Finland


Going to Helsinki via Amsterdam, I found myself seated next to the poster child of a campaign for ‘The use of alcohol to sedate children on flights’.

The three- or four-year old chap, from West Africa, spent the three hour flight from Amsterdam to Helsinki kicking my left leg quite on purpose, and squirming in every way possible to cause me that odd discomfort that makes you want to slam a child you do not know right in the face.

When I asked for the very back seat at check-in, the attendants had laughed as usual, and asked me to remind them why I preferred the back.

I won’t reveal the secret here.

This three- or four-year old brat single-handedly made that flight my most regrettable check-in choice ever.

I was happy when he napped for fifteen minutes, and spent the peacetime reading my Jeffrey Deaver.

Then he woke up. And with him, the evil god of mischief.

The little shit kicked the seats and my legs, scratched the fabric of the seat, slapped my arm-rest, jumped out of his seat onto the floor, and generally institutionalized mayhem on our row of seats.

But I like kids, and even when this Lucifer Junior kicked his cup of juice into the lap of the only suit I had packed for a week, I smiled at his mother and said, “It’s okay.” to calm her fears.

Still, she should have apologized.

Instead, she thought we now had a bond of sorts, and timed her departure from the plane to make any observer consider the three of us as a cute and very mismatched family unit.

And up to that point, I had forgiven them.

Then she turned to ask me, “Where I go now?” in a language I could not immediately place nor comprehend. My forgiveness was immediately withdrawn, and I mentally dared the little child or his mother to spill any liquid on me and I would unleash wrath. This included spittle.

But her question had taken me back to the hundreds of times I’d had my compatriots ask such questions at airports. The last was just a couple of months ago when this old couple from Eritrea alarmed the entire aeroplane by asking something like, “Do we get off here?”

Actually, we were more alarmed because we had no idea what they were asking, ALL of us, being non-Eritreans, had no clue what we were saying in their language. The two of them, being the type of persons who were now leaving their Eritrean village for the first time ever in their 80+ years on earth, sincerely expected that everyone they knew understood their language because that is what they had known all their lives.

(It later transpired that they were headed to Lusaka, NOT Harare, where they caused us this concern).

Now, here was the youngish mother of a little devil replicating the old, misguided Eritreans.

She spoke neither English, French nor Runyoro. I didn’t speak what she was speaking. She and the brat trailed me as I walked briskly to my next gate, gesturing a conversation that I finally ended by confidently pointing at the sign for ‘Baggage’ and saying loudly “Read the signs.”

And I headed into Helsinki.

I doubt that they are still at the airport.

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