The son of a close friend of mine in India related his personal experience with a first-time flyer. The flyer being his newly-retired dad who’d spent all his working life as a locomotive driver. The family had travelled extensively within the country, but almost always by train — courtesy the free railway travel privileges extended to employees and their families. A few times they’d taken a luxury coach. But although the son and his sister had both taken flights to various destinations in India, their just-retired dad had never set foot inside a plane. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t even been to an airport.
So — let’s call the children Jenny and Johnny, who both have small families of their own — decided that the time had come to give dear old papa his first taste of the skies on his 62nd birthday. It helped that one of papa’s dear friends who’d migrated to Canada was now back in India, visiting his family in Mumbai. So, Johnny got on to Jenny (on their iPhones) and decided that the venture should be kept as secret as possible.
“Until the last minute,” cautioned Jenny, adding, “No leaks. This is our house, not the White House and we must show we are a tight family.” In that case, said Johnny, “We’ll need to either keep the plan entirely from the kids, or tell them and swear them to secrecy but risk one of them letting the cat out of the bag.”
Jenny said that she generally never kept secrets from her two kids, aged seven and nine. Johnny said he sometimes uttered one or two white lies, mainly to keep knowledge from his five-year-old, as to whether there were any more sweets in the sweet tin, and if so why not. “I usually tell him that dadda has to manage the budget so we cannot always be buying sweets and if we did we will never be able to buy a house in 30 years when he’s a grown man.” Little fictions like that!
So, the day of the flight (for the entire family, grandpa, children, grandchildren) arrived. None of them wanted to miss out on watching the pleasure etched on the face of their dear dad and grandfather. As the call taxi left the patriarchal home and veered away from the train station, taking an alternate route, the two children — Jenny and Johnny — cast sly glances at their dad’s face to see if maybe a frown would have formed, wondering where on earth the taxi was carrying them if not to the railway station.
Instead, they saw nothing but a quiet serenity. By the time they arrived at the airport and the proverbial cat was supposed to be out of the bag, the old man had not a single question to ask. “Aren’t you curious?” enquired Jenny finally. “Curious? About what?” asked the old man. “About where we’re all going.” “Oh,” said papa, “I know that! I’ve known for two weeks. We’re flying to Mumbai to visit my dear friend Kannan.” “How did you know?” asked Johnny, “this was meant to be a bit of a surprise.” Turning to the grandkids he asked, “Who among you broke the pact and let the secret out?”
Silence all around, much foot scraping and head-lowered gazes at the tiled floor. “Who told you?” asked Jenny, finally. “I cannot say,” said the old man, “I can only tell you that we’re not allowed to ask to buy anything on the plane, no sandwiches, no drinks. This is an economy flight and we have to balance our budget or one of us will not have a house of their own by the time they turn 30.”
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.