I am waiting in the check-in line at the airport. The economy class line snakes from the counter folding back and forth between the rope barriers. The queue remains stagnant for a long time, then we shuffle forward about two steps and wait again. Beside us the first class line is empty.
At the head of the queue, a family of four holds up the line. A woman in native and her children. There seems to be a problem with her luggage and her sister who isn’t travelling with them has moved forward to help. It is raining outside and through the floor-to-ceiling windows lightning flickers over the city.
Next to me, a tall white man has his jacket slung over his left arm and every time the line inches forward, he rolls his wheeled suitcase behind him.
A worker breaks away from a group standing in the corner and approaches the white man. “Sir,” the worker says, “the priority line is free. You can go forward.” The man shakes his head politely and holds up his hand to stop the airport employee.
The family spreads their luggage across the two weigh-in counters. On every flight out of Nigeria, there is always someone with a Ghana-must-go bag. It is also common knowledge that the number of people with these bags increases exponentially if the flight is going to Houston or Manchester. What puzzles me is the economies of the whole thing. If you can afford to fly and can afford a Ghana-must-go bag, you can also afford a suitcase or a travelling bag, even if it is a fake one. It would be like travelling barefooted. Sure, you could do it, but it is assumed that if you can fly or be flown, you can spring for some bathroom slippers.
While they sort out the luggage, the line has stopped moving again.
Another airport worker walks up to the white man. “Sir, you know you don’t have to be on this line.”
“No, it’s okay,” the man replies.
It is never a svelte Ghana-must-go bag carried in addition to the rest of their luggage. It is always the largest sized one, stuffed tall and taped shut. I imagine the whole family sitting on it at home to seal it. “If it can fit in the car, shebi it will fit on a plane.” Then they act surprised when they are told it is overweight. “Huh, how come? It was fine at home.” Like they live on the moon.
The mother rocks the enormous Ghana-must-go bag back and forth, as if to say, “Look, I’m telling you, it’s not that heavy.” Her children scurry away from it, scared it will roll over and crush them. Then she tries to lift it masking the strain on her face as she does.
A third airport employee walks past the line with brisk steps, clearly on his way to do something important. He stops and does a double take like he’s seen a ghost. He hurries to the white man, grabbing the handle of the suitcase before speaking. “Follow me, sir.”
The man exhales with a huff and allows himself to be led away.
In front, the family cuts open the cello tape holding the Ghana-must-go bag. The bag sits on the scale and the mother scoops garri out of it, handful by handful, into a nylon bag while her sister monitors the weight on the digital readout. “Remain small,” she says, “one more hand.”