This December past I flew down to the Eastern Cape on holiday. I do love to fly and particularly love that part of South Africa. OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg was packed with, amongst others, excited families heading on vacation, students going home for Christmas and us: my dear 80-year-old dad and I on our way to the coast to spend time with family.
There wasn’t one seat open on the Kulula flight we crammed onto; so full that we had to sit in separate rows. My father seemed disappointed at first, but perked up when he found himself seated next to a pretty young student with a guitar and a pillow. I was jammed between two completely forgettable people, and settled down with my book and earphones for the hour and a half flight.
And then we waited. Apparently we had missed our take-off slot and so had to wait for a new opening in the busy holiday flight schedule.
A kid with the faith of a saint, a few rows down, started chanting at the top of his voice “5,4,3,2,1 FLY” over and over, routinely checking outside to see if it was working. Eventually, in desperation he bellowed “Just fly already.” We all agreed.
Finally, with the little boy sobbing in his mother’s lap, his faith and energy spent, we taxied out onto the runway … there was a brief lull, and we roared into the sky. A duet of urchins somewhere in front of me wailed, there was a harmony of screaming behind and my father called the flight attendant for a brandy and coke. We were off.
The seats, as with any seats in economy, were thin and hard. Halfway through the flight my father bolted out of his seat, grimacing and rubbing his numb posterior, to complain to me and everyone within five rows of us that it felt as if he had been strapped to a church pew while wearing a straitjacket. The previous week I had endured a 32 hour journey from Vancouver, so this was nothing in comparison. And I had a vision of long walks on the beach before me to dull the discomfort.
The flight was a good one: perfectly calm, with a routine landing ahead of time. According to me, anyway.
My father’s version of the flight included several turbulent sections – where the plane dropped “several metres” at least. It was so bad he had to hold the lass’ hand next to him to reassure her that all would be alright. The landing too was apparently particularly rough. Again, he felt the need to hold her hand until she got colour back in her face.
Everyone cheered. I marvelled at my dear 80-year-old dad’s gumption and ingenuity.