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Friday, August 21, 2015

Travel Tales and Observations: Under Difficulties

I am waiting to fly to Melbourne from the Gold Coast. The plane I'll take has just landed, its incoming passengers beginning to disembark, trickling through the Arrivals door.

Things you recognise because you've been there -- an elderly couple holds hands, conversing naturally; I see that realły she is leading him by the hand. Either mentally or physically, he cannot manage by himself. Also, they are used to this and have adapted.

The next elderly couple I see, he's pushing her in a wheelchair. She looks alert but frail. He looks handsome, fit and assured despite the grey hairs. They both have an air of elegance. 

A  middle-aged couple emerges now. Again, the woman holds the man's hand, leading him; but also he taps with his white-tipped stick. He is blind.

Others are using walking sticks. (Mine is folded in my bag, only for emergencies.) Two different women have those great big knee-length padded boots, 'moon boots', strapped on one leg, denoting injury or operation.

Wonderful how we all get around despite these hindrances. They haven't stopped us from getting into aeroplanes and flying from one city to another, traversing the country.

On board, I find myself seated next to the wheelchair lady and her husband. I have to squeeze past them to get to my window seat (because of course they were ushered on board first; wheelchairs go to the head of the queue). He steps out into the aisle to let me through. She stands and pushes herself back as far as she can against her seat. 'She's hurt her leg,' he explains, and I realise the wheelchair isn't a permanent fixture. I see that one thin leg is twisted even further back out of my way. I manage not to bump it.

Her hair is improbably curled and golden, just the right degree of artfully tousled. From a distance it had looked beige; up close it shines with rich, deep glints. I decide it has to be a wig. Sitting next to her so closely, I see no obvious place of joining, yet her thin neck looks as if it must have wisps of grey hair concealed beneath the perfectly coiffed gold.     

I note the details of that 'air of elegance' I'd observed earlier. The gold circlets in her ears are not the usual fine hoops; they are small in diameter but thick and chunky, as if someone had taken actual bars of gold and curved them. There are several bright gold rings on her fingers too, some with diamonds, in conservative, traditional designs. Her grey pant-suit and leopard-print scarf have an understated chic. 

During the flight, apart from some polite murmurs, we barely converse. We both read. The man, on the other side of her, rests in his own thoughts. 

As we begin the descent into Melbourne, she takes a lipstick out of her handbag, in one of those exquisitely decorated metal lipstick cases with mirror. She paints her mouth the perfect shade of mulberry to complement her scarf and hair. I can't help myself. 'What an elegant lady you are!' I tell her. 'I hope you don't mind me saying.' 

She gives a slight smile. 'One does one's best.' Then, the smile widening, 'I'm 81.' 

'No!' I say, meaning it, and suddenly we are in conversation about the fact that she and he have just come back from a trip overseas, and are now travelling to Melbourne for a funeral after the sudden death of a dear friend.

I murmur condolences, pause, then ask where they went overseas. Ireland and Spain, I learn; in Ireland they were visiting family. 'Two countries I haven't been to ... yet,' I say, then tell her why I am going to Melbourne: a big family reunion with my foster-son and his wife, who live in Switzerland and have not been back to Australia for nine years.  

Only later it occurs to me to wonder if the man is her son rather than her husband. He is slightly plump, his white hair receding, but seems vigorous. I wouldn't have put him anywhere near 80 – but I wouldn't have picked her for that age either, despite the slimness which makes her look frail. 

I lose sight of them when we disembark, but then as I'm about to take the down escalator to the baggage claim area, I see them awaiting the lift, she in her wheelchair again and he pushing. We wave goodbye merrily, like old friends.

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