The One-Legged Man Who Changed My Life

I've recently been putting together a book of these tips and while rummaging through my files I discovered what could be called "the original tip". It's a remarkable true story I emailed to some clients many years ago. I was on the final leg coming back from Singapore after talking at a Franchise Summit.

Ansett had just collapsed and we had all been moved to a Singapore Airlines flight which was chock-a-block. Because I have long legs I like an aisle seat but only middle seats were available. As I approached my row I noticed a small guy with a kind face and wearing a kilt sitting in the aisle seat. I was about to ask if he would mind standing so I could squeeze past when I realised he had no legs, so I just slid in front of him and sat down.

It turned out, although his left leg was completely missing, he did have a short right leg tucked under him. David introduced himself and I said he obviously didn't have a problem with legroom, at which we both had a chuckle.

As we chatted, a tall heavily built man in shorts came down the aisle, boarding pass in hand and a frown on his face. He stopped next to us, looked down at my companion and said "Excuse me but you will have to move. You are in my seat and there is no way I am going to sit by the window."

We both looked up in disbelief

The flight attendant had obviously put David in the aisle seat for convenience. I figured this fellow had not yet noticed David's disability. He then repeated emphatically, "I am sorry but I cannot sit in a window seat.

While we were both taken aback, our reactions were very different. David shrugged and quietly started to gather his belongings. I was incensed at this guy's selfishness and arrogance, and was about to tell him to back off and show a little generosity of spirit.

Before I could say anything David placed one hand on the arm rest and the other on the back of the seat in front and hoisted himself over me in an impressive Samurai style leap, landing in the window seat. He then politely asked if I could slide his artificial metal leg and bag across to him. Feeling embarrassed I asked if he was okay and whether we should try to find him an aisle seat. He good humouredly insisted he was fine.

As Mr X, as we'll call him, sat down he asked an attendant to get him a drink and generally behaved as if he owned the plane. "What a jerk" I thought.

At this point I felt pretty worked up and decided to make this guy's trip as uncomfortable as possible. My first strategy was to open my copy of the Straits Times so it was flapping in front of his face. I then spread my elbows out fully on the arm rest. For the next 5 hours, while being pleasant to David, I took every opportunity to shut Mr X out of any civil interaction.

At 3.00am Mr X was sleeping with a mask over his eyes and his seat reclined. I was watching a movie when David whispered he needed to go to the toilet. I offered to wake our sleeping companion so David could get out but he said not to worry and did one of his Samurai flips across the two of us, landing in the aisle on his small leg.

As he flew over us his kilt brushed across Mr X's cheek, who sat up looking perplexed, pulling off his mask and feeling his face anxiously. Meanwhile David had disappeared, hopping down the aisle and into the toilet. I just stared straight ahead at my movie pretending not to notice Mr X looking left and right trying to figure out what just happened. He then settled back down to sleep.

Sure enough when David arrived back and flipped himself over us, the same thing happened, startling Mr X once more. "Brilliant!" I thought as I smiled to myself.

At this moment a strange thing happened

When Mr X had once again settled back into a deep sleep I decided to make my move and poked him in the shoulder to get up so I could go to the toilet.  At this moment a strange thing happened. As he sat up and removed his mask I noticed what I thought were three legs next to me! I squinted. It was dark and I was tired but Mr X definitely seemed to have three legs. Looking closer I realised that Mr X had removed his right leg just above the knee, which was resting next to his thigh.

Yes, Mr X had an artificial leg, albeit it very realistic looking one, which he obviously removed for comfort while travelling. Being such a big fellow, little wonder he didn't want to sit in the window seat.

Feeling like an absolute idiot I offered to climb over him and quietly made my way up the aisle shaking my head in disbelief.

For the rest of that trip I did some soul searching. The arrogance I had so enthusiastically attributed to him, I realised was in me. What I had interpreted as arrogance was probably just social awkwardness or embarrassment.

Incidentally, David approached me in the baggage claim area with wry smile and enquired what was wrong with me. I asked him what he meant. "Well, when I saw that fellow's leg missing I figured they had put the three of us together. So I have been wondering what's wrong with you!" he laughed.

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