The Familiar Stranger

The Familiar Stranger

The airport terminal buzzed with travelers lugging their bags from one end of the air- conditioned hall to the other. Conversations were intermittently interrupted by a sonorous voice on the intercom announcing the arrival and departure of flights. One could see the occasional couple hugging and kissing their goodbyes. A woman, pushing twin buggies, was having a hard time keeping one of her toddler twins strapped in. The toddler, obviously a daddy’s girl, kept crying “daddy” and reaching for the man that had just kissed them and left the building. The other twin merely watched, her pacifier securely in place.

Their mother pushed them to the check-in line, smiling apologetically at some of the passengers who turned to stare.
At the front of the line, a female passenger was having a prolonged talk with the airline personnel. The passenger was gesticulating animatedly and one could tell, from the frown that creased her brow that she was not a happy camper. Her three bags had been weighed twice, and instead of being placed on the conveyor belt, were placed on the floor, next to her.
The black and white attired check-in agent heaved a muffled sigh, leaned forward and scanned the line that was getting longer by the minute. He straightened up, removed his black rimmed glasses and vigorously massaged his temple. Focusing his attention on the female passenger, he spoke in a tone that could best be accompanied by sign language.

“Ma’am, you are holding up the line. I may have to ask you to step aside until you decide on what to do.” He flashed a toothy smile.

With some portion of her long flowing green bou-bou tucked under her arm, the woman approached the counter. Her gold bangles jangled rhythmically and her massive bosom heaved with each breath. She was a big woman but her height belied her weight. The clasp of her bulging handbag was decorated with a huge gold-encrusted tiger head that seemed to snarl at you. She placed her left hand on the counter and drew her full height to tower above the agent.

“Why?” her voice was surprisingly calm, “Did I not come here before everybody?”

“No one is questioning that, ma’am, but I have tried to explain this to you; the size and weight of of your luggage are above the allowed limits.”

“But I have always used these bags to fly with my country’s airline. Why is your own different? What do you want me to do now?” She spread her jeweled fingers questioningly.

“There is a store down this hall, two left turns and a right, where you can buy four duffel bags to re-pack your stuff.” The agent flashed another toothy smile.

“Four bags?” She placed both hands on her head tie, as if to make sure that it was still in place. “But, this one is my hand luggage.” She pointed to a slightly smaller bag that was almost bursting at the seams.

“Like I told you, it is too big for the overhead compartment. It is a safety issue.You may want to reduce the contents” The toothy smile was turning into a grimace.

“But I have reduced them. You saw me…”
She turned around, like she was seeking confirmation from the male passenger behind her. He gave her a wan smile and pretended to be checking the time on his wristwatch.
She cursed him in her mind and turned away. She could not believe that she had just wasted her time on a hungry looking, lizard-skinned man with a crooked nose. Would it have killed him to nod in agreement, she wondered.
Turning her attention to the agent, she continued,

“Sah, just tell me how much, I will pay you. I don’t want to scatter all my things here.”
She opened her handbag, brought out a wallet and started counting from a wad of one hundred dollar bills. She hoped that the stupid lizard was looking so that he could see that she was not a poor homeless person. She would not even hire him as her personal driver.

The agent took a few steps away from her, unhooked a radio from his waist and spoke inaudibly into it. He returned and whispered to another staff. The toothy smile had disappeared completely when he turned to face the passenger.

“Ma’am, please do not offer money to me. I will advice that you go buy the duffel bags, repack you stuff and pay for any excess.”

“Ah, but I am not bribing you!” she threw her hands up and her bangles jangled simultaneously. “I just want to save time, just charge me for the bags and the excess luggage and I will pay everything here. It’s the same thing!”
The other person passengers were beginning to pay more attention, One could hear their shuffled feet and muffled voices. Two men in the airline’s uniform walked up to them and took the agent aside. After they had whispered, gesticulated and cast furtive glances her way, the two men set up another check-in counter.

“Next in line, please.” The red headed one called out.

All the passengers moved from behind her and formed a new line. It suddenly dawned on her that she was on her own, wearing her flowing green bou-bou, her over sized pieces of luggage at her feet.
She felt the tears sting her eyes.

“My sister, what is the problem?”

It was the most friendly voice that she had heard all day. Slowly, the woman turned around and stared into the face of a tall, dark, gentleman in a grey suit. He could have passed for anybody but his accent gave him away. She breathed a huge sigh and started to tell him all that had happened.
He waved her to stop.

“That’s okay.” he gave her a warm smile, “I know what happened….come, I will help you.”

After they had bought the duffel bags and she re-packed her belongings. The woman found her voice.

“Thank you…May God bless you!”

When she asked for his name, the spread his hands and gave a throaty laugh.

“Let’s just say that I am your brother and I work for the airline.” He made to leave, turned and waved at her “Have a safe flight.”

The woman was still thinking about the strange man when she settled into her seat in the aircraft. Could it be the ghost of her brother that had died during the war? She was still thinking about him when she fell asleep.

34 thoughts on “The Familiar Stranger” by Rhema (@rhema)

  1. I thought yot wrote only poetry Rhema,didn’t know you write prose this good too.
    This is a good story.I am guessing there is a second part?

    Well done!!!

    1. Thank you, Lawal.
      When you have a moment, please read my first prose on NS: “Ostrich in the sand”
      I will appreciate your feedback.

      2nd part…soon.

  2. It was a good story, but the beginning was a bit off, you started with the woman with twins and I thought she would be your MC and then you shifted to the woman with oversize bags. I think it is always best as you mean to go on, in this case, stick with one POV. If it is an independent observer telling the story, cool, they can describe the hall etc. But if it is one of the characters, then only describe what they can see and feel.

    1. Thanks, Myne.
      I appreciate the observations and suggestions. I have added them to my repertoire. I can only get better. :)

      I used the omniscient narrator (independent observer). That was why we got know what was going on with the mother with twins and what the woman was thinking about the “lizard man”.
      Let me know what you think.

      1. you started as an independent observer but later your pov shifted to the big woman. I’m not exactly the expert but this is what noticed

      2. Thanks for your reply. The omniscient narrator works after one gets used to the first few pghs, but the way you frame the MC’s thoughts as the story continues gives us her deep POV, and makes the narration jerky. Some instances below;

        She felt the tears sting her eyes. – Omniscient will see/know but not feel

        Could it be the ghost of her brother that had died during the war? – If omniscient, should have a tag like “she thought/wondered/etc”

        Also, apart from the POV switches, I think it’s best to introduce your MC as the first human character. You can describe setting and mention passers-by, but not in detail (eg. don’t tell us about their crying babies :)

        This is just an opinion as a reader.

  3. I like the way you wrote this but i agree with Myne. The lady with twins was an unnecessary diversion at the beginning

    1. Thanks you so much, Lade.
      See my response to Myne. Please give a feedback.

  4. beautiful work…didn’t that woman know not to bribe him? hmmmm, what arrogance! lol
    this is great but…i totally agree with @Myne…totally
    The big woman even confused me when I SUDDENLY went into her mind….

    1. I wonder if that was why she was being so defensive. She must have wanted to bribe the guy. :)

      Thank you, Adaobi.
      Let me know if you agree with my response to Myne. Maybe we can open a discussion on this.
      I might learn a thing or two.

      1. you can use any POV or more than one…hopefully not in a piece as short as this, lol but, thing’s; let them flow.
        i agree with Myne cos, the transitions both from the first woman to the MC (if she remains that) and POV transitions weren’t smooth.
        U might have your reasons anyway but for now…

  5. Apart from the digression with the woman and her twins, I was confused as to where this was taking place. The setting appeared at first to be an airport in Nigeria, but when I saw “red headed one”, I wondered whether this was elsewhere. I also thought that throwing a ghost of a dead brother into the story felt somewhat out of place.

    But I liked the core of the story very much; you did a good job of bringing to life the scenes that are experienced at airport terminals before departure, down to the gestures of the characters. I wish you had done more with the ending, though.

    1. You are right, I should have clarified the setting. Looking at it now, my attempt to do it by referring to the “red headed one” comes across as very weak. We have red heads all over the world. Some albinos have red hair. What was I thinking?
      I guess I am my worst critic. LOL

      Hopefully, you will get to know more about the ghost of the dead brother in the sequel.

      Thanks for pointing out the things you liked. I appreciate.

      1. Oh… I didn’t know there was a part 2.

        Looking forward to it…

  6. All observations observed…

    I enjoyed the story. Well done.

    1. Thanks, Seun.
      Glad you enjoyed it.

  7. nice story… ditto on Myne’s comment, i was actually expecting more relevance as regards to the other woman with the twins…

    1. Thanks, Toluwalase.

      At this juncture, I have to do something about this woman and her twins. They have been extremely distractive. :)

  8. tade (@tadethompson)

    I think it’s a good story.

    No need to comment on the POV issue…

    I would suggest in subsequent drafts making an attempt to remove clichés like ‘happy camper’ , ‘longer by the minute’ ‘toothy smile’ ‘wan smile’ ‘warm smile’ (all the ‘smiles’ in this story were used as a short cut instead of actual description) because they weaken it.

    But I enjoyed it. Great work.

    1. Guilty as charged! lol
      You caught me red handed. Short cut comes back to bite.

      Thanks, tade!

  9. awww…i liked this story and I felt her pains.
    well, thank God for the life-saver at the end. looking forward to more!

    1. Hi, Chetachi!
      Thanks, friend.

  10. I love this story for capturing a familiar but oft-missed slice of everyday life. This is the second piece I’ve read today that’s made me hunger for more. Like the street hawker in “all fingers are not equall, true, true,” I want to follow this passenger and see where she takes me.

    The twins thing did not throw me: it was a wide-shot, tight-shot move. Nice, I say. Gave us a big picture look of the immediate space, and then it zoomed in on the main character.

    The ghost brother thing brought in another dimension to this woman. Made her more interesting. More to her than meet the eyes. Good job.

    1. howyoudey,

      Did you read my mind or what!
      You captured my thoughts and I couldn’t have put it any better.

      Thank you so much.

  11. Beautiful story Rhema!I actually felt sorry for her even though she was annoying.I like the part about the man helping her.It brings compassion and shows her weakness despite her arrogance.Very nice job!

  12. I like the way you respond to these comments.It shows that you are an open receptacle to knowledge and you can only get better.
    However note that it is your story and you should be choosy of the suggestions you decide to use so that the story does not loose its substance.

  13. U can do better. Also work on Ur POV. I didn’t know whethyer U were narrating the story, or I was being guided by the 3rd person narrative.

    After they had bought the duffel bags and she re-packed her belongings. [, the] The woman found her voice.

    Not bad

  14. Sorry about the late response, guys.
    Things have been a bit crazy , courtesy of Ms.Irene.
    Can’t stay long.
    Thanks for all the feedback. They are invaluable.

    Mmwaahh :)

  15. I guess everyone had said their piece, but you had me laughing when the fat lady turned to the person behind for an opinion.

  16. I guess everyone had said their piece, but you had me laughing when the fat lady turned to the person behind for an opinion. Hehehe…

  17. This is really a nice piece. Enjoyed the fat woman.

  18. Nice one. Wish to read more from you.

  19. Nice piece. Enjoyed the story.

  20. This is good
    saturated with words
    lovely, comely and homely…………

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