But they that wait upon the Lord shall find renewed strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint – Isaiah 40:31
It must have been the thrill. Or the thought of it. Or both. Or did I see a picture somewhere? How did the thought even fly close to me, settle on me and mix with my system till I could do nothing but sleep and dream and eat skydiving? I do not know. But settle on me, it did. On a whim, I fantasized about getting a pair of wings and soaring into the sky and floating down,but the warning of my folks – Do you want to kill yourself? What if a plane hits you in the sky? Nigerians love life and don’t do risky things like skydiving. You don chop belleful abi? – frizzling into one large hum, as though the buzzing of a million flies. Did anyone hear what they were saying? No.
But they that wait…
The Skydiving School was somewhere in a village with an expanse of very neatly mowed lawn, helipad and hangar. Some days before, they had cancelled the take off because the weather was bad. This was early autumn when green leaves were turning into golden yellow and falling off, when the trees were gradually becoming naked. The sun flashed its fierce but gentle rays and I thought that maybe it was a sign – that today’s performance on this epic stage called life might not end in a debacle after all. Several people sat in the big hall. Teenagers came with their parents, looking all confident. Seeing the teenagers put a spring in my steps, gave my confidence well-chiselled muscles, like confidence gained just out of a gym. In no time, my name was called in that usual manner that non-Yoruba speakers pronounce it, such that if I had not listened hard, I would not have known it was my name. I was made to sign some undertaking that I was liable if anything sinister happened. I signed and wrote my sister’s number and notified her on WhatsApp, laughing.
They shall mount up with wings…
It was my turn. I followed a man who we shall now call B, and who turned out to be my instructor. There was a bit of debriefing. I was to wear a jumpsuit partly made of rubber, or was it leather? And a helmet, a pair of goggles and gloves. As a group of about ten people, dressed alike, we proceeded towards the small plane that contained just two benches longitudinally. We sat astride the benches, a couple of us strapped to our instructors with a harness – tandem skydiving, while some photographers and intermediate and senior skydivers were skydiving solo.
I asked my instructor as he tightened my harness, how many years he had been a skydiving instructor. He said ten years. The silence that ensued sealed my trust in him. After the plane ascended to about 13,000 feet above sea level, it hovered a bit, then the mouth of the plane was wound open by the conductor, passengers ready to alight. Blustering cold wind filled my face. When it blew against my ears, it seemed as though it whispered fear into them. My heart floated steadily into my mouth. Without hassles, the solo skydivers jumped out and disappeared out of my horizon. The other tandem skydivers also jumped out.
They shall run and not be weary…
Then it was my turn. I could have sworn I could touch my heart inside my mouth. I clenched my lips, to stop it from falling out. On my instructor’s advice, I sat at the edge of the plane such that my legs dangled, the sky blue with white cotton wool islands. The cold wind felt like a group of blind bats flapping all over my face. Now my instructor raised his voice for me to hear him. At the count of three, I was to jump. Adrenaline was now delivered in shots into my blood such that I was not sure if it was blood that was in my bloodstream, or adrenaline, or both. My heart was in a painful race, thudding against my chest wall as though about to rip itself out. The confidence I thought I gained from seeing those teenagers now seemed like a deflated balloon. After the count of three, the instructor securely fastened behind me, I jumped and my mind confirmed it: I was plummeting to my death. I toppled over and somersaulted in the sky. The wind circled all over my face and for some minutes I was confused, dizzy, weightless and suspended in the air. Above me, all I saw were white clouds; beneath me were also white clouds. I felt like I was hanging in the sky and the universe was holding me with nothing. I heard a voice behind me, and I remembered I did not skydive alone. B had earlier told me to flex my knees in the sky, my feet towards my bum. But with the noisy wind assaulting me all over, threatening to blow my eardrums, I had forgotten, neither could I keep my eyes open. When he adjusted my face to look forward, I opened my eyes to see a photographer who had skydived after us motioning me to look into the camera for a shot. Now, the sky looked different. Its blueness was by now segregated into a palette of different shades, the extreme dark shade blending into a distant whiteness; a certain white line, looking like a whiff of smoke from the pipe of a celestial being.
Still floating and feeling weightless and dead inside, I was afraid my sneakers would fall off. I felt B release the parachute from his backpack. The force with which it opened, pushed us down as though we were in a crashing aeroplane, and in a jiffy, the blowing up of the canopy of the parachute pulled us up. It was fast, this downward and upward movement that I almost said, ‘Bros, put me down, I’m not doing again!’ But who says that at 13,000 feet above sea level?
Now the parachute’s canopy was up, shielding us from the force of the wind. After staggering around a bit, I felt a bit of balance, and was chuffed that my shoes were still there for me. By now, all I wanted to do was to get down in peace. Then the descent started. The ground looked like the view from an aeroplane window seat – a large collage of brown and green with pockets of houses in between. The lawns had never been greener. The helipad and hangar looked at peace, in contrast to the turmoil I felt within me. Then we floated down and down. With every downward movement, peace flooded me and I knew I had not come to my end. I knew I was going to make it. Surprisingly, I did not see any other skydiver coasting downwards.
They shall walk and not faint…
As we floated down, it felt like coasting home to victory. This extreme sport that so many discouraged me from, that people thought it was suicidal. They had said there was something about Nigerians and self-preservation. We do not like to go out of our comfort zones. We do not do things that could potentially be deemed life-threatening. But here I was – I had gathered liver and done it.
As we approached landing, some men were waiting as though to welcome us, as though we were just about to land on earth from the moon. B then told me to keep my legs as if I wanted to land on my bum and heels. If I landed on my toes, it was going to hurt.
We landed with a thud. I had done it. I felt like a hero, an agama that fell down a wall and shook his head well to congratulate itself.
Immediately we landed, the waiting men grabbed the parachute and dismantled it. My harness was released, so I stood up and walked away like a king who had just come from a victorious war.
A Writer, Traveller, and Travel Blogger, F O Titi-Noah was born in Nigeria, studied Medicine at the University of Benin, Benin City, and currently lives and works in the UK. She was a 2015 Writer in Residence at the Ebedi Writers’ Residency, Nigeria. Her stories and articles have appeared in The Sun Newspaper, The Punch, Nigerians Talk.com and Sabinews.com. In 2014, her short story was published in the Naija Stories Anthology – Our Ram is Haram. She has also been involved with Writing West Midlands’ National Writers’ Conference and the Birmingham Literature Festival. She blogs at www.wildbucketlist.wordpress.com and is completing work on a full-length manuscript.