Have you ever had one of those days when things just don’t seem to be on your side? But when you look back with hindsight, the outcome was actually the best thing to have happened. They say that hindsight is a wonderful thing. Especially when it is life-changing or even life-saving! This was the case for Charleston and Clairy.
Charleston Blakeley was an independently-minded man who always imagined and expected the worst outcomes. He would endeavour to always prepare for every outcome. But, invariably, the one he’d not considered would play out. Sometimes this ended with disastrous consequences, and sometimes with unexpectedly positive outcomes. Being so independent, he was often reluctant to include other people in his plans or accept help.
Clairy Cloud was an outgoing, people-loving, and well-intentioned, yet clumsy woman with a heart as big as the moon. She loved to help out. But she had two left feet and two right hands. And she would often just jump in with enough enthusiasm to inspire a generation; but with little-to-no planning or forethought.
Charleston and Clairy were exact opposites. Never before had two people been so diametrically opposite in their personalities and how they each approached life. And yet, they got on so well; like a house on fire. They’d been neighbours for almost two decades and had become very good friends. Over the 18 and a half years they’d known each other, they’d built a rapport and trust, knowing they each had each other’s backs. For a short time, they’d even been lovers, until the flame had died on both sides and they mutually agreed to just be friends – with occasional benefits, on special occasions. Theirs truly was a strange and bizarre relationship.
On one particular occasion when Clairy’s best intentions went sideways, it actually ended up having life-changing consequences.
It was the end of the summer. The days had started drawing in and the weather was fast becoming colder. This change to darker days and lower temperatures, in Aberdeen, Scotland, signaled Charleston’s annual migratory tour of South-East Asia and Australasia. He was an internationally recognised corporate sales trainer with a reputation for excellence and getting results. He had clients in all corners of the globe, including in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. Many of his clients in the Southern Hemisphere would now be planning for their spring/summer marketing strategies. As the summer came to a close in the Northern Hemisphere, where Charleston lived, spring was just getting started in the South.
Oftentimes, Clairy would go with Charleston, as a travel companion and personal assistant. She loved the trips, which gave her opportunities to network and meet new people – one of her favourite activities. However, on this occasion, she could not go with Charleston because her grandma had taken ill and was expected to pass any moment. Clairy and her grandma were inseparably close, and she did not want to be out of the country when her grandma passed.
“I can still give you a lift to the airport,” she insisted to Charleston. He had initially been very reluctant to accept her offer of a lift. And they had had quite a heated discussion about it.
“How long have we known each other, Charley?” Clairy asked him. “And I’ve always supported you on your yearly migrations. It’s always been a highlight of my year. The least you can let me do is give you a lift to the airport.”
“But I have already made my travel plans,” retorted Charleston. “I’ve got train tickets booked to take me to Edinburgh Airport.”
“Well, at least let me take you to the train station,” insisted Clairy.
Charleston let out a sigh, as he reluctantly agreed to let Clairy take him to the Aberdeen train station, from where he’d then travel to Edinburgh.
However, the night before Charleston’s planned departure; it had been announced on the evening news that there was expected to be industrial action by the train drivers throughout England and Scotland.
“Damn!” exclaimed Charleston. “Damn, damn, and double damn! Why didn’t I see that coming?”
He was usually very meticulous with his planning. But Clairy’s insisting on being involved with taking him to the airport – or at least to the train station – had thrown him. And he’d forgotten to consider the volatile storm that had been brewing between the train drivers’ unions and the train companies, over the past couple of days.
“What am I going to do, now?” he bemused, as his mind started playing out all the possible scenarios where he’d miss his flights and lose the major contract he had with Chow-Lee Industrial, in Hong Kong, his first destination for his trip.
“I’m going to have to drive you to Edinburgh Airport, then,” insisted Clairy. “It’s the only way to be sure you don’t miss your flight.”
“Damn! That’s 100 quid down the drain!” Charleston grumbled.
“You should be able to get your train tickets refunded, as it’s not your fault you didn’t use them,” advised Clairy. “So, please, let me drive you to the airport,” she pleaded.
“Ah! Okay,” surrendered Charleston.
It was an early start for Charleston and Clairy, the following morning. As Charleston’s flight was at 6:30 AM, and he had to allow two hours for checking in. Meaning that he needed to be at Edinburgh Airport by 4:00 AM, to allow himself time to find offload his luggage and make his way across the airport to the check-in desk.
After loading Clairy’s car with Charleston’s luggage, they both set off at around 1:30 AM, on their 124-mile journey. The roads were reasonably clear at that time of the morning. Albeit, a little icy due to the frost that had developed that night.
It was just as well that Clairy was a laid-back and patient woman. Because Charleston was not a very good passenger – quite the backseat driver, actually.
“Have you got enough fuel?” enquired Charleston.
“Yes,” replied Clairy.
“Have you got breakdown cover?” asked Charleston.
“Of course!” replied Clairy.
“That’s good. Because your Check Engine Light is flashing,” said Charleston.
“It’s been doing that for months. The light’s broken,” replied Clairy nonchalantly.
“Oh,” said Charleston with concern and a hint of panic in his voice. “So what if we break...”
“We won’t break down!” interrupted Clairy. “Everything’s gonna be fine!”
But as she said those fateful words, her car started to choke and splutter, as it started to slow. By this time, they’d just gotten onto the M90 Motorway. Thankfully, there was a refuge on the side of this main arterial road. So Clairy could safely steer her car to the safety of the refuge, just in time before it came to a complete stop.
She waited about half a minute and then turned the ignition key to try and restart ‘Old Betty’, as she called her car.
“Come on, Old Betty!” she begged her car, as the engine refused to start. “Dammit!”
“What’s the problem?” asked Charleston nervously.
“I think I might have run out of fuel,” replied Clairy apologetically.
“That’s it!” cried Charleston, panicking. “We’re going to be late! I’m going to miss my flight!”
“Calm down. We’ve allowed enough time,” reassured Clairy. “And I’ve got a canister of spare fuel in the boot of the car.”
She pulled a lever on the car dashboard to pop open the boot (trunk) of the car. And then she opened the door on her side of the car, stepped out, and went to the back of the car to retrieve the spare fuel canister. But, to her dismay, the canister was not there.
“Aaah! Dammit!” she cried out.
“What’s the matter?” asked Charleston, nervously expecting the worst.
“I’ve left my spare fuel canister in my garage, at home,” Clairy replied.
“Great! So that means we’re stuck here. I AM going to miss my flight!” complained Charleston.
“Don’t worry,” reassured Clairy. “I’ll just call the AA. I’ve got Breakdown Recovery Cover with them.”
She found the number for AA Breakdown Recovery in the speed dial list on her phone and pressed the call button. The call got through and the assistant on the other end of the call introduced herself, “Hello, AA Breakdown Recovery. You’re speaking to Alison. How can I...”
“Can I use your phone, please?” Clairy asked Charleston, coyly. “Mine’s just died.”
By this time, Charleston had started spiraling into an all-out panic. “Could this day get any worse? I knew it! I knew I should’ve made my own travel plans! We’re going to be late! I’m going to miss my flight! I’ll lose my contract with Chow-Lee Industrial! They’re my biggest client! I’m going to lose them now!”
Unflustered and calm, Clairy put a reassuring hand on Charleston’s shoulder. “We’ll make it. We still have enough time. Stop panicking. Where’s your phone?”
Charleston reached into his trouser pocket to retrieve his phone. A look of further panic spread across his face, as he realised it was not there. Spiraling back into a state of panic, he grabbed his coat from the back seat of the car and rifled through the pockets, desperately searching for his phone.
“Goddamit!” he exclaimed. “Don’t say I’ve left my phone at home! For f**k’s sake!”
“Have you checked in your luggage bags?” enquired Clairy calmly.
Charleston got out of the car and rushed to the boot (trunk) at the back of the car. As he opened the smallest suitcase, he could see his phone lying on top of the rest of the luggage in the case. A look of relief spread across his face as he unlocked his phone and passed it to Clairy. She retrieved her AA membership card from her purse and proceeded to dial the phone number.
After 45 minutes of waiting, the AA Recovery truck arrived. It was being driven by Melissa, a friendly woman with short, purple-dyed hair. It was clear from the tattoos on her neck and arms and her course Scottish accent that she was a bit of a roughneck and knew how to look after herself. As she climbed out of the truck and walked up to Charleston and Clairy, she greeted them with her raw Scottish accent.
“Me name’s Melissa. Whut seems to be the problem?” she asked.
“Um, I think we’ve run out of fuel and I’ve left my spare fuel canister at home,” advised Clairy, feeling slightly awkward and embarrassed.
“Aye, noo worries,” Melissa reassured the couple. “I’ll jest fill yers up!”
On the back of the AA truck was a small fuel tank with a hosepipe that Melissa unraveled. She was just about to fill Clairy’s car with petrol when she stopped. She started to sniff the air and then bent down to glance under the car. She had a sense of smell stronger than a bloodhound’s. And she could smell a faint smell of petrol.
As she looked under the car, she could see a small pool of petrol beneath the fuel tank.
“Errm. I think yer’ve got a wee fuel leak,” advised Melissa.
Charleston and Clairy replied simultaneously.
“Dear God! I’m going to be late!” Charleston whinged.
“Oh no! It must’ve been when we hit that pothole!” lamented Clairy.
Addressing Clairy, Melissa replied, “Yer’ll have t’ take it into a garage t’ get it fixed.” And then, turning to Charleston, she continued, “Where’re yer’s going?”
“Edinburgh Airport,” replied Charleston. “I’ve got to catch a flight. I’m going to be late.”
“Not a problem!” encouraged Melissa. “I’ll take yer’s there. And then I’ll take yer car to the garage for repairs.”
Charleston and Clairy both thanked Melissa and, at her beckoning, climbed into the back of the AA Recover truck. Meanwhile, Melissa loaded the car onto the back of the truck and then climbed into the driver’s seat of the truck. And the three of them headed off to Edinburgh Airport.
Charleston and Clairy had, by now, lost about one and a half hours from their journey, due to this breakdown. And it was doubtful as to whether Charleston would arrive in time to check in and catch his flight.
They arrived at the airport and unloaded Charleston’s luggage. Clairy gave him a quick hug and kissed him on his cheek as she said, “Safe journey, Charley, my dear. Now hurry. You’ve just enough time to check in.”
“Thanks. I’ll call you when I arrive,” said Charleston, as he turned to rush off toward the check-in desk at the other end of the airport.
As he neared where the check-in desks were, he heard an announcement over the tannoy, “This is a final call to all passengers for the 6:30 AM Edinburgh to Hong Kong flight, HK153. We are now boarding and will depart momentarily.”
“Dear God, no!” exclaimed Charleston, panicking, as he struggled with his two large suitcases and one small case. He arrived at the assigned check-in desk only to be advised that he was too late. The flight had just departed. He felt a surge of anger and frustration rushing through him, which he made a conscious effort to control.
Charleston did not like getting angry and it was extremely rare for him to lose his temper. He prided himself on his ability to keep his self-control. Also, he had an ethic of respecting ‘the small man or woman’. He respected that those on the frontline – reception staff, customer services, etc. – were only doing their jobs. And so he did not believe in casting blaming and ranting at people who were serving him in such capacities.
Nonetheless, the check-in assistant – a young, blond man in his mid-twenties – could see Charleston’s frustration and empathised.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” the young man apologised. “Let me see what I can do for you.” He turned his attention to his computer monitor and started tapping away at the keyboard. “I can see that you have Missed Flight Insurance included in your booking. I can get you on the next flight, which leaves in precisely one hour and 27 minutes, from now. Will that be acceptable to you, Mr Blakeley?”
“That’s perfect!” replied Charleston delightedly. And, reading the check-in assistant’s name tag, he continued, “Thank you, Jacob. You’ve been very helpful.”
“It’s a pleasure to serve you,” replied Jacob, the check-in assistant, as he tapped away at his computer keyboard. He printed off Charleston’s new ticket and boarding pass and then gave him directions to the Business Class Waiting Lounge.
Eight hours later, Clairy arrived back home, in Aberdeen. She’d had to have her car towed all the way back to Aberdeen and taken to her local repair garage. It turned out there were three punctures in the gas tank. And Melissa had advised her that it was a miracle the fuel hadn’t ignited on being punctured, and the car hadn’t exploded. This had both shocked and frightened Clairy, and she had arrived home feeling somewhat harrowed by the experience. Nonetheless, she’d been reassured by Melissa, with whom she had felt a great rapport. And the two of them had exchanged phone numbers and Facebook details and agreed to keep in touch with each other.
On arriving home, Clairy immediately headed for the kitchen. She went to the fridge and grabbed a half-finished bottle of Pinot Grigio from inside the fridge door, plus a tub of unfinished Chinese chicken curry with rice. She warmed the curry and rice in the microwave, as she poured herself a large glass of Pinot Grigio. She then went into her living room, flopped down onto the sofa, and turned on the TV. The evening news was on.
Suddenly, Clairy dropped her glass of wine, spilling its contents on the living room carpet. She screamed out, “No! No!” and burst into tears as she heard the tragic news on the TV.
“Flight HK153, from Edinburgh to Hong Kong has been lost in the South China Sea. Experts suspect it was due to a terror attack.”
She sat on her sofa, sobbing, as her heart broke at the thought of losing her beloved neighbour, friend, and part-time lover. For, as far as she knew, he’d been on that doomed flight. And the thought of life without Charleston was almost too much to bear.
But then her phone rang. She picked it up and was about to reject the call, so that she could continue mourning over her sudden loss, when she noticed on the phone’s display that it was Charleston. She answered the call with a cautious, “Hello?”
“My dear Clairy!” said Charleston reassuringly, “I just want to let you know that I’m safe. I’ve just landed and heard about the plane crash. Thank God I missed my flight and had to catch the next one! But I knew you’d be worried. So I thought I should call you and let you know I’m safe. Maybe it was fate that we broke down.”
Clairy’s crying turned from tears of heartbreak to tears of joy. “Thank God you’re safe, my dear Charley!” She told Charleston how heartbroken she’d been when she thought he’d been killed in the plane crash and then proceeded to explain to him what Melissa had said about the fuel tank almost catching fire when it had been punctured.
They continued chatting for about two hours, feeling grateful for each other and that they’d both survived the happenings of the day. They realised how lucky they’d been and agreed that not all things that seemingly go wrong have sad endings.