At sea. Mythic times
There is a storm. We see wooden ships clinging wildly to the waves like grains of rice, their sails in tatters. Our view of this scene is only possible periodically, when lightening strikes; otherwise the screen is pitch black.
There is one flag ship ahead of the others; this is the ship we follow.
On the ship’s deck
We see two hands holding the rudder of the flag ship; they are bleeding to hold the course. We see a close up of the eyes; they are directed upwards, at the stars. We see what the eyes see, a messy sky. The stars are hardly visible between the clouds.
Although it is pouring with rain the eyes do not blink they are trained on the formation that HE watches to guide HIM. We see that all the ships, hundreds, are following the course mapped by those eyes.
They are the eyes of Palinurus the Pilot, fighting through the storm.
A 747 bursts out of darkness. Only a single string of lights signify the tarmac, a single concrete house the airport.
The plane is landing. The passengers are belted.
The camera travels through the cabin. We pan the British stewardess strapped into her seat by the toilets, then the English men in khaki safari gear with wives and children in tow, some even in school uniform.
We pass the bullish Israeli construction guys and then to our hero.
A white man and a black man sit, side-by-side all in suit and glasses.
The black man is our hero.
Hero is one of about ten black men aboard.
(on the intercom)
We will be making a stop of 50mins for
refuelling. Passengers who want to
disembark during this time are reminded
to take their boarding passes.
Passengers disembark the plane down a wheeled staircase. There are a few soldiers on the tarmac holding rifles.
pitch dark at sea
On the sound level we are in the bowls of the ship. We can only just hear the sound of oars being pulled against fl esh, against wood; mostly we hear the bellowing roar of the ocean enraged.
Palinurus steer us clear of the storm
What about Neptune? Will Neptune not
spark when he finds Juno messing with
He will but by that time we’ll be dead.
The ships from a distance
The sea calms briefly. We see fire signals being sent from the flag ship to the ships behind, regrouping.
In the bowls the men get water to drink. The water passed around in calabash shells is passed with extreme gentleness and care. Other Oarsman takes his swig.
Na lie Aeneas is the son of Venus he is nearly
a god himself she will help him and we
Oarsman takes his share and passes
Aeneas is a politician nothing more. He can save
his skin. They rigged the rescue canoes hours
A huge jolt of wind sends the ship swaying almost onto its side. The water carrier lurches to rescue the gourd. The storm is suddenly on again. A whip falls, the voices are silenced. The beating of a drum supports the stretch and bump of the oarsmen’s rhythm.
Oarsmen sink with the ship.
We are not the sons of Venus.
Passengers waiting lounge – a one story building with windows down to the ground.
Chris (our hero) is at the window. He is looking out at the plane standing in the darkness.
Frank (the white man) is standing next to him looking into the lounge.
An Igbo man in shorts and a white short sleeved shirt brings a couple of bottles of beer and gives them to the two men.
Chris looks at the bottle and glass but not at the man. He tries not to see him. Frank thanks the man. Chris looks into the sky
Greek gods sitting on clouds. They are reclining in what looks like a sauna.
Venus is naked with her legs far apart. She is playing with her vulva and arguing with someone who isn’t present.
Calm the ocean and guide them to Italy that’s all I ask
It will cost you
What do you want?
I want Palinurus, the Pilot
Venus closes her legs.
On the tarmac
A movement in the shadows behind the plane, a flash, then the scene becomes motionless again.
The drinking passengers look round. Did you see something? They go to the window to see more, all of them. Chris and Frank are in front.
The passengers look into the Darkness.
On the tarmac, looking into the lounge
The camera is on the passengers. Two hundreds mostly European faces looking out, looking at what is happening. The camera studies the faces, in a slow motion pan. Gradually they gasp and their eyes widen as they all see something, all this occurs slowly.
On the tarmac
A woman appears, fast. She runs straight towards the window. She looks into Chris’s eyes from far.
Chris looks into her eyes. The others are also watching. Shots are fired.
Venus admires herself in a mirror.
Okay take Palinurus.
Venus looks sad but determined
The passengers are restless and afraid. There are voices raised. The speaker box mounted on the wall.
All passengers are requested to re-board the aircraft immediately.
Passengers are boarding the plane under soldiers’ guard. Everyone is confused. Chris and his companion are half way up the stairs.
In the shadows
Hundreds of Africans pour out of the darkness. They run, carrying bundles of belongings, or children. They run towards the plane. There is no shouting – the people are concentrating on running.
The sea has calmed completely and is as flat as a mirror. The sky too is clear and Palinurus is steering upward, unmoving.
Suddenly the wind brings a spirit around Palinurus, it is Somnus.
Palinurus go and rest the sea is calm.
I will steer the ship for an hour
Leave me you troublesome spirit. Do not trick me into sleep.
I have seen this ocean change from light to dark faster
that I could close my eyes and open them again.
Aeneas sleeps because I do not.
On the wheeled staircase
General panic, people start pushing to board the plane. Chris pushes Frank.
What do they want?
The soldiers are trying to hold back the masses of people. From behind the crowds we see another crowd, of soldiers this time. Chris pauses and looks at the people, they are villagers.
The Englishman behind Chris feels his pause and pushes him.
Come on man
Chris moves on
People are running aboard the plane. We see Chris run through with Frank.
Occupy seats from back to front please.
A window seat.
Chris rushes into the seat and is followed by Frank. They both fasten their seat belts.
From his seat Chris can see that the last British Caledonian passenger has started up the stairs. But at that moment the floodgates burst and the villagers take the upper hand. They rush the steps.
We see alternating impressions aboard the plane, on the tarmac and on the wheeled steps of the plane. The Ankara patterned wrappas are becoming more than the Khaki colonial colours and the green military uniforms. The steps are overloaded. They start to totter.
On board the villagers are piling in. Some of the Brits are trying to fight them back.
However, once a seat is occupied it seems to be understood that that person is now a passenger and need no longer be stopped. But the few remaining free seats are quickly filled and now the scramble is on for floor space between seats and ultimately the aisle.
In the terminal building we see fresh soldiers arriving, higher ranking.
The pilot and other cabin staff are trying to close the door.
On the tarmac
A group of four or five soldiers storm the steps of the plane the first two guys just throw people off if they can’t push past them. The man in charge is behind these two. He boards the plane. On the tarmac all the villagers are being caught, no one is getting away.
In the cabin
The soldier stands with his legs apart. He is not armed. He speaks with a Northern accent.
In the name of the government of the Republic of Nigeria,
I order all those without tickets to leave the plane.
I ask the stewardess to pass around and check boarding passes.
Young lady would you mind.
The Stewardess smiles slightly and obliges.
We watch her passing through the cabin. There are scuffles between people, trying to share boarding passes. It is only a formality, the checking of passes, in actual fact one can tell straight away who has a pass and who doesn’t. The poor villagers don’t exactly blend in.
Stewardess swings around to the soldier triumphantly.
The soldier sends a lesser soldier down the aisle. The young man without a pass is snatched from his crouching refuge, dragged back up the aisle and thrown out. The stewardess is struck with guilt. She doesn’t want to play anymore. Then soldier nods at her to continue.
The passengers with passes are silently compliant they raise no protest at the treatment of the villagers. One by one the soldiers throw them out.
The window seat
Chris is looking out. He can see that the people are being herded together in the lounge. They are being made to stand in a line facing the wall. The soldier is still on board.
How could they hope to fly without tickets?
Chris speaks under his breath in Igbo.
Somnus stirs again.
The spirit takes the form of Palinurus himself. Now we see two Palinurus at the helm, the real one looks at the stars while Somnus lies down to sleep. Palinurus glances down at himself resting and his eyes start to blink.
The window seat
The soldier is satisfied that all non-passengers have been removed and turns to leave.
Chris stands up
I’m afraid I seem to find
lacking a boarding pass.
Frank drags Chris back into his seat.
Are you crazy?
Frank pulls Chris’s boarding pass out from between the seats and try to put it up in the air. Chris snatches it. He turns to Frank.
I’m sorry but I must join the
He clambers out of his seat and starts up the aisle. The Soldier is confused.
Prof, sit down.
The soldier turns to leave but Chris grabs his arm.
I have no boarding pass,
sir, I wonder if I could join
Frank stands in the aisle looking distraught.
On the tarmac
Chris walks down the wheeled stairs and join the villagers.
Frank takes the window seat and looks out. Chris shirt and tie make him clearly visible to Frank among the villagers, even as the plane taxis off.
Palinurus splashes into the sea. He is still holding the rudder of the ship. Both are sinking fast.
Palinurus dies to save the Trojans who after reaching Italy, go on to rule the world as Romans.
Branwen Kiemute Okpako’s films include The Education of Auma Obama, The Pilot and the Passenger (or Who killed Christopher Okigbo),Valley of the Innocent, and Dirt for Dinner.
Portrait courtesy of the Christopher Okigbo Foundation.
This article first appeared in print in Chimurenga 6: The Orphans Of Fanon (October ’04).
Other Nollywood titles in this month’s Chronic online edition include: