It’s all work, work, work for our business traveller, writes Frances Woodhams. But can he remain immune to the charms of a young fellow passenger?
John has become adept at making the most of the hours in his day. He shaved 30 minutes off his airport transfer time by risking life and limb to cross the dual carriageway outside his office on foot and narrowly escaped a serious accident with a matatu. By collecting his Uber from the other side of the road, he has saved the driver from making a time-consuming U-turn.
“I’m heading out of the country this afternoon, but yes, of course I can take the conference call.”
John is almost surgically attached to his phone. Between calls, he directs the Uber driver along lesser-known back roads to the airport in short, barked commands. When they do hit traffic, John thrums his fingers on the dashboard impatiently.
“Drop me here,” John says as the car rolls up to Terminal 1B. He swings his black computer bag on wheels adeptly off the back seat and then whips out exactly the right amount of money from his trouser pocket and hands it to the driver. Using his broad, pinstriped shoulders as a kind of navigational tool, he tacks to the front of the entrance queue and slips through the scanner before fellow passengers even have time to complain. His phone rings. John reattaches his earpiece. It’s his secretary, Julie, calling,
“Conference call for you, the others are all waiting. I’m just connecting you now.”
“Go ahead,” he says, handing over passport and ticket to the correct check-in staff with one hand.
“Abuja, 2 pm flight?” They ask. He nods in confirmation.
John is still talking and listening as he strides up the steep airport escalator. He puts his phone down briefly during a second round of security checks, removing his belt and shoes and throwing them in the tray in one swift movement. The others on the conference call haven’t even noticed he’s gone off line. Without missing a beat, he’s back on call.
So far, so smooth
John heads straight to the business class lounge. Seated by the window overlooking parked planes with a cup of black coffee, he is still working when they make the final call for his flight. So far, so smooth. Things begin to fall apart, however, when John boards the aircraft.
Much to his horror, John has been seated next to a six-year-old child, who is flying unaccompanied. The little girl has a red passport pouch hanging around her neck and is playing with an in-flight kiddy pack. John looks desperately about for a spare seat but the flight is rammed. He tries not to make eye contact with the little girl as he sits down and only says ‘hello’ briefly when he catches her staring intently at him. He gently removes her sticky hand from his sleeve as he stakes a claim to the shared armrest.
A stylish young air hostess fusses over the child, handing her a juice box before walking blithely away. John frowns. Predictably, the child squeezes the box and apple juice arks out from the straw, showering John. The girl laughs, drops the juice box on John’s shoe then starts jabbing at the TV screen to find cartoons as John dabs uselessly at his only suit with a dry tissue.
“What’s your name?” John asks, as if to prove to himself that his heart is not made of stone.
“Betty,” she says, “and by the way, can you fix my TV?”
Snakey, Billy and Dolly
John can’t help admiring the child’s bold nature and helps her plug into Despicable Me. He finds a couple of blankets for her to sit on so that she’s high enough to see the screen and wedges tissues between her head and the oversized plane headphones, so that the speakers sit in the right place over her ears. Finally there’s peace and quiet. John has a report to work on and arranges it on his lap but Betty keeps clapping and laughing out loud at her film. She’s enjoying it so much that John gives up on his task to tune into the same channel. He thoroughly enjoys the film and hasn’t felt this relaxed in years. By the end of the journey, the air hostess finds Betty surrounded by cuddly toys, each of whom have been formally introduced to John.
“This is snakey, Billy and Dolly.”
The pair are now engaged in a spirited game of noughts and crosses and the flight time is nearly over. After all, life’s not all about work, work, work…