Pius Igede was excited. Tomorrow he was going to be the first Nigerian to land on the Moon. He had won the first prize on the Silverbird produced reality TV show, Who Wants to be an Astronaut? In conjunction with NASS (Nigerian Aeronautical Something Something), 24 contestants vied for a chance to fly to the moon. To tell the truth Pius did not even know what an astronaut was before the show began, he had applied only because the application fee was 'just' fifty Naira. His third cousin from his mother's side had reached the final 12 of African Idol and he was determined that he too must appear on TV before he died.
His packing consisted of:
1 tube of toothpaste (Close-up)
1 Goodmans personal cd player
3 CDs (Olu Maintain, Tony Tetuila and 2Pac's All Eyez on Me)
5 Clean St Michael's underpants
5 Slightly worn string vests
1 Bible (King James Version)
Anti-gravity training in Kaduna had been a bit of a nightmare. First of all the special guests from NASA had missed their connecting flight from Abuja and had to travel by road. Secondly the simulation software that had been couriered had somehow ended up in Sokoto. To make matters worse the live screening of the event had to be postponed because Area boys had stolen one of the electric transformers. In spite of this, Pius managed to impress the judges enough to get to the final round.
On receiving the good news via SMS text, his first reaction was to send money to his village and ask the elders to pray for him on his voyage. In addition to the star prize of flying to the moon, Pius had been presented with a cheque for five hundred thousand naira which he planned to use to build a house in his village. Pius’ mobile phone had been inundated with phone calls in the days leading up to the big take-off. He had to explain many times that on this particular trip , there were no way he could buy them soccer jerseys , Ipod Nanos or Nintendo DS. They did not believe him and accused him of being a poser “now that you been don see small money” After a while he switched off his mobile altogether.
The day arrived with much fanfare despite the fact that take-off had been delayed from 9am until 1pm as the various senators and ministers made their way to the space centre. This was a momentous occasion in Nigeria’s history and the event was quite fitting. ThisDay had sponsored a music concert in Pius’ honour and had invited the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z and Kelly Rowland. Unfortunately Miss Rowland had declined to attend unless something was done about the humid conditions.
The space shuttle was an STS-116 that had been specially imported from North Korea albeit after their aborted space mission. Silverbird were at great pains to explain that this was not a Tokunbo space shuttle because technically it had never really left the earth’s atmosphere - it had merely crash landed about 70000 feet from the ground before actually entering space. After some remedial work by Aba’s finest, Silverbird were confident that the STS-116 was in even better shape than when it was new.
On the day, Pius was beginning to have serious doubts and felt that the training he had received was slightly less than adequate. His brother, Absalom, confided to him that the money he had sent for goodwill prayers had been used instead to perform funeral rites. By the time he walked up the red carpet and spotted a mechanic making some last minute adjustments to the rear wing, his doubts had become a major conviction. He knew that there was no way in hell that he would be entering that thing. Imagine! Somebody who had never even entered ordinary plane sef, they wanted him to go and die for who? Tufiakwa! God forbid! His mother was still alive in the village and he had not yet bore her any grandchildren. The unwavering gaze of the promoters pierced his skin as if to say "ol boy make u no fuck up for here o!" How could he possibly turn back now he wondered? He remembered a film he had watched where the actor had pretended to faint before going on a plane he was reluctant to board. But who would really believe that an ajepaki like him could actually faint? He had once worked as a labourer carrying cement on his back for 12 hours a day. He had not fainted then. Na now him want faint? They go just use slap wake am up. He decided he just had to come clean. An impassioned plea to the gathered crowd would surely carry some resonance. After all could they byforce him to enter the space plane?
About a hundred yards from the shuttle the decision was made for him. Providence, it seemed, was a mechanic named Eric. Eric emerged from the rear of the shuttle with a look of unmitigated gloom on his face. He shook his head in that foreboding way Nigerian mechanics have mastered and announced that the carburettor had blown and that the kick-starter was not responding. He said that the spark plugs had been stolen but were easily replaced, unfortunately the carburettor needed to be ordered from Onitsha. It was agreed that the take-off would be postponed for two days after which they would all reconvene at the same venue. Beyonce complained that she had an awards ceremony to attend the next day in New York and would not be able to perform in two days time. The concert went ahead anyway and nobody really noticed as Pius slipped through the back door. It was the last that anybody was to see of him. Some say he had died in an accident on the way to his village whilst others report that he was now living in Togo under an assumed identity. His house in the village was never built.