Perfect Timing

We’ve just landed in Sydney. The ding goes off and the aisle quickly fills with people grabbing for their luggage. I would normally be one of them. But I am in a window seat and a small elderly man is sitting next to me blocking my escape. I wait for him to move but he just sits motionless, staring ahead into space.

I didn’t acknowledge him when he sat next to me because I was busy squeezing in last minute texts and emails. During the trip, while I shuffled through notes and watched a short movie about a rock band in Cuba, he didn’t read, watch or do anything. After I had scoffed down the enchilada they gave us for lunch, I noticed him out of the corner of my eye examining it curiously before taking it out of the cardboard box and eating it slowly, bite by bite.

So here we sit, while a bustle of people standing in the aisle look anxiously ahead or checking their phones. Eventually the doors open and the plane gradually empties. The man next to me still hasn’t said a word and hasn’t moved a muscle. I wonder if I should say something. Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Perhaps he’s disabled and needs help. I look out the window and watch the luggage coming out of the plane’s hold. I figure, as I have to pick up my bag anyway, I may as well chill. We both sit quietly while the last of the passengers saunter past.

Then he turns toward me and, with a broad grin and a broader Aussie accent, says, “It’s hilarious how they all jump up and stand squashed together but can’t get out because the doors are closed!” He then stands up, straightens his jacket and makes his way out of the plane. I follow behind. The stewards nod and wish us farewell. Normally I’d be rushing along checking my emails, but this time I enjoy the walk, look at the shops and notice the people around me. As I approach the carousel, our luggage starts to emerge. Perfect timing!

My father, who was a bit hyperactive like me, worked in the family car repair business, reporting to old Uncle Myer. Myer had been an engineer during the First World War and had a talent for fixing mechanical problems. I used to watch him standing in front of idling car engines, a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth, head tilted slightly listening carefully, in what could only be described as a meditative state. Then he’d make his diagnosis, which was always correct. When my dad was agitated or rushed, Uncle Myer would call him over. “Remember laddie” he’d drawl, “The slower you go the faster you go.”

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