Two weeks ago, when a man dropped unceremoniously off a Kenyan Airways flight to Heathrow, many were puzzled. There was a nagging sense of sick magical realism; the unidentified man had dropped to his death in a London garden. Now, in an equally bizarre reversal, a British Airways passenger landed in Lagos three days ago and found his laptop gone.
The passenger is Dami Àjàyí, a well-liked Nigerian poet and psychiatrist, who has championed literary conversations around mental health on the continent. Mr. Àjàyí had boarded Flight BA 75 from Heathrow to Lagos, and had even worked during the flight, pulling out his laptop, to write a “3,000-word essay.” Then he had gotten up to stretch his legs once or twice, with a third absence for the aircraft lavatory. Upon landing, he had grabbed his things and left the plane, only to find his laptop gone. Since then, it’s been nightmares on replay, worsened by the airline’s evasiveness.
Mr. Àjàyí told VA in a chat this morning, “I haven’t slept in three days. My body is responding to the loss of this laptop like the loss of a loved one. It has been hellish.” He also thinks the airline abandoned its primary responsibility, saying, “When I get on a plane, I commend myself into God’s hands because you can’t tell what may happen. Regardless, when I was on that flight, BA was responsible for me.”
And that’s exactly what the airline has not been since then. Despite a torrent of requests and polite pleas on social media from other writers and members of civil society, British Airways remains unresponsive. “They haven’t responded to my complaints. They prefer to hit me up on twitter and the personnel in question keeps changing. Neil in the morning. David in the afternoon. Kimbers at night. Obviously they don’t rate me,” Àjàyí said.
Now, that would be a mistake on the airline’s part. Not only is Dami Àjàyí revered for his books of poetry (Daybreak, Clinical Blues, and A Woman’s Body is a Country) and multi-subject, dialogue-starter essays, he is also the co-founder of one of Africa’s biggest literary magazines, Saraba. He was also a champion of the Lagos to Limbe nonfiction project, helping to forge some of the continent’s brightest young writers.
What all of this means is that British Airways are going to have more than one poet to contend with over the unrecovered laptop. There are essayists, journalists, musicians, prize-winning novelists, notable short story writers, festival directors, and a slew of publishing elephants behind this one. And while Mr. Àjàyí has not said he wants a general boycott of the airline, he won’t use them again. If British Airways do not find this laptop, they could land on the wrong end of a much bigger fallout than they anticipate. A writer’s laptop is a continent.
By Caleb Ajinomoh