A.G. Gets a Sidekick (1)
Sunken eyes. The first thing A.G. noticed about the mark were his sunken eyes.
“Hi.” A.G. chirped as he sat down beside Umar and placed a small folder to rest on his laps.
“Hello.” Umar replied, trying unsuccessfully to match cheeriness with cheeriness.
“Nice to be seated beside you. How are you?” A.G. continued. Umar rarely talked to people seated beside him in flights. Except on the rare times he flew economy or coach for the excitement of it. First class passengers, he’d found, were a snotty bunch.
“I’m fine. You?” Umar spoke with a cultured accent. You could tell he was from Northern Nigeria but you could equally tell that he was well read and widely travelled.
“Fabulous.” A.G. replied merrily. Umar looked at A.G. cautiously. Weird. An extremely well-dressed fellow who smelled deliriously good. Even a loaded person like him could admit to that. He looked again at the smiling man’s face: clean shaven and very well groomed. Up to his eyebrows. Plus he was a very jovial disposition. Weird.
“What? You’re looking at me like I’m… gay.” A.G. was pretty used to those stares anyway. He couldn’t help his fashion sense though.
“Nothing. Not at all. You look perfectly… not-gay,”
Umar had a look like he was trying to hide his true feelings. He was simply uncomfortable though. His policy was live and let live. A.G. chose a topic.
“Wow. First class service on local flights isn’t really all that. You should get on Emirates Airlines. You get everything short of a happy ending if you know what I mean…” A.G. winked at Umar conspiratorially. Umar was clearly not in the mood. Shehata was almost always on his mind these days. Flights were beginning to seem like the only reprieve he had from that aspect of his life. This was going to be a long flight.
“I really don’t know what you mean.”
“Turd.” A.G. cussed under his breath.
“What did you say?” Umar asked. He was born of an older generation but these new age types thought they knew all the hip slangs and cool expressions, Umar thought. It always gave him immense pleasure when his knowledge of current pop culture shocked younger people.
“I said I heard. I HEARD you. HEARD.” A.G. lied. Almost immediately, take-off formalities commenced. Umar turned away from A.G. and towards the window. They both kept mute till it was announced that it was no longer compulsory to be strapped in. Indeed, the pilot had promised a safe flight. Clear skies, he’d said. Oh, the irony.
“So… Umar, tell me about yourself…” A.G. said suddenly. Umar looked at him questioningly.
“And how do you know my name young man?” A.G. laughed heartily at Umar’s inquiry. He was also amused by the manner Umar had addressed him: “Young man.” He took in Umar’s features from up close. He didn’t look forty-one. He was a handsome man though. Dark skinned but fresh-faced. His cultured beard and moustache had streaks of grey that made him look rather wise.
“You’re holding your boarding pass in your hand aren’t you?” Umar looked into his own hands and felt stupid at once. The side his name was printed on was actually facing A.G. However, he didn’t speak. He simply tucked it out of sight. A.G. kept the conversation going.
“Well, I’ll be happy to go first. For the purpose of this flight, my name is…” he paused to read from his boarding pass, “James Archibong. Nice choice, Judith.” He spoke to himself then looked up to see Umar staring at him. A.G. smiled and continued to talk. “As I was saying, I’m James. I’m from Cross-Rivers state and I love diamonds!”
“Diamonds?” Umar’s curiosity was piqued. He loved diamonds to no end. Almost every bit of trouble Umar had gotten into had a thing or two to do with diamonds.
“Yeah. Diamonds.”A.G. replied almost nonchalantly. “I’m also into clothes. I’m very style conscious as you can see.” Using his hand, A.G. motioned to Umar to look at him from head to toe.
Underneath his gleaming leather jacket, A.G. wore an immaculately pressed check shirt tucked into the most fitted pair of jeans one ever saw. They were in night skies, so Umar was unable to take in the alligator-skin boots.
A.G. again observed the look on Umar’s face and began to chuckle.
“I’m really not gay. I promise you.” A.G. whispered.
“Then I’m a peasant who teleports into planes!” Umar smiled. He would indulge the chatty man for at least a bit.
“Ahh… then you’re NOT a peasant in actuality?”
“No. I’m richer than you could even dream of, boy.” Umar stated matter-of-factly.
“So I own a Bugatti.” Umar’s eyes showed particular disinterest as he said this.
“Well, if you own a Bugatti, why not charter your own flight? Or buy a jet and save yourself the interaction with peasantry?”
“I quite simply enjoy commercial flights. It’s the only time I can legitimately get away from my army of bodyguards.” Umar answered emotionlessly.
“You sounded sad just saying that,” A.G. furrowed his brows in concern. Umar’s tone did not sound like he really enjoyed anything. Let alone commercial flights across Nigeria.
“I’m not as sad as I’m bored,” A.G. found that he was rather interested in Umar’s sob story
“Yes. Used to have a wife. Sadly, it would now seem that she enjoys sleeping with young magazine models rather than living the simple but well-tended life with a billionaire.”
“Can’t blame her. Who wouldn’t want to shag a magazine model?”
“What did you just say?” Somehow, Umar managed a small laugh.
“Nothing. I’m still not gay.” A.G. looked away slightly embarrassed at how his previous statement had made him sound.
“Anyway,” Umar continued, “my rich life is also exceptionally boring. The only thing that stops me from committing suicide is that coward Shehata who’s always trying to have me assassinated.”
“I don’t follow. You want to commit suicide but the threat of being killed by someone else stops you?”
“I know it sounds silly but all my knowledge and experience and wealth aren’t giving me much joy. I need some kind of challenge.” Umar sighed audibly as his handsome yet melancholy features seemed to sink into the seat a little bit more.
“So…” A.G.’s countenance and tone changed suddenly and he sat up straight and looked at his watch, “…let’s cut to the chase. I’m here because i want to recruit you.” Umar’s expression went from uninterested to bewildered in mere moments.
“Recruit me? Whatever for? I should be the one recruiting. Do you know how many…”
“Shut up.” A.G. said firmly. Umar stopped talking out of shock. He also felt himself cede to the confidence A.G. exuded. “We know how rich you are. It’s part of the reason why we want you. But we also know you are destined to die today.” Umar broke into a sweat instantly. It was quite a bit to take in. He knew he had pursuers: powerful pursuers, so there could be some modicum of truth to what the young man was saying.
“There are people on this plane who know you don’t fly with your bodyguards. Sometime before descent, they will come here and kill you. Even if they get caught, you need to realize we are in Nigeria. They will be free men in less than 18 hours.” A.G.’s face had lost all its friendliness. The sudden switch in tone and mood left Umar too stunned to speak. A.G., still emotionless, reached into his jacket and pulled out a rectangular steel casing about the size of a small hard drive but much lighter. Umar was immediately inquisitive.
“What’s that?” A.G. remained mute. He opened the miniature box and carefully slid out a filmy object. Shaped like – and of about the same size – as a contact lens. He put the material on his left hand middle finger and returned the box.
“Give me a second,” A.G. said quietly and rose from where he sat. He moved swiftly. Umar could sense his confidence even in the measured steps he took as he walked out the door frame to the economy class cabin. He brushed past an air hostess. She tried to ask him what he wanted but he motioned to back of the plane so purposefully, she was convinced he knew what he wanted to do and needed no further assistance. A.G. was two steps into the cabin when he stopped. Umar looked on as he touched his temple with his right hand and squinted while shaking his head slowly. Migraine, thought Umar.
A.G. took his other hand out of his pocket and leaned on the overhead luggage compartment for support. That attracted the attention of the air hostess he’d just passed and another one further down the aisle.
“Are you okay sir?”
“I’m fine. I’ll be okay. Just a little… I just realized that I forgot something really important at home. Oh bother! I’ll just show myself back to my seat. Thanks.” A.G. turned and glided back to his seat.
“What was that?” Umar whispered.
“Shut up and watch.” A.G. reached yet again into his jacket and pulled out his smartphone. Or at least what looked like a smartphone. After a few taps of his stylus on the touchscreen, a video began to play. Umar didn’t understand at first. It was just a bunch of people seated in what seemed to be a plane’s cabin. Then his eye caught the face of one of the air hostesses on the screen. Upon realizing what he was looking at, Umar made to scream. A.G. sensed this and stopped him.
“Keep quiet.” A.G. spoke calmly without even looking up from the screen. He was used to people being unable to contain themselves around him. He’d always figured it was his charisma. Not the gadgetry. “You’re looking at the live feed from the economy class cabin.” A.G. paused to allow confirmation sink in to Umar before continuing.
“From here, we can tell that the young man in the red t-shirt…” he pointed at a man chatting away with a pretty lady beside him. She was trying to smile while clearly uninterested. It was obvious she was trying to subtly hide her face whenever he spoke. The man though, was very clueless. “…has bad breath and clearly will not be seeing the young lady beyond this flight.” A.G. looked at Umar for a reaction. The images had rendered Umar transfixed. The sunken eyes were suddenly bright with interest. A.G. kept speaking in a low register.
“That strip of film I put on the overhead compartment is called a Limited Environment Nano Surveyor.” Umar put the first letters together almost instinctively and replied with a half-smile:
“Remind me to give you a cookie when we alight, okay? That tiny thing costs about 3 million naira to make.”
“Wow. My life is soooo boring…” Umar kept looking at the images. It all seemed so intriguing to his active mind.
“Yeah. We’ve been watching you for six months. We know that,” A.G. replied. Umar went still. What was going on here? He sensed that A.G. was scanning the screen for something. Umar couldn’t tell what he was looking for.
“Anyway, here’s why I’m sitting beside you today. I need you to sign this.” A.G. reached into on the folder he’d brought and pulled out a leather-bound volume. He tossed it onto Umar’s thighs. “It’s a contract that makes you obligated to us. It stipulates that you’re to make quarterly payments of one million dollars to our company. In exchange, we guarantee that you won’t die today.” A.G. looked Umar in the face now and smiled wryly before continuing, “Or anytime soon for that matter… Unless your diabetes starts to act up again of course.”
By now, Umar couldn’t even be surprised that the man beside him knew about his condition.
“Oh. It’s money you ALWAYS want. How do I know that this is not all a setup?! How do I know this is not all just a ruse?!” Umar was clearly exasperated.
“Oh, you’ll know alright…” A.G. trailed off as he raised the device in his hand to Umar’s eye level. The feed was now focussing on three men seated beside each other. As if on cue, they exchanged nods and each pulled a mask out of seemingly nowhere. Umar’s breath caught in his throat.
The three men all wore simple dress shirts. A.G. tapped on the screen a few times more to zoom in on something: the tiny “SH”es sewn onto the visible parts of their collars caught Umar’s attention.
“Shehata!” Umar exhaled.
“Yuuuup! Gotta love HD.” A.G. squealed cheerily as he pulled his device away. “What did you ever do to piss him off so bad anyway?”
“Not much really. I barely know sometimes…”
Please find the sequel here