When We Need a Little Help
I too am grateful to so many who help me. This past year I’ve had some frustrating challenges with my health and it's that circle of friends who tirelessly do so much to help who often keep me energised. I even receive help in my email communications at times. And to those who work so hard to decipher my scribbled thoughts for my diary from time-to-time, I’m not only eternally grateful, but in awe over how they’re able to make any sense of my chicken-scratchings.
But there are times when you have to leave your trust in God and God alone to help.
Several years ago I boarded a night flight to Johannesburg. I was dreading the trip. I was facing a seven hour journey to Dubai, plus another eight hours on the next sector to Johannesburg. I was tired and really wasn’t looking forward to the flight. Although I had a book with me, I knew my eyes would be staring at the back of my eyelids long before the aircraft pushed back from the gate at Heathrow.
Dreading the journey so, I held back until everyone else had boarded. I was the only one remaining in the boarding lounge and the gate agent was piercing holes in my head with her eyes, as if she were frustrated that she couldn't close out the flight because of me, so I grudgingly presented my boarding pass, apologised, and sauntered down the jetway to the aircraft.
I worked my way through the cabin to my seat row and was delighted to discover the seat next to mine was unoccupied. The rest of the cabin was full. I immediately decided to nick the spare pillow and blanket, once the doors were shut, so I could prop them under my arms as I nestled in for my sleep.
But as I was doing my typical reconnaissance of my surroundings-how many rows to the nearest emergency exit, a quick glance at who was seated in my vicinity and digging out the eye mask from the amenity kit, I noticed a police officer come on board, followed by a girl, who I would guess was in her early twenties. Behind her was another officer.
I watched with curiosity as one of the officers briefly spoke with the senior flight attendant. She pointed to the girl to head down the aisle to find her seat; the officers left and the door was shut. Before the girl had moved past me my attention had already turned to making myself comfortable. But just as I picked up the pillow and blanket, she was standing beside me. She didn’t say anything. Her body language said she was to be seated beside me. I have no idea why I just assumed she’d be going into the cabins behind me. I later learned from the crew that an airline employee had been given the last seat in economy.
I apologised and mumbled that I didn’t think there would be anyone sitting beside me. As I stood up to let her move into the window seat she briefly said ‘ The hostess told me to sit here.’ I again apologised. I allowed her to get her seatbelt on and then handed her the pillow and blanket, again apologising. And at that my mind went back to my planned activity of going to sleep.
‘Are you going to Sydney?’ she asked. I replied that I wasn’t. I don’t recall saying where I was headed. I had answered her question, politely, but I didn’t wish to engage in any conversation. In fact, I closed my eyes at that, hoping to make the polite point that I was going to sleep.
‘Did you see the police come on with me?’ she asked. I had, but I thought it was more polite to say I hadn’t. ‘I was told I had to leave. I exceeded my visa. And if I stayed any longer I was going to get in a lot of trouble.’ I told her that must have been a frightening experience. And I added that I had hoped Her Majesty's Government had been, at the very least, polite about the whole experience.
The girl began talking. And to be honest, I don’t recall her stopping from that point. She had met a boy from England when he came to the Northern Territory in Australia two years earlier. When he returned home she had flown to England to be with him. But apparently the relationship didn’t last a month, especially when she discovered that he already had a girlfriend-something he had accidentally forgotten to share with her.
The girl, like so many who come to Britain and become part of the patina of London’s multiculturalism, didn’t want to return. The outback town she came from offered nothing but an endless open cattle range of dust and loneliness. She had found herself a job as a waitress in one of London’s many anonymous café’s.
She told me that her father was ‘mean’ and that her mother had wanted them to leave him for ‘a long time.’ She was ‘caught’ in London when two Home Office Immigration Officers came to the café to check the paperwork of all the staff. She was very emotional about what might await her once she arrived in Australia. She had the (wrong) impression that she would be arrested for having overstayed her visa in the UK.
I asked her how she was going to get back to her town, which was about 200km north of Alice Springs. She said she didn’t know, especially as the least expensive ticket she could find only took her to Sydney. She didn’t know anyone in Sydney, but was more concerned over what might await her because she had stayed beyond the date HM Customs had stamped in her passport.
During the meal (yes, I ended up eating) and throughout the flight I reinforced the fact that nothing would happen to her for overstaying her visa. She seemed to physically calm over this and then her concerns turned to what she was going to do in Sydney. She told me that she really didn’t want to go back to where her dad was and she wistfully mentioned that perhaps her mum could come to her.
I remembered how many youth hostels there were in the areas of Kings Cross and Wooloomooloo and told her how easy it would be to get there and suggested that she stay in one for a few nights and she could check the boards for part-time jobs. This seemed to have sparked a more positive attitude from her. Her demeanour slowly changed from the frightened and nervous passenger, to one who was now clinging to a mustard seed of ideas.
As the morning sun was cresting over the Arabian Sea we prepared for landing in Dubai. Seven hours had passed and I don’t think the girl had once stopped talking. I looked at the headset, with its wires still wrapped into a neat little bow, poking out of my seatback pocket and imagined how nice it would be to get on the next flight and go to sleep!
As the plane taxied to the gate, the girl, (I never knew her name, nor she mine), said something to me that I shall never forget. ‘Thank you for talking to me all this time. I had actually said a prayer to God that it would have been nice to have a priest, or someone like that, sit next to me to talk to, but I’m glad it was you instead.’
'Perhaps I was meant to be here too,' I replied.