She descended the steps onto the tarmac, and a wall of suffocating heat nearly took her breath. A light wind was blowing, spiralling orange dust into the air. She hurried towards the terminal building, not only to escape the baking sun, but also to create a little distance between her and the man on the plane.
She entered the shade inside the building and looked around. Somewhat over three hundred passengers milled around, waiting for their connecting flights. A queue had formed in front of the water vendor’s stand; people sat on top of their suitcases, guarding their luggage; mothers held tightly onto children’s hands in case they wandered. Many Europeans were mopping their brows as they scanned the departure boards. French seemed to be the predominant language, although people speaking English and Lingala, one of Zaire's native languages, joined the cacophony of voices.
Nikki made her way through the crowded concourse towards the departure board. Strangely, the flight to Lisbon wasn’t showing as yet. She turned to go and find somewhere to wait when a woman striding towards the TAP counter caught her attention. The way she held herself seemed familiar. Nikki noted the mane of wavy black hair running halfway down her back before the woman passed out of sight. Only one woman to her knowledge looked like that. She shook her head. Her imagination was working overtime. The scholar on the plane and his slight resemblance to Luc Mertens must have rattled her.
“Attention, Attention, Mesdames et Messieurs. Flight number TP202 to Lisbon has been delayed. Please, could all passengers go immediately to the TAP desk."
Nikki breathed a curse. Already, large patches of sweat had appeared under her arms. She pushed through the crowds, excusing herself in French, and negotiated her way to the counter.
A representative of the airline, a woman dressed in the TAP uniform, shouted above the noise, "TAP is sorry for the inconvenience, but unfortunately the flight to Lisbon has been delayed."
The passengers muttered to each other and themselves. The TAP representative seemed to brace herself. “Technical difficulties are affecting the outgoing plane bound for Lisbon. Due to an engineering strike, we are unable to rectify this problem until our engineers arrive from Lisbon.”
Nikki sighed. Now she’d have the hassle of changing her flight to another airline.
The large, red-faced man wearing a white linen suit and standing next to her asked, “When are they arriving?” His clipped British accent held an angry tone.
The representative took a deep breath. “Not for three days.” Uproar followed her announcement. A clamour of voices accosted the woman, demanding she rectify the situation immediately.
Nikki was dumbstruck. Even her worst-case scenario hadn't allowed for this.
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