it up and that’s when you discover, immediately behind it, a brand-new purple tie, still within the transparent rubber in which it was packaged. Each tie has a completely different design, and your father used no descriptors other than “purple.”
You dial his number again—now more acutely aware of that damning timer ticking against you— wanting to clarify which tie you ought to pack. The call does not go through; your father’s line is busy. You put away your phone, sigh in exasperation, and stuff all three ties into your bag.
Somewhere on a court, your mother attends a tennis-themed party. Given that she missed your father at home, she decides now to call him and see how his travel plans are progressing. She calls him, he answers, and they have a civil conversation. Your father tells your mother that he is fine; all is well; he is getting ready to board and will soon be on the plane. She wishes him a safe journey.
Now entirely free of anxiety, your mother puts her phone in her bag and leaves it on silent so she can enjoy the party without further distraction. Music plays, guests sing and dance. The phone lies neglected in the bag.
With four ties and two padlock key sets in your bag, you run to your car and hurriedly ask the security guard to open the gate. As he’s doing so, you spark the car and discover… that there’s no fuel. Lord Jesus—of all the moments! The meter reads absolutely zero. You know you’re on reserve now, and you pray it can get you to the closest filling station. You can’t risk trying to get to the airport at these levels. It is inevitable; you need to make a fuel stop.
You experience a flash of anger at your mother, who was the last person to use this car. As to how she could spend Saturday morning driving around the city without replenishing the tank, then go off comfortably to a party, you really have no idea.
The nearest filling station is in the opposite direction from the airport. Excellent. You are on your way.
A Saturday night is an inopportune time to head towards Oxford Street. The traffic at Danquah Circle is heavy enough to frustrate you, and you keep fearing the fuel will halt your car in the middle of the street, or you’ll run out of seconds on the damning timer.
While inching forward in the go-slow, your phone rings. Your father, calling back. You explain the purple tie dilemma and its temporary resolution. He’s hardly concerned about all that; he just wants to know where you are. With trepidation, you tell him, “Mummy used the car and finished the fuel. It’s on zero. So I’m buying fuel and then I’ll come straight to the airport.”
A dramatic pause, where you can almost hear your father’s hope and forced composure whooshing out of him like a deflating balloon.
“Oh,” he finally says, dismay undisguised. “Wow.”
You assure him that you’re almost at the filling station, and that you will very soon be at the airport. He tells you to try and make it quick. You tell him you will do your best.
At the tennis-themed party, your mother enjoys herself as her phone rings and rings unheard in her bag. As far as she’s concerned, her husband is set and ready to board—as per his last phone call—and there’s no reason he should be frantically calling her at this time.
You finally turn into the filling station—empty except for your car, and it looks like only one man is on duty. He waves you towards him where you turn off the engine, open your tank door, and confidently ask for “60 Super”. You take a moment to catch your breath as he’s filling the tank, before you reach for your wallet. Once you do, you look into it and freeze. You do not have ₵60 on you.
Impossible. This can’t be right! You distinctly remember having replenished your wallet that very day. Where could your money have gone? Only then does your brain decide to remind you how, earlier in the evening, you had an ice cream craving and got your best friend to drive you out for some. You bought him ice cream, too. That’s what happened to your money.
You have ₵40 on you. You look to the fuel meter, hoping you can make him stop earlier than you asked. But your thinking wasted time, and the meter hits 60.00 before your eyes.
Big sigh. Bigger stress.
In a small, tight voice, you ask the fuel attendant if they take card payments over here and instead of answering the question, he says, quite lackadaisically, “Oh… You don’t have enough, eh?”
You want to scream so badly that you can’t even remember what you say next. But then he tells you that the card machine is currently offline and charging. Your heart sinks. The fuel is already in your car, for goodness’ sake! Your father is waiting in palpable agitation. There is nothing to do, and you would like the ground to swallow you and your car up right this moment.
In his annoyingly casual, relaxed manner, he tells you to wait, then disappears, leaving you to despair. Some moments later, he returns with a working, online card reader from goodness-knows-where, and announces to you that today is your lucky day. You feel anything but lucky, but you release a very relieved, “Hallelujah!”
You pay, you exit. Once again, you are on your way—in the right direction, this time.
As soon as you get to the roundabout that will take you from your neighborhood towards Airport Bypass, you get another call from your father. You sigh as you wrestle to answer the call on loudspeaker without disrupting your driving.
“Any luck?” he asks.
“Yeah.” You sound breathless. “I’ve bought the fuel. I’m on my way to the airport now.”
“Make it quick,” he says again.
“Okay.” Cut call. You would like to focus on your driving now. You are even more apprehensive, since you got into a minor car accident only two days earlier.
Once out of the roundabout, you zoom off to a T-junction, where one car—a taxi—is casually waiting for its turn to make its turn. Its driver seems extremely chill, quite the antithesis of how you have gotten used to perceiving Accra’s impatient, relentlessly reckless taxi drivers. It’s likely because he has no passengers and is looking forward to picking one up. It seems mildly unfortunate that his indicator is flashing on the same side as yours. That is, until you both turn, and now it seems a tad more than mildly unfortunate—in fact, more like you really just want to smash your already damaged bumper into the back of his car, just to propel him forward.
The road you are on is narrow, a school road, and one lane in either direction. There is a steady trickle of cars travelling in the opposite direction to you. It’s not heavy, but it’s substantial enough to stop you from being able to overtake the indolent taxi driver. Sigh. You want to blow your horn, yet you’re afraid it’s too rude. Besides, you give him the benefit of the doubt: maybe he’s being careful because of the speed ramps.
After what feels like months, you finally see the end of the school road, where it splits into one with multiple lanes. As much as possible, you try to push forward and skirt around the taxi because only a few meters from where the road splits is a traffic light. It’s green, but if this taxi doesn’t get out of your damn way—Hell, amber!
You finally manage to veer off into the next lane and race towards the light as the amber flashes at half your heart rate and you’re almost there and—red.
You bang your hands on the wheel, utter many curses, and hiss.
You’d swear the light stays on red for years, and sometime in 2023, it turns green again and you waste no time in leaving that evil taxi driver in your dust as you fly onto the Airport Bypass.
You’re going really fast, and your phone starts ringing—Jesus Christ! You simply do not have any patience left, so—
“Yeah, hi, Daddy, I’m at Aviation, I’ll be at the airport soon, I promise.” Cut.
Perhaps your father just needs to let off steam to someone, and your curtness caused him to consider that you just might not be the one. But he knows who’s never curt: your mother.
Back at the party, which must be winding to a close by now, your mother finally hears her phone ringing. She answers, as surprised as ever to realize how many calls she has already missed. She probably doesn’t have a moment to even express more than an astonished “Hello?” before she is subjected to blastings. Your father has never been one to express himself as honestly as, for instance, “Hey, my plane is about to leave and I’m under a lot of pressure, stressed out of my mind, and I really need to let off some steam.” He tends to go for more indirect routes of self-expression. And so, likely without being eased into the context, your mother receives an earful about her usage of this car and total depletion of the fuel, and her subsequent neglect to replenish it. Because, of course, it’s entirely because of your car’s fuel depletion that his night is going so badly.
At long last, you take the turn into the airport, and get sick all over again at the confusing Terminal 3 redesign, with its million maze roads and confusing direction signs and way too many forks and roundabouts. You try to move by memory, since you have experience in picking people up from Terminal 3. When you reach a fork, then, you automatically choose the turn you always choose. What you know over what you don’t, right?
Nope. Not today.
A few meters in front of you are the automated barriers and ticket machines that will get you safely into the car park. Only then do you realize you have made a mistake. Your heart sinks into your gut as your emotional, adrenaline-riddled brain struggles to come up with a solution.
A little to your right is a group of security guys who work for the airport, wearing reflective jackets and standing around a bunch of red and yellow movable plastic barriers. You stop beside them, roll down your window, and yell out, “Hello, good evening. Please, how do I get to Departures?”
One of the men gets up calmly from his seat and echoes to you, “Departures?”
You don’t have time for this. “Yes, Departures.”
He is right at your window now. He tells you sadly, “You should have gone up at the junction. Right now, unless you go and park at the car park.”
It would be so nice to be able to break down and cry right now. “Can’t I just turn around?” you ask, though you know it’s a one-way. “Or reverse all the way back?” And hope that a car coming forward doesn’t collide with you in the process…
The security guy shakes his head. “Why, is it the parking fees you don’t want to pay or…?”
You impatiently and maybe somewhat incoherently explain that this has nothing to do with parking fees and the whole situation about your father’s plane getting ready to take off, and that this is an e-mer-gen-cy!
Still way too calmly, the man nicely offers to let you through if he can collect the parking money on the airport’s behalf. Though nothing about this sounds right and you know it, he certainly says it in a way that sounds less criminal than how your mind translates it. Either way, time no dey.
“What’s the minimum parking fee?” you ask in exasperation. “Five cedis?”
“Ten,” he replies, shaking his head and smiling sympathetically.
You peruse the wallet that shocked you only a few minutes ago. “My smallest note is twenty,” you tell him. He starts mumbling something about not being able to procure change, and you interrupt with, “Just take the twenty, please, I have to go now.”
He takes the twenty and gives you directions on how to get back to a location where you can take the right road to Departures, though you know you’ll likely just get lost again. The man then shifts the bright plastic barriers enough to allow you space to drive. You thank him and shoot off. The road you are using is a prohibited road, meant solely for airport vehicles or buses or something. It takes you right to the front of Arrivals, where you ask some more staff how to get to Departures. They echo the first man’s words about getting to the roundabout and just taking the exit that will send you back the way you came.
Eventually, you get back to the roundabout, but it’s dark and it feels like there are too many exits, and you’re terrified you’re just going to take the one that leads you straight out of the airport completely. So you start turning towards an exit that seems least likely to do just that, even though you can tell instinctively that it’s not the one you should be taking. It’s so narrow and deserted, it doesn’t look like it was designed to be one of the exits at all.
You start turning into it, when you see a formally dressed gentleman in a green reflector jacket emerge from this very road. You stick your head out of the window and frantically ask him how to get to Departures. He’s the most quick-witted and sensible man you’ve met all night, and he responds briskly, “I’m on my way there right now. I could show you.”
Hallelujah. You throw your stuff to the backseat and allow the airport official to ride shotgun. You know you sound harried and look like a mess, so you apologize to the official and explain that your father is stressing you out.
Speak of the devil. As if on cue, your phone starts ringing. “Departures!” your father yells immediately. “I said I’m at Departures! Where have you gone to? I’m at Departures!”
And now the airport official knows first-hand what you meant, as he surely heard those yells from where he sits, though the phone is not even on loudspeaker.
You tell your father you’re going to Departures right now and hang up the phone.
With the official directing you, you finally make all the right turns. Once on the ramp leading up to Departures, you start accelerating harder and harder and you’re going faster and faster and you don’t see it until—the car goes careening!
Over the ramp you now realize was there. Only after it has loudly scraped against the underside of your car.
Your car thumps back to the ground, fully jolting you and the official, and the roadside guard who watched it all happen winces. You see the latter from the side mirror of the driver’s seat.
All that’s in your head is: “Oh Lord. I’ve spoilt the car. I’ve spoilt it, haven’t I?” over and over. You’re sure some of it is said aloud.
The official in your car gently asks, “Oh, why? You didn’t see the ramp or…?”
You shake your head and respond, “I don’t even know. I’m so stressed right now, I don’t even know anything.”
And now you have something else to be stressed about: the damage to the car. After your accident on Thursday, a good portion of your front bumper is gone, exposing the foam and intestines of the vehicle. Luckily enough, the license plate was more easily restored after being torn off. But now, you can hear something rattling on the underside of the car. God, you’ve broken it.
With fear and paranoia sitting at the forefront of your brain, you repeatedly ask the official if he can hear the rattling, not really expecting an answer. You can’t remember if he gives one.
All this time, you are still driving frantically and fast, as if on autopilot. When you get to Departures, you don’t even realize it. You’d have driven right past your hysterically waving father if the official hadn’t pointed him out. You screech to a halt a few feet in front of your father and exhale.
You thank the official for his assistance, then get out and search for all the things you threw into the backseat when he got in. In a small corner of your mind, you register how deserted Departures is. Everyone who might have a plane to board has boarded it already—except your father. Never in your life have you seen the outside of Kotoka this empty.
While quickly explaining the purple tie dilemma to your father, you hand him all the stuff you picked up for him, and he slips you some money for fuel. Then he runs off back into the airport building. You bid farewell to the airport official and get back into your car. For a while, all you do is breathe.
You drive back home, filled with dread. You were too late, he missed his flight, he’ll call you any minute to tell you to return, pick him up, and take him home. You’ve failed him yet again. The entire drive home, you’re paranoid, looking at your phone.
Finally, you arrive at home, and you park your car. You’ve hardly turned off the ignition when your phone rings.
It’s your father.
You pick it up, expecting the worst. But he tells you he’s on the plane and it’s about to take off. He was the dead last passenger to board, having stalled the entire plane’s takeoff. Having had his name being called multiple times on the airport PA system. Having received the threat of his bags being removed from cargo.
But he’s on board now. You succeeded. And if not for the residual adrenaline, you’d be more than ready to go straight to bed.