Remember those days in primary school when they made us write about our holidays? A whole one page foolscap of it. You wouldn’t believe how I would embellish mine; half-lies. Tales. Lores. Then they’d send you off with 37/40 and you’d be elated, imagining that you were about ready to become a doctor and perform a heart operation.
Here is my account. I’m ready to put my hand on a bible that the events I am about to tell are a truthful account of what happened to me on the day of 24th December 2014, circa 10.20am. Nothing but the truth. So help me God. This is the first piece I’m writing this year so it’s going to be a long read, you might want to take a bathroom break now.
I’m on this airline to coasto…just the fam’ and I. We just settled in our seats. Tamms has obviously taken the window seat to take pictures of cumulus clouds, I suppose. The Missus and Kim are in the middle seat, which inevitably means I am left with the aisle seat.
As we settle in, directly across the aisle is a commotion. No, I lie, more like a confrontation. There is an middle-aged yellow-yellow lady with two well-mannered kids (you can tell well-mannered kids…why you ask? They are calm) asking this Indian guy to leave her seat because they are in seat C10, C11 and C12, as it states explicitly here on her ticket. The Indian guy says – and here you have to insert an Indian accent because that’s how he spoke – No problem, you sit on my seat, you sit anyvea. The woman says ‘But I can’t sit anywhere when I have a seat I have been allocated! Kindly vacate my seat, I’m sorry’. The Indian guy says, Lady please sit on my seats, they are very good seats, they are the same. No problem. (Why do Indians like saying No problem even when it’s obvious there is a problem?). And she says with a loud sigh you could hear all the way to the Sameer Business Park, I don’t want to sit on your seats when I have seats I booked!
So the Indian guy mumbles something and tells his sons in his mother tongue to leave the surly lady her seats, because it’s not like it’s curry she will carry home, is it sons? So they scramble out of the seats and the lady and her well-mannered boys settle into their well-earned seats and I’m thinking, finally, world peace.
Well, not yet, Ban Ki Moon.
Meanwhile all passengers are now seated. The crew is doing final checks etc. What does the Indian guy do? He stands defiantly in the aisle with his loyal sons, aged around 8 and 10. Kindly take your seat sir, the cabin crew tells him and he says he needs his luggage moved to where his seat his. Which is your luggage, sir? He counts about seven pieces of luggage over the seat he has just vacated. Sorry, sir, you may have to sit and leave your luggage here. No, he says, I can’t leave my luggage here while I sit aaaaalll the way over there! Sir, your luggage is fine, kindly take your seats. No, I want to sit with my luggage. Sir, please take your seat. No, I want to sit with my luggage, no problem. Hehe. So the cabin crew walks up the aisle about 1,000 seats away and comes back and says, Sir, there is no room for all your luggage where your seats are, so you will have to leave them where they are. No, I can’t leave my luggage here.
Now we have a problem, even though he keeps assuring us there isn’t any. They are the only ones standing at this point. The plane is humming, ready to leave. Mr Pradeep [can we call him that?] and his family of seven isn’t about to budge. He’s wearing official pants and an official shirt tucked in. He has pudgy but tough hands with somewhat dark nails. Middle-class. Maybe he has a shop or workshop or he fixes watches. Or makes baby-cots. Or he’s in printing. He probably does all these. But you can tell he’s a man who accustomed to folding his sleeves. A man who has worked hard all his life to become what he has. A man who has been saving hard to take his whole family down to the coast for a holiday. A man who will be damned if he doesn’t sit with his luggage. At this point I wonder what my pal Boniface Mwangi would have done in this circumstance; maybe stood on his seat, hugged him and whispered in his ear, Don’t sit until you have your luggage with you, apply pressure, stay strong, never give up, Pradeep, fight them damn it! Fight them son of Mumbai!
The flight is delayed now. Pradeep is digging his heels in the soil, or thick carpet as it were. Some self-righteous Nairobians who are just dying to get to coast to do nothing but drink copious amounts of alcohol and fart in the swimming pools are now turning in their seats to glare at Pradeep who remains beautifully unmoved. There are mumbles. Outside is a gorgeous day, the sky is blue and the weather is spectacular. The perfect day for a revolution.
The flight purser, I think, struts over to where one of the cabin crew is trying to drive sense into Pradeep. By the way, I have to say that the flight attendants on that flight were real beauties. Their uniforms were well pressed and actually had colour, they looked immaculate with these thin belts around their waists. And they actually had waists to speak of. I have noticed, and I think I wrote it in one of my columns before, a worrying trend of cabin crews losing their waistlines. That they are no longer pretty or with long legs as we remember them. Something terrible is happening to cabin crews’ waistlines, they are growing big and I don’t know how safe that is for us passengers. I’m just saying. We are losing our elephants and now we are losing waistlines of our cabin crews and we are doing nothing but laughing at memes.
But these particular girls were quite trim and I wanted to plead with them to maintain their shapes and to avoid the Swiss chocolates when they flying international. We beg you. You can keep all the weaves you want, but please retain your waists because there is little else to look at during flights plus nothing beats being served by a good looking air stewardess, just so you know. It’s the only reason we bother to do online-check in.
Sir, we are ready to take off and you are delaying this flight, please take your seats immediately, the stern flight purser tells Pradeep. Pradeep doesn’t care for small waists and cute thin belts. He isn’t moving without his bags. The murmurs around the plane are getting louder. A smart Alec, some chap seated three seats behind me says loudly, and he says it in Swahili which I’m too lazy to write here verbatim because I’m no Ken Walibora, that guy has a point, he is only afraid that someone might get off at Mtito Andei with his luggage. There are ripples of laughter in the plane. Hohohoho.
But Pradeep isn’t moved by gags. Neither are his stoic sons.
So the flight purser throws in the towel and says, Look, if you refuse to sit down I’m going to get the captain to handle this case and with that she walks away in a huff and I’m like uuuuuuuu, the captain! Uuuuuuuu, she is going to report you to the captain, you are in so much trouble Pradeep because when they call the captain, that’s it, you are toast my Mumbai friend. She made it look like she was going to report him to the headmaster and the said captain would make him uproot a huge tree trunk before he eats his dinner in Mombasa. Uuuuuuuu, the captain! We are so scared. We are quaking in our sandals.
To be honest, I didn’t mind the drama. No matter how unreasonable Pradeep was, I was routing for him to stay put and not move without his damned luggage. I mean, if a man wants to sit with his luggage let him! Do you know what he’s carrying in the luggage in the first place? No really, do you? Maybe in one of those bags is an urn containing his grandfather’s ashes and one of his grandfather’s wishes was that he is taken to coast because before he passed on he was bed ridden and all he dreamt of was getting well and having some sand under his feet. So yeah, Pradeep was within his rights to want his luggage by his feet, because men just don’t insist they want their luggage by their feet everyday, do they? Fuck airline regulations, they didn’t know his grandfather, he was a noble and honest man, raised him and his four brothers and sisters through hardship, now his brother is a doctor in Nairobi. You know doctor Patel, don’t you? Everybody knows Doctor Patel. Well, that’s Pradeep’s kid bro.
So I was ready to sit on the runway for another two hours until Pradeep got to sit with his treasured luggage. Besides what was I rushing to the coast to do? I was only going to spend all my time in the pool teaching Tamms how to float (unsuccessfully) and her asking me, What do I do to float, papa? And me trying not to say, apart from try not to eat half of the dessert buffet? But I can’t because she might get pregnant at 17 all because I said that to her at 6! Raising girls is like walking around with an egg on a spoon, man.
By the way, folks with kids, does your kid always ask you something and you always give them a reasonable fatherly answer while you actually have a smart-ass answer in your head? I struggle with that. I really do. I wish I could speak my mind: Papa, why does Kim like crying? Me: Because he’s still a baby and babies can’t talk so their only way to communicate is to cry and get our attention. Yawn. (In my head: Because he takes after mom’s side of the family.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, right. Si now the purser has walked away to report Pradeep to the captain. We all sit and wait. There is silence in the plane because we are all dying to see what will happen to poor Pradeep here and his grandfather’s ashes. Will they be heartless enough to throw him and his family out? He has sons and a daughter and his wife and a very elderly looking woman who I suspect is his grandmother and another much much older looking one who I suspect is his great great grandmother. You know how Indians are; they keep familia together. Safety in numbers.
The plane is deathly silent. Not even a cough. Even the babies have stopped crying. We wait. Any moment now I imagine the captain kicking out the door of his cockpit and roaring, WHO IS THAT MAKING TROUBLE ON MY BLOODY PLANE?! ER, WHO?? We will all cower, slide further down our seats. Pin drop silence. I WILL ASK ONE LAST TIME, WHO IS THAT MAKING TROUBLE ON MY BLOODY PLANE?!
And then a small baby voice, a small timid and innocent voice, Tamms’s voice, will say, “This one,” as she points at Pradeep with her small tiny finger. Such a snitch, Tamms! That’s what I’m raising. She can’t join the mafia, that girl. I suspect she has taken that from my side of the family, I’m afraid. My little boy, though, will be a better mafia. He has lots of Kikuyu blood in him and so you will pluck all the nails on his fingers before he rats on Pradeep. Atta boy!
After Tamms has sold Pradeep down the river, the captain will then slowly strut down the aisle, eyes into slits now, peering intently at Pradeep. But Pradeep is from India, he has watched tons of Indian movies with bad hairy men worse than this captain. The captain doesn’t even have a beard. Men without beards can only scare dolls. Even if they wear fancy captain hats. Pradeep isn’t moved, in fact he sneers a little. Plus his family has fought the bloody Pakistanis for generations; he isn’t scared of a mere captain without a beard. If this were a movie, some pretty Indian girls with tanned skin and red dots on their forehead would come into the plane singing their hearts out. Like canaries. But this is life. No pretty Indians girls in planes. No red dots. Just Pradeep sneering and the beardless captain bearing on him and his two boys.
Everybody in the plane is cowering as the big bad captain walks down the aisle. There are a good number of first time fliers in the plane (you know the ones; the ones who take pictures of the wings and anything else) who don’t know their damned rights. They imagine the captain is a supreme being. A despot. A martinet. First time fliers don’t know any better; they want to open the windows for fresh air. Hehe. Anyway, as the captain walks down the aisle, everybody avoids eye contact with him because he might suddenly stop at your seat and shout, YOU! GET OFF, I CAN’T FLY THIS BLOODY PLANE WITH SOMEONE WITH A BAD WEAVE LIKE THAT ON IT.
Talking of captains.
Why is it that when all captains speak into their fancy intercom thingis [it is an Intercom right?] they sound like they went to London Business School at some point in their lives and when you meet some of them in person they sound like they attended Karatina Computer College? What is it about the cockpit that turns good men and women into phonies? Is this a conundrum worth addressing or should I move on? No seriously, it baffles me. Those posh voices: “This is your captain Wachira Wanjiru; I’m assisted by my first officer Leilang Ole Kaparo (you’ve never really heard of a Maasai captain, have you?). I hope you are enjoying your flight so far, we are cruising at 28,000 feet, somewhere over Bujumbura, we expect to touchdown at OR Tambo at 10mins after 11pm, the weather in Johannesburg is a bit chilly with showers expected. Kindly get confortable and feel free to get assistance from our lovely crew, relax and enjoy the remainder of your flight.” Diiing. All posh and shit, talking like Sir Alex Fergusson. Then you meet them in a bar and captain Wanjiru from Manchester is saying, “here is the dhing….”
Anyway, the captain never comes out. We wait and wait but he (or she) never comes out. Instead some chap with a radio in his hand and a luminous safety jacket comes in and walks up to Pradeep and says, Sir, you have two options here, you either sit down or you disembark from the plane because this plane is late. There is that moment where nothing moves because the events to follow will depend on Pradeep here and I hope he says, I choose to sit with my luggage, I – like Bonnie – pray he stays the course instead the damned guy, after raising my hope so high, simply says in that Indian accent and one finger in the air, All right, I sit no problem and he ushers his sons to their seats at the back. I feel like crying. I suspect he only sat because he didn’t understand what “disembark,” meant and it sounded like something that would bring shame and dishonour to his family and he couldn’t have that.
But still, I was deeply disappointed. I was waiting for a melee. I was waiting for Pradeep to stand straight before him and his starched captain uniform and say, “I’m the son of XX, and these are my sons, Sanjiv and Sanjay, and we will not sit if our luggage isn’t with us.” Then the captain will have to hold him and Sanjiv by their ears and drag their curry-asses down the aisle while his wife screamed at the captain to let him go this minute or she will strangle him with her sari, and his elderly mother and grandmother and great great grandmother screamed at the filthy captain ‘let go, let go’ and Pradeep screaming, saying, We fought the Pakistanis at the border, we shall fight the captains here in Nairobi and people cheering Pradeep and some cheering the captain and the Missus creasing her brows disapprovingly and my nigga Kim obliviously sucking on a bottle and Tamms, my snitch baby, calmly staring out through the window, at that beautiful azure revolutionary skies wondering if a lady really has to skip the dessert to float in a goddamn swimming pool.
Well, happy New Year, Gang.
Story Credits Biko