Well, there I was again, trotting around the world, forgetful of my years, and just enjoying life, doing what I enjoy doing best, or so I thought. Admittedly, spending nights on planes and watching day turn to evening, evening turn to night and night turn to dawn followed by an all too presumptuous day in what seems to be an unseemly haste is not everybody’s cup of tea. But there I was, anyway. The flight had gone as badly as expected. Tell me, why is it impossible to stay awake on day flights and yet find sleep impossible on night flights? Well, of course I know – don’t we all – that it’s due to the sneaky little pineal gland that synthesizes and secretes the structurally simple hormone melatonin that communicates information about environmental lighting to various parts of the body, leading some to call it the “third eye”. I mean, “Duh!”
So there I was, fresh off one plane and airports to change before yet another night flight in 16 hours’ time. I decided to take a coach to the next airport before crashing on to a pre-arranged hotel bed for maybe 9 hours before the next lift off. It turned out not to be . . . Oh, the coach trip went well. The weather was horrible, cold, blustery, a touch of ice and snow in the rain. The short walk from the bus terminal to the airport hotel was invigorating even though it was under a partially protecting roofed walkway. I kept the hotel in my sights. And then I saw him!
No, it wasn’t a vision, just a man wrapped in a very expensive overcoat, travelling bag by his feet, holding on to the walkway railing, swaying and staggering, unable to pick up his bag, clearly in great distress. I glanced over my shoulders, both sides, to check if there were others nearby. My travels have taken me to so many odd spots all over the world, and the Good Samaritan Trap to lure unsuspecting victims into muggings is always on my mind. We were alone, just the two of us. “You OK?” I ventured, as the man turned a well-known face towards me. You would have known him, Dear Reader; you see him every week on the international news channel – I’ll not say which – reporting from one atrocity to another.
“Are you OK?” I repeated. “Bloody drunk,” he replied and grabbed my bag, which I had placed at my feet. I spun round in a flash to make sure we were still alone, ready to defend myself. He grinned at me as he tried to walk. “Just for the balance, just for the balance, one in each hand. I’d be spooked too!” He lurched off.
“Are you heading for the hotel?” I asked unnecessarily. He dropped my bag and placed his free hand on my shoulder. We staggered along together, I with my three bags, he with his one, like two drunken buddies after a night on the tiles. I was stone cold sober, watchful, careful. You can never be too sure. We stopped several times to rest in the freezing wind; my Caribbean clothing has never felt so thin. He had just returned from a mission in Syria and Iraq, was clearly drunk out of his mind – and aware of it – the loneliest man in the world with his head full of atrocities. He’d started drinking the moment his plane had left the runway.
We finally made it to the hotel. The lobby was empty of guests, just a receptionist behind the desk. I registered first, no problems, all sorted out in advance as always, just a signature. I indicated to my new friend by raising my eyebrow and inclining my head. “My friend is not well,” I murmured. “He might need some assistance.” The receptionist smiled over my shoulder, “Welcome back, Mr. . . . ,” she said, “I’ll be with you just as soon as we’re through.” “So much for fame,” I thought wryly and, after making sure my new friend made it to the front desk, headed for the elevator and the safety of my room.
I opened my cases, took out the clothes for the next leg of the trip, stripped off and was under the shower in the well-practised sequence of a seasoned traveller, well before the phone rang; it was my friend, the last person in the world I wanted to hear from, but what could I do? He wanted me to come over to “his place” for a meal. Talk about alarm bells ringing in my ears! But what to do? He was clearly in distress. I agreed and went to his room.
At dinner he was incredibly sober and we talked for maybe three hours about the things he had seen in his reporting life; but nothing, nothing had prepared him for the sadistic brutality, the inhumanity of mankind, the mutilations and murders being carried out by the Islamic thugs and their foreign converts to barbarism. The things he had witnessed, he could never report on air. Even news stations seeking the truth were afraid to tell the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth because nobody wanted to risk being the next target.
We later exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch, but I doubt we will. I was merely the friend he needed when all he felt was despair and desolation, when his head was full of screaming children as they watched their mothers being raped and dismembered in front of their fathers, who were then beheaded.
As Louis Armstrong sang it – What a Wonderful World!