Who The Hell Goes to Liberia?
"Who the hell goes to Liberia?"
The insult flew across the ticket counter like a sharp object, and the added expletive twisted like a knife. The logic of the Pan-American clerk questioning a seventeen-year-old girl's desire to travel to a West African country recently embroiled in controversies might have been warranted. But from my perspective, his question was savage.
He certainly didn’t know I was racing a casket back to my birthplace.
I wondered what he knew about Liberia. How could he dismiss the existence of my childhood home so flippantly? Was it because of the bloody revolution? I
I stood there frozen for a few seconds and pondered his question.
He certainly didn't know I was racing a casket back to my birthplace.
Thirty minutes earlier, Aunt Lizzy and I exited our taxi at JFK airport in New York City. Inside, we dodged passengers hustling with their luggage while we hurried to the Pan Am check-in counter. In line, just ahead of us, a couple argued with the clerk. The airline agent motioned them aside as they continued their rant. We approached the counter and handed him our tickets.
Examining them, he said, "Sorry, the plane is full.
The next scheduled flight to Liberia is with KLM."
"What? That can't be," Aunt Lizzy said.
Handing our tickets back to us, he pointed toward the KLM office. His directive stern. "Look, we are full. Go to the KLM counter and rebook with them."
Aunt Lizzy sighed. She turned and walked away, but I wasn't willing to accept that we wouldn't get on our scheduled flight. We hadn't made it this far to be bumped off. Certainly, the airline agent had to be mistaken.
"Excuse me, Sir. Aren't there any other flights heading to Liberia tonight?" I said.
"Who the hell goes to Liberia? I already told you the next flight is with KLM."
The rock cracked. Liquid swelled my eyes, and giant water droplets flowed down my cheeks.
I had been ignoring the boulder-like sensation that crushed my chest the past few days when I learned of my sister's death, but suddenly it needed an escape. I didn’t want him to see me cry. Or did I? I couldn’t decide. I wanted to fall into someone’s arms. A stranger would do—if only he’d asked, “why are you going to Liberia?” But he didn’t. I tried to keep the tears at bay by swallowing, but it didn't help. The rock cracked. Liquid swelled my eyes, and giant water droplets flowed down my cheeks. Turning my wet face away from the clerk and with my head lowered, I walked over to my luggage and plopped down on the hardened blue case, feeling slightly grateful for the support it provided my weary body. Wiping my face with the back of my hand, I sat there and stewed.
The clerk's ignorance awakened my intellect, and my mental defenses gave way to a torrid of facts. I wanted to tell him many people go to Liberia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited once and Jimmy Carter too.
"And the Queen of England went to Liberia," I whispered.
"If nobody goes to Liberia, how could the plane be full?"
Aunt Lizzy put one arm around my shoulder and patted my hand with the other.
"Don't worry. We'll make it." But her kind optimism brought little comfort.
Frustration and fatigue set in. My heart broke a thousand times over. Knowing Pan-American was the only airline that flew non-stop to Monrovia, Liberia, switching flights would cost valuable time, but we had no other choice.
I settled into the thought. We will be late for Bertie's funeral.
~ excerpt from a WIP memoir
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