20 December 2013

"The Christmas Sting" published in Good Housekeeping December 2013

The Christmas Sting

by Cashmere Maindarkar

Standing at the Airlines Counter in Terminal 1D of Indira Gandhi Domestic Airport, Ground Hostess Simran Singh was wishing she could sit down and soak her tired feet in hot water. The airline policy of double booking 10% of the seats on a flight was backfiring badly on 24 December.  She had spent all morning pacifying irate passengers with confirmed tickets who suddenly found themselves bumped off. She had calmed them down and found them seats on flights of other airlines and now her own nerves were shot. She would be glad when this shift was over. Christmas Eve or not there was nothing festive about today. There was just one last flight to Goa to deal with and then she was out of here.

Karan Sethi had a spring in his step that even his loaded backpack could not erase. His parents had finally relented and given him permission to have a holiday with his friends in Goa. His first holiday without adult supervision!  He couldn’t wait to catch up with his friends in Panjim. If only his parents had agreed to let him go earlier he could have flown out with his friends yesterday. Well, it didn’t matter much now. He would be with them tonight. He pumped his fist as he spotted the  Airline Counter. 

Francis D’Souza unbuttoned the top shirt button as he pulled off his tie. He was looking at this watch as the taxi came to a halt outside Departure Terminal 1D. He paid of the radio cab fare with his company funded credit card and collected the bill. Then he picked up his laptop bag and small overnighter.  He shut the door of the taxi and began walking towards the Airline Counter looking every inch the consummate businessman in his double breasted suit.

Anthony Lobo smiled indulgently at his wife of 50 years as she spoke with excitement about meeting their grandchildren in Goa. Lisa Lobo may have a short crop of grey hair, but her enthusiasm was endless. They were on the shuttle from the International Arrivals terminal to Domestic Departures at 1D. He was tired after the long flight, but the happiness on the love of his life’s face more than made up for it.  The porter stopped the shuttle and began to load their four suitcases filled with gifts for Christmas on to a trolley and began rolling it towards the Airline Counter. 

Simran looked at the four people at the counter and back at her computer screen which showed two seats remaining on the only flight to Goa later in the day. She sighed mentally knowing just what to expect when they would be told that despite confirmed tickets they had been bumped off the flight. 

“Excuse me,” she said to get their attention, “Are all of you passengers for the Goa flight?”
There was a general nodding of heads all round before she dropped her bombshell, “I’m afraid that there has been a double booking due to computer error for this flight.”
“What does that mean,” asked a confused Karan.
“Unfortunately all four of you have confirmed tickets on a flight which is already running to capacity,” answered Simran.
“So you will shift us to another flight?” asked Francis.
“Yes, the airline will take full responsibility to shift all passengers on to the next available flight” answered Simran.
“When is the next available flight, my dear?” asked Mrs Lobo.
“There is one of another airline leaving within an hour” replied Simran.
“So you can get us on that one, can’t you?” asked Mrs Lobo sensing her discomfort.
“Unfortunately there are only two seats left on that flight and there are four of you. This means that two of you will be able to fly out today, while two of you will have to wait to fly out tomorrow morning on the first flight available,” said Simran.

“So who gets to go today?” asked Mrs Lobo.
“Well I was hoping that you would decide amongst yourselves who needed to be there most urgently and let me know,” faltered Simran. “The two who decide to stay back will be given overnight accommodation in a hotel and tickets on the first available flight to Goa tomorrow morning.”
The four potential passengers looked at each other. Karan was worried, “If I don’t reach by tonight my friends will take off without me. They have plans to go beach hopping and I won’t know where to catch up with them.”

“My daughter and her children will be coming to the airport to pick us up. They will be so disappointed if we don’t make it tonight,” said Mrs Lobo.
The three of them and Simran all looked at Francis waiting for him to state his case.  He took a deep breath and began, “I have been working in Delhi for the last three years. The girl I am in love with is in Goa. She was in school with me, and when we were in college we decided that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.”

“That’s very nice dear,” said Mrs Lobo.
“Unfortunately, at that time I had no prospects and she was getting proposals from the best families in the community. That was when she cried and asked her father to think of our love for each other. Then her father gave me an ultimatum. He gave me 3 years to make something of myself and then return to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.”
“That’s what any sensible father would do,” approved Mr Lobo.
“ This Christmas Eve is my deadline. If I don’t reach her home by this evening, she will have to agree to get married to someone else. ”
“Oh, young love,” said Mrs Lobo with a hand held to her heart. “Anthony this boy needs to go to his girlfriend.”
“Yes my darling,” said Mr Lobo, “I suppose he must”.
“That will just leave one seat and I don’t want to travel without you, so let the two young men travel today. We can always go tomorrow.” said Mrs Lobo.

Simran looked relieved that the matter had been settled quite so fast and so amicably. She quickly printed out tickets for the two travelers and they were on their way. The dash through the boarding gate of the flight kept Karan and Francis busy and then they got seats apart from each other in the flight. So there was no more conversation between them.

After landing the two of them walked past the luggage belt as they had no check in baggage and walked out of the airport. A young woman with a toddler ran to Francis and hugged him. Karan was taken aback.
“Who is this?” he asked Francis.
“This is my lovely wife Eva and that is my son, Blaze” replied Francis.
“Then what about that story you told us in Delhi. Was it all a lie?” asked Karan.
“Oh it was all true, but it happened last year. We got married on Christmas Day and I am home today for our first anniversary.” smiled Francis as he kissed his wife.
He walked away with his arm around his wife and child leaving Karan gaping with his mouth wide open.

The author writes short stories and fiction under the nom de plume Candy Laine.

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