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.