It’s breaking dawn and I am legging it through the front doors of the airport – it aggravates me how slowly they slide open. I burst through a throng of people, mulling about, getting in my way. Usually I like to people watch, take my time – but not today. I am about to miss my flight to Perth, to see my daughter Nicky and the grandkids. The clock inside the terminal tells me I have ten minutes to get to gate number 12, or miss my plane. I still have to check my luggage through. Darting around people, I push my way through to the check-in desk, and I load my suitcase on the scale, huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath. The check-in clerk is a beautiful young lady, wearing a light blue uniform and she is smiling at me, with bright white teeth of a celebrity – her smile should calm me, but it doesn’t. My shirt is slick to my back, I can practically smell my armpits – I must look a wreck. Berating myself, I ask, why? Why am I always late for everything? Funerals, weddings, birthdays, you get the idea? Mum is still reminding me 50 years later; I was 2 weeks late past my birthdate – perpetually late she says! It’s a running joke in the family.
“Good morning sir, just this one suitcase?”
“Yes, I’m about to miss my plane, can you hurry?” still panting, breathless – I think I’m about to have a panic attack.
“What flight are you on, sir?”
I tell her briskly and her fingers fly across the keyboard, click, click, clicking…then I ask if she can check me in, no time left for self-check in, the machines are busy and the queue a mile long. Why are there so many people in this goddam airport?
“Yes, of course, I will just check your luggage in first, then I will check your ticket in,” more tap, tap, tapping with her long-manicured fingernails, it sounds like nails on a chalkboard – irritating!
I shove the crinkled ticket into her hand, from my back pocket.
“Can you call ahead and ask them to hold the flight?” I sigh, frustrated.
“I can’t do that sorry, they have already called your flight. Everyone is boarding as we speak. But it won’t take you long to get to the gate, you’ll just have to hurry.”
Is she shitting me?
“Why? Are you serious? Can’t you just tell them I am on my way? You can call through to the gate or something, please?” I am practically begging, not my finest moment.
“Yes, I will let them know, when you calm down.”
Why is she grinning at me? – I feel mad all of a sudden, my head is tingling.
“Don’t you tell me to calm down, miss, who do you think you are?” balling my fists.
“Listen sir, it is not my fault, please lower your voice. If we held the planes for everyone running late – they would never get off the ground at their designated times,” she mumbles.
Suddenly, she pulls out a walkie talkie from her jacket pocket – it clanks against her ID badge. For some reason I am hyper vigilant; the sound it makes, grates on my nerves. Then she turns her back on me, speaking to someone on the other end, but I can’t hear their muffled conversation. My palms are sweating and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, I’m going to miss my flight!
“Miss, please can you hurry? You are making me late!” I seethe, leaning over the countertop.
When I back down, I notice everyone around us is slowly backing away, and others are gawking – my face is slowly turning red, I can feel the heat.
“Sir…!” she huffs, covering the handset.
“If I run I will make it. Just get them to hold the plane!” I stomp my foot in fury.
“Sir, just hold on please!” her voice rises a few octaves.
Suddenly, I see why she is on the walkie talkie, when I spot three security guards approaching me.
“What’s going on here, Millie?” one of them asks.
“This man is getting irate about missing his plane. I don’t like the way he is talking to me…he was late and now he is being rude!”
“Sir, can you come with us please?” he turns to me, and his hand is on his belt, I realise it is hovering above a taser and a long-ass baton.
“Why? What have I done wrong? I just need to get to my flight. Can you help me? Since she obviously doesn’t care!” I plead my case.
“No sir, you need to come with us,” he is adamant.
“What about my flight?” I ask in a rage that swells up from the pit of my gut.
“You are not getting on your flight sir; you need to follow me, or I will call the police and they will arrest you!”
“I can’t believe this!” I practically spit, and follow them as commanded.
After a long walk to the other end of the airport, I am guided into a spacious room. There are computer screens everywhere, and people busy on their devices. Their heads are downcast, so they can’t see my walk of shame (thank God.) I think this is some sort of VIP area, Gold Class perhaps for those flying First Class? He waves me into a room with no windows, but it has a clock on the wall, a desk and a couple of chairs. I am guessing this is the room for people who need to calm their pants, or perhaps internal examinations! Wow I never thought I would end up in this position in my life!
“Please take a seat sir, I will be back in a minute,” he simply states.
He leaves me there, locking me in. I count the minutes on the clock, tick, tick, ticking. A minute turns into ten before he returns.
“What is going on? I just missed my flight and I need to rebook,” I look at him earnestly. “My daughter is waiting for me in Perth; she will be worried.”
“What’s your name?” he asks, adjusting his belt.
“And you are heading to Perth?”
“Yes, to visit my grandkids and my daughter, Nicky.”
“Lovely. How old are your grandkids, Patrick?”
“Well, Tanya 13; acts like a 20-year-old. Johnathan, (he likes to be call JJ) he is 12. I hardly see him because his face is always hidden behind one screen or another. And my little 8-year-old Princess, Arabella, she rules the roost.”
“That’s nice,” he answers, bemused.
“So, you have a daughter? Then why’re you hassling Millie at check-in? She is out there crying because of you. It’s her first week here and you scared the living daylights out of her. Is that what you like to do? Scare young girls with your temper, when you don’t get your own way?”
“I don’t have a fucken temper! I just wanted to make my flight, I was running late and she wasn’t helping me!” admittedly, not the best excuse in the world.
“Well, you can’t be coming in here abusing people. It is totally unacceptable, mate. So, here is what is going to happen,” he gathers a deep breath. “You can sit in here and think about the problems you have caused, and when you calm down we can talk about it again,” and he leaves me sitting there, gobsmacked, as he locks me in the room, again.
This time I have the opportunity to think about my actions, my behaviour that got me here in the first place – I can see when it all went south. If only I had have gone to bed earlier, instead I stayed up to watch the All Blacks kick the crap out of the Wallabies. By the time I crawled into bed it was 2 a.m. My alarm went off at 5 a.m. and me, thinking it was the weekend, I snoozed it for another half an hour. When the taxi that I had ordered the night before arrived, I wasn’t ready, still packing my hand-hold bag. He sat there waiting for a further 15 minutes as I brushed my teeth, and stacked the dishes into the dishwasher. I wrote a note to my wife Cassie, telling her I love her, she was still asleep when I left the house. Then to top it all off, we got stuck in rush hour traffic. If we had left on time, we would have surely avoided the slow, miserable crawl to get into the city. When we got to the airport, the taxi driver had a go at me, demanding I pay extra for making him wait. I could feel my heart race; I hate confrontations. To be honest, I was pissed with myself. I shoved a 50 dollar note in his hand and scooted out fast.
The lock in the door clicks and the security guard comes back in. I’ve calmed down and now I am feeling remorseful. He brings in 2 hot drinks and hands me one. I look at the clock on the wall, I hadn’t realised he had left me waiting for 20 minutes!
“Look,” I begin, squirming in the uncomfortable chair with no arm rests. “I am really sorry for my behaviour. This is not me, I am usually patient, and a lot nicer, really. I can see now where it all went wrong. It wasn’t that young lady’s fault; it is completely on me. You are right, I lost my shit. Sorry.”
He sits down in the other chair, relaxes and sips away on his own coffee. Mine tastes like a Latte, delicious, but super-hot. I breathe out my held breath, and finally relax. His eyes bore into mine, it’s a little uncomfortable and somewhat awkward. But I deserve it.
“We have booked you on the next flight, it leaves in an hour,” he smiles.
“Ohmigod. Thank you.”
“Can I say sorry to Millie before I leave?” I humbly ask, suspecting a no is on its way.
“I will see what I can do. She is a lovely girl, very young, and she is great at her job. Her father passed away a couple of weeks ago, she was his full-time caregiver. I think you were the last straw; you know?”
My coffee burns my mouth. And so it should! I acted like a jerk to that young girl who didn’t deserve it. I follow him out of the room and we head in another direction, towards the staff area that is closed off to the public.
“Sit here,” he points at a plush couch. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
That minute turns into ten as I sit here contemplating my apology. When I see her face I crumple. She looks like she has come undone. Her face is blotchy, she has panda eyes – her makeup smudged from her tears. I walk closer towards her; she backs away ever so slightly – I could have imagined it.
“I am so sorry Millie. I really am, it is not your fault I missed the plane. I am…just a douche bag. I understand if you can’t forgive me. I was horrible!”
She blows her nose and her nose and eyes are red from rubbing.
“It’s okay,” she sniffs. “I know you were frustrated about your flight. I have a lot going on, and you got to me. I forgive you. Just, remember in future that everyone is going through something, and it does no good raising your voice at people who are trying to help you,” her voice softly says as she blows her nose again.
“You are a very wise young lady. I could learn a thing or two from you,” I pat her shoulder, once.
Now I have calmed down, I can breathe. In that moment I realise, this is someone’s daughter. I would be devastated if anyone treated my daughter like that. We shake hands, and she walks off, wishing me a safe flight. The security guard takes me back out the doors to the waiting area.
“Here is your new ticket buddy,” he hands it to me. “Be at the gate in fifteen minutes. Don’t miss this one, okay?”
“Yes, thank you. I will go there right now.”
“Your luggage is sorted too. Look, that was a nice deed you did then, apologising. Usually we get a few people in here who go a bit crazy, get a little nasty, and not all of them can admit their faults. Have a safe trip,” his walkie talkie beeps, and he shakes my hand. “I better go, bye for now,” and he rushes off.
As I make my way through the terminal to my gate on the other side of the airport, I take stock of my surroundings. There are people everywhere, but I am relaxed and in no hurry. Then I notice people are acting weird. Some are riveted to their devices, making astonished sounds. The news is blaring on the TV screens scattered through the area. When I get to my gate, people are crying. I sit down nearer to the check-in desk and look around. The staff are huddled together, crying; I am confused. I want to ask the person sitting next to me what is going on, but he has his headphones on, so I touch his shoulder to get his attention.
“What’s up with everyone, has someone died?”
Thinking it is some celebrity who died, I slightly laugh (I don’t know why.) I suppose it is because I remember the day Michael Jackson died, and how much it affected Cassie when it happened – she cried for days! His blue eyes pierce me, I am suddenly remorseful for my callous remark.
“There has been a plane crash, mate. It left from here, not that long ago. Apparently witnesses saw an explosion, and the plane is in the harbour, and no one survived. Well, that is what they are reporting – though they aren’t saying much more than that. It just happened moments ago.”
I am punched in the gut with a sudden, devastating, realisation.
“Are they saying the flight number? Where was the plane heading?”
“Yes, flight 135, heading to Perth.”
“But…that was the flight I just missed!” for some reason I am prompted to grab his arm in response.
“Wow you are one lucky man,” he quietly says, leaning away from me, like I am a freak of nature or something. “I think you should get a lotto ticket,” he says.
He puts his head phones back on and returns to his cellphone, and I sit here flabbergasted at my luck. I would have been on that plane if I hadn’t been running late. I would be dead and my family would be watching this on the news. Crap, I better let my daughter Nicky know that I wasn’t on the plane; she will be frantic waiting for me. I would call my wife first, but I know she will be dead to the world still, working nightshifts at the hospital. So I call Nicky.
“Dad!” she screams down the phone.
“Hello love, before you ask, I missed my flight.”
I hear her crying.
“Thank God!” she sniffs and blows her nose. “Such terrible news, all of those poor people on the plane Dad, they are all dead. And it could have been you on the plane! Ohmigod I can’t even bear to think about it.”
“I know, I know. It’s okay, I’m okay,” I try to console her.
“When is the next flight?” she asks.
“I actually don’t know what happens from here. I am not sure what the process is now, with the crash. Let me check that out and I will get back to you.”
We hang up as I approach the check-in clerk.
“Excuse me, can you tell me what is going to happen about my flight? Is it still leaving on time?”
“Sorry, but we have to rebook this flight with another carrier. Please sit and wait while we sort it out. It could be a couple of more hours,” she gulps back a sob, leaving me standing at the counter.
I call Nicky back to tell her the news.
“They are rebooking us onto another carrier, and it could be a few more hours.”
“I will wait here at the airport Dad, I won’t leave.”
“Also, could you call your Mum and let her know what is going on? She’s probably waking up now.”
“Okay, Dad, I’ll call her. I can’t wait to see you too. Dad?” she says, sobbing. “Aren’t you scared to get on the plane now?”
I have to think about that for a moment. I am more likely to be killed by lightning than to die in a plane crash.
“No darling, I am not scared. Trust me, I will get there safe and sound.”
I learned a valuable lesson today; I ponder this as I wait for the plane to take off from the runway. I think about those lost souls, and count my blessings. I have a beautiful wife, who has loved me to bits for twenty years. I have a daughter who idolises me, and her children are my precious gems. Thinking about all of this brings tears to my eyes. If I had made my flight, I would now be at the bottom of the ocean. I also think there is more to this than I can grasp. I was born perpetually late, running through life always a step behind everyone else, yet at the end of the day, it is that flaw in my personality that has saved my life. Hmmm…life is more mysterious than I ever thought possible! Or was it a miracle from God? It makes me wonder…
Copyright © Gibson, Del 2021