Stars and stripes:
“You see that helicopter there? That’s what just brought us here, me and some of my friends, and we specifically asked for this flight to wait for us.” I cocked an eyebrow at the man gesturing expansively. Until today, I salute myself for not bursting into the guffaw that was there just behind my lips.
I had first seen him months before. There had been a merger of two Abuja bound flights, one was running more than reasonably late. As seats had been assigned to passengers on the earlier flight, and seats had been assigned to passengers checked in on the later flight, there were more than a few cases of seat duplication. To keep people from standing in the aisle, we adopted free seating.
I noticed a man hanging about the aircraft door. He was talking with the personnel there: cargo boys, the customer service agent, the turn around co-ordinator and private security people. He seemed to know everyone, and I was impressed. He wore a flowing agbada over buba and sokoto made from the same lace material, over all these, he had on a gold fila with a pair of brown loafers to complete the ensemble. He had a black leather purse tucked under his arm, and he looked the part of a comfortable, maybe even affluent traveller who had not forgotten his roots and was happy to share a few words with the folks down the ladder from him. When he waved in my direction and smiled, I smiled back. And when he asked to see me, I was only too happy to go and have a few words with him.
“Hello young man,” he said extending a hand towards me, a hand I took smiling brightly and bowing my head ever so slightly. “How are you?”
“Fine thank you sir,” I replied beaming.
“I hear you are the purser on this flight,” I nodded still beaming. “You see, I understand the flight is full, but I wanted to say if you end up with a free seat in business class, can I get an upgrade? You see, I run an airline too…” And he proceeded to talk my ear full of stories about his airline.
“No problem sir,” I said, “But if you’ll take a seat now, I will let you know if there’s a free seat in business.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I will wait here until boarding is completed.
After boarding passengers, I did have two seats free, so I upgraded him. To show his appreciation, he squeezed his business card into my palm. I thanked him, and that was the end of that. At least until today when I was boarding passengers out of Portharcourt, and I saw him climbing up the steps.
“We specifically asked for this flight to wait for us.” I looked at him in his agbada, this time made from a white lace material with blue patterns. Buba and sokoto crowned with a black fila, and a pair of black shoes with his purse clutched under his arm.
I looked him over and then looked at the Bristow helicopter on the ramp. I knew for a fact the helicopter had brought a set of rig workers to the airport; I also knew for a fact this flight had been delayed out of Lagos, and it didn’t have anything to do with him and his oily smile. Still, I obliged him when he got round to the part about spare business-class seats – I was only expecting three business-class passengers in a cabin that sat sixteen.
I was signing off some paperwork when a colleague came and asked me if he could upgrade someone. “Who?” I asked. “The man in agbada asked if I could please upgrade his friend, so I wanted to ask you before upgrading her.”
“Since he asked you,” I said to my colleague, “Please go back and tell him that the purser said no. Be sure to ask him in which town he has seen a baby on her mother’s back asking to carry a teddy bear.”
Don’t you have a man?
Just last week on a flight from Douala, a lady came on board smiling at me in a most familiar way. I returned her smile while struggling to place her face. When I returned her boarding pass, I said, “How have you been? It has been sometime,” even though I still had no recollection of a first meet with her. “You finally remember,” she said smiling even wider. “How about you take a seat here,” I said pointing her to a seat in business class. If she felt I should remember her, then the least I could do was bump her up. That and the fact that she wasn’t hurtful to look at. Her fixed lashes brought to mind images of tarantulas, but her soft featured face and ample bosom distracted from that scary attachment. She fluttered those lashes at me and smiled her thank you, and that was the end of that.
In flight, she didn’t want anything to eat and only drank a glass of water. All she wanted to do was rest, so after take off I helped her recline her seat and offered her my jacket when she said the cabin was too cold.
When I went to the back of the aircraft to check on my colleagues, they teased me and told me I was going to get my teeth knocked out for separating her from her boyfriend. That did not faze me one bit because, in my opinion, if a girl could jettison her boyfriend because she got an upgrade, then that boyfriend couldn’t possibly mean so much to her.
We arrived in Lagos, and everybody got off without any incident.
The next night I was on a flight to Dakar with stops at Accra and Banjul, and as I was boarding passengers, this same girl walked towards me. This time though, there was a different man travelling with her. He even had their boarding passes, and though they were seated two rows apart, he had this proprietary air people had when they owned something.
I smiled at them as one, gave their boarding passes a perfunctory look, and then directed them to their seats. Despite having two free seats in business class, I did not dare offer her an upgrade, this lady whose name I did not know; if she had a man, then this probably was him.
What has been joined together…
Two years ago on a flight back to Lagos from Dakar, a business-class passenger had asked me if he could invite a friend up to join him. “Sorry but no sir,” was the answer I had given him. He didn’t make a fuss. After take off though, I came out to offer a drinks service when I discovered the gentleman missing.
I knew he couldn’t have left the aircraft considering we were flying at 20,000ft above mean sea level, and climbing. I walked through the cabin, and there I saw him sitting close to the last row of seats. He was sitting between two ladies I had noticed during boarding, one of whom I had planned to upgrade later inflight.
“Are these your friends then, sir? I asked him. His answer was a simple “Yes.”
I beefed him – his having to sit while I worked, more than that I beefed his having to sit with such beauties; the beef did not stop me appreciating his good fortune though, he had to be having the flight of his life. I upgraded all three of them, but one of the ladies turned down the offer.
They sat and talked, then held hands. When sleep finally claimed them, it was with her head resting on that part between his chest and shoulder, and his arm wrapped around her.
In Accra, he begged her to get off and spend a few hours with him. She turned him down flat, and she was nice about it too. Not even his promises of buying her a business-class ticket moved her, and I respected that. After he got off, she made to return to her seat in economy class. I told her she could stay on in business class, but she thanked me and returned to join her girlfriend. My respect for her went up a few extra bars. When she was disembarking in Lagos, and I heard her name, I smiled a knowing smile; for someone named for a colour, she did have more sense than the Brain of that cartoon fame.