Jo’burg to Heathrow

“Hi guys, sorry to make you move, I’m in the window seat,” I said to the two young twenty somethings sitting in 42B and C. They eagerly got up and allowed me in. I settled into my seat, iPod at the ready, watching the stream of passengers behind me file past to find their seats. As soon as I started the music, 42B started talking to me. I pushed pause, took one ear plug out and listened.

“I was here for both – business and holiday,” I explained, “I was in Pretoria and Lusaka, Zambia, for work, then took 5 days to visit Kruger.” His eyes lit up. “We’re from Phalaborwa, right outside of the Kruger gate. How’d you find it?” “Just lovely. I was right outside Orphen gate, on a private game reserve, but went into Kruger for three days.”

We talked of the park, the state of affairs in South Africa, their plans to do a work/holiday in Scotland for 6 months, their jobs in South Africa, and other mundane small talk. 42C tapped the tv monitor in the seatback in front of him. “What’s this for?” I looked at him, somewhat surprised. “Well, once the flight is in progress, there will be in flight entertainment. There are about 50 movies to choose from, tv shows, music, and video games.” 42B piped in, “Are the movies any good? Or all they all old?” “No, they’re recent releases.” 42C added, “But how do we get the sound?” I looked at them with utter surprise. “Have you ever flown before?” They both beamed, “No, this is our first flight.” I explained that the flight attendants would pass out headphones and showed them where to plug them in. They asked a myriad of questions: Could they play their PS2 in the air? Would they be allowed to walk around? What else was on the plan? What kind of food would be served? Was it really true we would be served unlimited alcohol? Could they keep the pillow and blanket? What about the headphones? It was quite endearing.

They marveled the whole flight at things I’ve grown to take for granted: the receding landscape as we climbed higher in the sky, the fact that we were flying above the clouds, the machinations of the wing as we ascended then descended. They complained about the things I’ve grown to take for granted: the lack of leg room (42B insisted he would *never* fly economy again), the quality of the food (“can you believe how watery the eggs were?”), how thirsty one gets while flying (they couldn’t get over my foresight as I shared my bottled water with them), how uncomfortable it is to try to sleep on an overnight flight. Their names were Baul and Jacou. They apologized for their stilted English, explaining Afrikaans was their home language, astonished I didn’t pick up Afrikaans during my trip (“It’s such an easy language…”)

The 11 hour trip passed remarkably quickly. I remembered setting out on my own adventures at 22, first to California, then unexpectedly to Kuwait and Egypt, not knowing what to expect, but knowing I’d find adventure. I laughed almost constantly, each of their questions reminding me of my own bright eyed, bushy tailed 22-year old self.

Once at Heathrow, they followed me to connecting flights, again asking me questions and commenting continuously as we walked through Heathrow. As we prepared to go through security, I mentioned to Baul he needed to take off his jewelry and belt. “My belt? How’s I supposed to keep me pants from falling down then?” I laughed. “It’s only for a few steps.” “Yeah, but there’s thousands of people here. It’d be quite embarr’sin.”

We all needed boarding passes once we made it though security. As we were all flying British Airways to our respective destinations, I motioned for them to follow me to the BA queue. I explained they needed a new boarding pass that would identify their seat assignments on their next flight. We waited in the line until the next available agent signaled she was available. I walked towards her; at the counter I realized the two of them were right on my heels. I laughed once again and explained they needed to wait for the next agent since we weren’t on the same flight. They returned to the queue, waiting eagerly for the next available agent.

Boarding passes in hands, I explained it was time for us to part ways. They were heading to UK departures, I was to go downstairs for international. Jakou enthusiastically and with genuine sincerity said, “Maybe we’ll be on the same flight back from Scotland. We can tell you all about our time there.” I laughed. “That would be quite a coincidence. Good luck and have a great time. It was such a pleasure meeting the both of you.”

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