They’d overbooked the plane.
“At this moment in time,” announced the woman at the counter,
“Xanadu Airlines is offering one hundred pounds
or a free return flight to any passenger willing to stand down.”
A small man in a cheap suit and Bart Simpson socks scratched his ankle.
“One hundred and fifty pounds,” she announced, fifteen minutes later.
Nobody moved. “Two hundred?”
From nowhere, this neat looking chap in a blue flannel jacket and shiny shoes
loomed over the desk and said, “I’ll take the money.”
“But you’re the pilot,” she said, then added, “Sir,”
as if she’d walked into a Japanese house and forgotten to take off her shoes.
The pilot whispered, “Listen, I need that money.
I’m behind on my mortgage payments because my wife’s a gambler;
I’ve got two sons at naval college – the hats alone cost a small fortune -
and I’m being blackmailed by a pimp in Stockport.
Let me take the two hundred. You’d be saving my life.”
I’d been sitting within earshot, next to the stand-up ashtray.
“Give him the money,” I said.
“Who are you?” she asked. She was wearing a gold plastic name-badge.
“Dorothy, I’m George,” I said, “and clearly this man’s in pain.
I don’t want him going all gooey midway over the English Channel.
I once heard sobbing coming from the cabin of a Jumbo Jet
at thirty-three thousand feet, and let me tell you,
it sounded like the laughter of Beelzebub.”
“But who’ll fly the plane?” she wanted to know.
“Why me, of course.” I opened my mouth
so she could see how good my teeth were – like pilot’s teeth.
“Do you have a licence?” she asked.
I said, “Details, always details. Dorothy, it’s time to let go a little,
to trust in the unexplained. Time to open your mind to the infinite.”
By now my hand was resting on hers,
and a small crowd of passengers had gathered around our little scene,
nodding and patting me on the back. “Good for you, George,”
said a backpacker with a leather shoelace knotted around his wrist.
It was biblical, or like the end of a family film during the time of innocence.
I said, “Dorothy, give me the keys to the cockpit,
and let’s get this baby in the air.”
[Simon Armitage has published several volumes of poetry, including Book Of Matches (1993), The Dead Sea Poems (1995) and The Not Dead (2008), with his Selected Poems (published in 2001.. He has written three novels, Little Green Man (2001), The White Stuff (2004) and Gig, out this month, as well as All Points North (1999), a collection of essays on the north of England. He produced a dramatised version of Homer's Odyssey, a collection of poetry entitled Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid (2006) and the highly praised translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2007). ]
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