Just outside the lounge, through the large plate-glass window, stood the huge bird that would take them back to Chicago and back to the realities that awaited them. Ricky was glad that it was a Boeing 747. He just loved that bird. He remembered the first time he saw one.
He was either twelve or thirteen when he looked up and out of the clouds emerged one of the most beautiful birds he had ever seen. He stood in awe at its sight and had no idea that an airplane could be so big. The way it glided through the sky, with its silvery hump shining brilliantly and its tail following effortlessly, it was in his eyes a magical detour to the everyday humdrum of mechanical contrivance. Besides, he knew that one day he would be aboard one of those magnificent birds, following his dreams to some wonderfully distant land.
He turned from the window and looked at Andrea, who was sitting and surveying the souvenirs that she had purchased for her family. She now seemed content and happy and he knew that she missed her little sister, Nellie. She couldn’t wait to get home to tell her about the land where heaven met earth and the air smelled like perfume.
A young girl with a small carry-on and a big smile sat down next to Andrea. Andrea, generous and well mannered, did not waste any time in introducing herself to the little girl who appeared to be about the same age as her and probably wanting of friendship.
“Hi, my name’s Andrea. I bought this seashell necklace for my little sister. Her name’s Nellie. And for my mom, I got this hourglass with real Hawaiian sand in it. Oh, and for my daddy, I bought a huge hula-girl calendar. But that’s packed in my suitcase, though.”
The little girl smiled a bigger smile and replied, “My name is Susie. And over there,” pointing to a gentle-looking, grandmotherly woman with sincere eyes, “is Esther. She’s my nanny. She’s not going with me, though, to visit my big sister. Are you traveling alone too, Andrea?”
“No, I came here with my godparents.” She looked up and among the countless faces she saw Krystal, who was returning from her last-minute gift shop romp. “Here comes Krystal. She’s my godmother.” Krystal hurried over. Out of breath and probably out of money she sat down and nodded at Susie.
“Please to meet you.” Krystal then asked Andrea if she knew where Ricky was, not realizing that he was standing not more than twenty feet away the entire time. It was probably difficult to discern one tan-faced, casually dressed male wearing sunglasses from the others. And seeing that the waiting lounge was teeming with such denizens, he quickly forgave her.
“Gee Krystal, you should know your man by now,” Ricky said. They all broke into laughter and as the first boarding call sounded he asked Susie if she would like to sit with Andrea for the long flight and she readily agreed that she would.
He got up and formally introduced himself to Esther and she explained to him that Susie’s sister lived in Ohio but would be driving to Chicago to meet Susie at the airport and that they would probably spend a few days in Chicago, visiting the museums and things of that nature. Esther also told him that both of Susie’s parents were very busy people, that they were high up there in the corporate world; that Susie almost always flew alone. Esther also said she was glad that this time Susie had a traveling companion, that most of the time, she was the only child flying in first class.
After quickly arranging a change of seats that would allow Susie and Andrea to sit together for the eight-hour flight, Susie bade farewell to Esther, and both she and Andrea were led into the aircraft by an anxious flight attendant who wanted to show them the cockpit before the pilots began their final pre-flight check.
Ricky took Krystal’s hand and led her to a corner of the lounge where they were offered an unobstructed view of the Hawaiian landscape. Beyond the airport aprons a generous expenditure of palms danced gracefully in the breeze. As to wish them farewell, the sun-tinged fronds seemed to join hands and wave. Ricky waved back and in a whisper, bade his paradise goodbye. For a moment, as he stood before the magnificent backdrop, he became One — a solitary beacon whose light had finally brightened.
The 747 was pushed onto the tarmac. Krystal looked across the aisle. Andrea and Susie were immersed in childhood drama and by the tone of their dialogue it seemed that a serious friendship was forming. Krystal blinked at them and they smiled back. As the engines revved and the flight attendants began their safety demonstration, the thoughts of returning home were becoming more of a reality now.
Ricky was staring out the window and Krystal knew that this was his way of acknowledging for the final time the land in which he had come to love so well. His face was almost glued to that window and she knew that he wouldn’t remove it till the last glimpse of his paradise was given to nothing but sea.
After the plane was well into the sky he turned to look at her and she could see in his eyes not only herself but all that he was forced to leave behind. She understood that his love was great and it was as great for her as it was for the islands that beheld in their breadth all that was beautiful. That day, a few weeks ago, when he told her that he had a surprise for her, she had no idea that it would be a trip to Hawaii. But as he put it, “What better way to share my life-long dream with someone who has helped to make that dream worth waking up to.”
He had related to her that he had longed for Hawaii for as long as he could remember, and that when he was young, he would hop aboard the #131 and then the airport express bus. He would spend countless hours at the airport searching for the gates that opened to paradise. But he, unlike the lucky ones who possessed airline tickets, was forced to stay behind the gate when it opened. After all the happy and smiling people were aboard the plane, he would stand before the huge plate-glass window, and in all his desperation and desolation, wave farewell to a dream that he figured would never become a reality. How could it? he thought then and thought again and again as the years rolled by.
A few weeks ago when he unveiled those tickets she could do nothing but cry in joy. Not so much for the fact that she’d be going to Hawaii but because his dream would now become much more than gazing out a window at a plane that would always leave without him on it. And an added bonus was the ticket that he held for Andrea. Krystal remembered how elated Ricky was six months ago when Delia and Miguel asked him to be Andrea’s godfather. If he seemed any happier before that moment, she could not remember. He had told her that it was a great triumph for him, especially since his own brother and two sisters never considered him to be godfather to any of their children.
After the captain made the customary announcement that it was safe to remove the seatbelts, Krystal looked around the spacious cabin and had to laugh. Ricky didn’t quite understand what was so funny all of a sudden until she had told him how on the flight going to Hawaii she had a lapse of reason and thought she was still at home. “This is like a living room in here,” she said. “On the way here I felt so at home that I almost opened the door to let the dog in. But then I realized that I don’t have a dog. Well, then I felt like going around and watering my plants. But then a little turbulence took me right out of my living room and back to thirty-thousand feet.”
She watched him as he wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I’m sure glad that you realized that you haven’t a dog,” he said. “Because if you had opened that door it would have been Adios. We all would have been walking the clouds.”
He turned toward the window and began to laugh and Krystal nudged him, alerting him that the flight attendant was standing aside them holding an assortment of magazines. He chose Popular Science and she, Cosmopolitan.
“And what can I get you to drink?” the flight attendant asked.
“For me,” Ricky said, “a Virgin Mai Tai.”
“And I’ll take a Cognac,” Krystal said. “Oh, and a bottle of mineral water.”