There is something about the idea of finding a leg that intrigues me – why else would I keep coming back to this opening line?
When I discovered the leg I knew I was in for a very bad day. It was in a clear plastic bag labelled as first class hand luggage and I was supposed to stash it somewhere in the cabin.
“Why can’t it go in the hold?” I asked, “or at least be put in a box or covered up somewhere?”
“Regulations,” was the answer – it always is.
So I took the leg onto the plane before the cleaning staff had even finished clearing up from the previous flight and I put it at the back of the hanging closet – the one where we usually put the suit carriers – and I moved the first aid kit in front of it to hide it.
“So, why is somebody transporting a leg on a plane, anyway?” I asked the Chief Purser as we got ready for the flight.
“It belongs to one of the passengers in first class. It’s his uncle’s leg and he’s bringing it back home for burial.”
“Oh. Is he leaving the rest of the body behind or is that following on another flight?” asked Felicity, another attendant, her eyes wide with shock.
I had visions of the dead uncle being repatriated limb by limb and I hoped I would not have to see any more of him.
“No, apparently the leg was all that was left of him after an accident and the nephew wants to take it back to the family.”
I wondered whether the customs people at the point of arrival had been forewarned, but that was not my problem, so I set about getting the aircraft ready for boarding. I could hear the noise building up in the departure lounge as passengers were parted from their oversized hand luggage. It happened every time on the journeys to West Africa; people tried to bring sacks of potatoes and even live chickens onto the plane. It is a wonder we ever get off the ground in time.
“Welcome aboard. Good morning. Down this way on your right. Please put that in the overhead bin.”
I fixed my smile on my face and tried to hurry the people along as they boarded the plane dragging enormous cases and clutching overflowing bags, with small children bent over under backpacks almost as big as themselves. I hoped we would be able to stash everything away securely. Felicity had told me once a family tried to bring a goat onto the plane with them; that must have been quite a spectacle.
I glanced back at the Executive cabin where Felicity was serving the first round of drinks and I wondered who the owner of the leg was, and how we were going to get it off the plane at the other end without the other passengers noticing. I hoped the nephew had brought a large empty suitcase with him, or even a coat to cover it up.
“Excuse me, is there somewhere I can hang this?”
A man who clearly had expected to be upgraded stood in front of me clutching a large garment bag that would definitely not fit in the overhead bins.
“Certainly,” I said, trying to maintain my smile, “let me take it for you.”
I waved him on to his seat, not wanting him to watch me putting his suit away in case he went to retrieve it at the end of the flight and found the leg instead. Perhaps the nephew would be the last to get off the plane, that way nobody would see him with the leg, except that he would walk into the crowded terminal and be seen by everybody. No, that would not do. He would have to get off first, but then, how would we get the leg off the plane unseen?
I sighed and continued to welcome all the passengers, checking their seat belts, moving their enormously heavy suitcases and trying to get people to switch seats so as to reunite families. I was exhausted and we had not even got off the ground.
Once we were airborne and we started serving the food I had to watch that none of the other flight attendants stashed a trolley in the hanging closet – sometimes they do that if they want to move one trolley in front of another. All went well until a small child cut himself on one of the food tray lids and needed a bandage.
“I’ll just get the first aid kit,” I heard one of the flight attendants say, moving towards the closet, trailed by a wailing child and his anxious mother who was clutching a baby in her other arm. “I think I saw it in here somewhere.”
“Let me get that,” I said, thrusting a coffee pot into my colleague’s hand. “You go and calm the child and get the family reseated.”
I wanted to get everyone away from the closet so I grabbed the first aid kit and followed the sniffling child back to his seat then waited while he decided between a Batman and a ninja bandage. As I was putting the kit back together I looked up the aisle and saw the owner of the suit carrier looking into the closet.
Forgetting the first aid kit I rushed back up the plane towards the closet and its gruesome cargo, only to be stopped by the food trolley coming out of the galley.
“I must get by,” I hissed at the other flight attendant and pushed the trolley back into the galley, causing one of the orange juice cartons to topple over.
“Sorry,” I mouthed, then reached my arm across the entrance of the closet.
“Excuse me sir, but we don’t allow passengers to access this closet during the flight.”
“But my suit is in there and I need something from the pocket.”
“I’m sorry, you will have to wait until we arrive at our destination,” I began, but then realised that if he really wanted his suit he would draw attention to the closet with his arguing, which was the last thing I wanted.
“Er, perhaps I can get the garment carrier for you?”
I leaned in and unhooked the bag, making sure that the leg was still safely stowed away at the very back.
“Here you are sir, now we do ask that you move away from this area as it is an emergency exit.”
Holding his elbow firmly I escorted the man back to his seat where the garment bag flopped over onto the person next to him, and I made a hasty retreat back to guard the closet. Only another hour, I thought, and then we’d be safely there. I glanced at the movie and saw the closing credits rolling down the screen and soon people began to struggle up out of their seats to visit the washroom. It happens every time; they should really stagger the movie showings by row to prevent this mad rush as sometimes the line-up stretches into Executive Class.
Just then the plane dipped and the ‘fasten seat belts’ sign came on followed by the ping of the safety announcement.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are experiencing some turbulence so could you please all return to your seats and ensure your seat belts are securely fastened.”
As usual the people at the front of the washroom line stayed where they were, and those farther back began to return to their seats. There must have been around twelve people standing up when the plane lurched again and dipped to one side, causing the passengers to lean against the seats and coffee cups to roll around the floor. I looked up in horror to see the leg come sliding out of the closet and come to rest in front of a young woman who opened her mouth and screamed the most blood curdling sound.
I was right; it was, indeed, a very bad day.