American Airlines flight 201 is boarding at Gate D24; Miami International. Complete and creative chaos ensues as no one pays attention to boarding order or seat assignments. Flight attendants are in a frenzy of activity, shifting people around to their assigned seats and a woman refuses, saying it will be too difficult for her to move, so negotiations begin with the person who had the “right” to the choice seat in hopes he will accept lesser seating. He defers to the very ample woman who took his seat and accepts another. It is clearly a capitulation to age and perhaps the look on her face---meaning the woman who pilfered his seat.
While all this is happening, an elderly man slides into the seat next to me. I am on the aisle in 12C. He takes the middle, 12B, and the flight attendant moves him to the window, 12A. He seems nervous. I can’t tell if he is embarrassed he was asked to move, or just unfamiliar with the particulars of flying. We greet each other with smiles and quickly determine that we will have no verbal means of communication. He speaks only Creole, so we do not have the option of struggling through my pigeon Francais.
As the 737 rumbled down the runway, St. Justaine, as I learn later is his name, makes the sign of the cross. He is as nervous as I am, so after greeting the Bird Nation and asking permission to be in their space, I hedge my bet and kiss the crucifix I wear. St. Justaine’s gesture to the Trinity gave me permission to do the same.
I try to assess him. He has a tremor. Very slight in build. Old, but impeccably maintained clothes and shoes. The fabric of his brown trousers is shiny with age and he wears a black watch cap and a wedding ring. I wonder if his wife is still alive. We both try to sleep. He nudges me awake and is gesturing to me; asking for something. He moves his hand back and forth, back and forth. I think maybe he needs a pen and I produce one. He smiles. I found the answer. Not quite. He needs help filling out the customs and immigration forms. He cannot read. Now we are stuck because we need to communicate verbally and have no way to do so. He hands me his ID and that is when I learn his name. St. Justaine.
I flag down a weary flight attendant, and she does the paperwork. St. Justaine keeps thanking me, but I have really done nothing.
Time to land. As we bump through the clouds on the final descent, St. Justaine is gripping the edges of his seat. I am nervous also and we smile our way through it.
The usual mad scramble ensues to disembark and the ample woman, who could not move, moves swiftly enough into the aisle and disappears.
I finally make it to the jet way and feel a tap on my shoulder. It is St. Justaine saying goodbye.
Welcome to Haiti.