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A Stranger's Help
Mrs. Atkins was not a small woman, and all of the walking that accompanied flying had really begun to take its toll. Her day took a turn for the worse at the security checkpoint after she was singled out for a more thorough examination. After being thoroughly embarrassed she was allowed to collect her things and, “have a nice flight.”
By the time she found her gate it was time to board, which meant more standing. The 53 year old widow went to get in line when her battered carry-on bag split open, spilling the contents on the well traversed carpet for all to see. Most of the people already in line pretended not to notice, a few that did actually pointed and whispered before proceeding through to the tarmac.
After collecting her belongings, the debacle continued as she boarded the plane. Once on board, she squeezed through the aisle, apologizing as she bumped into the knees and elbows of those seated in the row seats. Lumbering towards the back, she had her eye on two empty seats, wondering just why she hadn't taken her son up on his offer to fly first class.
She was less than five rows away when suddenly, a head full of red hair popped up from her coveted seats. Defeated, she looked back, seeing only a few window seats scattered throughout the cramped cabin.
Edna took a deep breath and said, “Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
The kid looked up, pulling the buds from his ears; he was wearing a Georgia Tech hooded sweatshirt.
“Uh, no ma’am. Here, let me get my stuff out of the way.”
Mrs. Atkins wasn’t thrilled about sitting with a college kid for her 2 ½ hour flight, but was impressed with the Ma’am she had received. She sat down and began to position herself in the small seat.
"I’m Derrick, by the way, Derrick Garbee.”
"Hello Derrick, Edna Atkins.”
"Nice to meet you, Edna."
The captain came on and went through the preflight rituals, clear skies were in the forecast, he predicted a nice, short flight. Derrick pretended not to notice Edna fighting with the seat belt.
As the plane raced down the runway, Edna said a silent prayer to herself, she did this every time she flew, which wasn’t often. Derrick leaned back into his seat, closing his eyes and enjoying the powerful force of the large aircraft.
Once in the air, the dings and commands were heard overhead. Derrick looked over and noticed Edna
“So what brings you to New York?”
“My Son, he’s been after me to come up for some time now. And yourself?”
“Well, it’s kind of a long story. I was seeing this girl from back home, I’m from Syracuse. I went off to school and we were going to try and make it work. About a month ago we made plans to meet in the city for the weekend. That was before I knew she was seeing some other guy back home.”
“So, you’re going to New York City by yourself?”
“Sure, why not? Already have the ticket, besides, I have some cousins in Jersey, maybe they want to hang out.”
“Where are you going to stay? “
“Already have a hotel booked. Just a bachelor on the town, watch out ladies!”
"Lord have mercy." Edna said, laughing.
Edna shook her head, smiling. After the way her day had started, she was glad she had chosen to sit next to the fledgling red headed comedian. He was polite, funny, and his child-like demeanor made her relax. They chatted on and off for the duration of the short flight and an unlikely friendship was formed.
"Are you lying solo?" Derrick asked playfully.
"Yes, my husband passed away a few years ago."
"Oh, I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
Edna offered a soft smile "It's fine. He was a police officer in Atlanta for twenty years, it's a dangerous job. I suppose when the Lord calls, its time to come home. "
Derrick was quiet, almost shameful for having asked. Edna didn't seemed to be offended.
As the plane began its dissent, Edna once again said a silent prayer. The plane jerked slightly as the wheels hit the runway before smoothing out as it slowed and taxied to the jet way. The waiting began.
Gathering his things, Derrick looked over at Edna. “Well, you made it!”
“Yes, I suppose I did.”
As the passengers started to collect their belongings, Edna fought to get out of her seat. Derrick noticed she was having a difficult time and offered to help.
“Here, let me get your bag down.”
“Thank you.” Edna said, quietly.
The two waited as the line slowly made its procession down the small aisle, and almost 4 hours after boarding their plane, Derrick and Edna were safely on the ground.
“Thank you so much for all of your help Derrick, it’s been a pleasure.”
“No problem, have a great time with your son.
“Yes, Jamaal will be happy to hear I had a chaperon.”
“What is it?”
“Nothing, it’s just that your son’s name is Jamaal Atkins, good one.”
“Why is that funny?”
“You know, the Nba star? Surely you know who Jamaal Atkins is?”
“I should hope so, he’s my son.”
“Wait, your son is…?”
“Jamaal yes, he plays basketball.”
Derrick was smiling, eyes wide with astonishment.
“Wow, that’s insane!” Then, to no one in particular, “I just sat with Jamaal Atkins’ mom!”
Derrick’s smile was contagious, Edna couldn't suppress a grin.
“Would you like to meet him?”
“What? Uh, -yeah, of course!
“We’re having dinner tonight, why don’t you join us?”
That evening Derrick Garbee arrived at the Jefferson Steakhouse in Manhattan. He was wearing a polo shirt with khakis he had bought immediately upon leaving the airport. At 19 he looked 16; meeting Jamaal he looked even younger. At 6 feet 7 inches tall, the ballplayer was a full foot taller than Derrick. They shook hands and Jamaal thanked the young man for being so accommodating to his mother. Derrick gushed as he met his all time favorite New York Knick. He dined with Edna, Jamaal, Jamaal’s wife and their two small children.
Derrick tried not to stare as a few of Jamaal’s teammates were at the restaurant. He barely noticed the prime rib sitting on his plate as he took in his surroundings. Edna nudged him every now and then to see how he was doing. He managed to smile.
When the bill came, Derrick pulled out of his wallet. Edna found this to be adorable.
Jamaal saw this and said, “Hey Derrick, I’ve got this, it’s the least I can do after you helped my mom out on the plane man.”
“Ar-Are you sure? Thanks.”
“I've got one other thing for you, if you’re not too busy tomorrow night. Why don’t you come to the game? I've got a ticket for you, we’re playing the Lakers.”
“Are you serious?”
Edna took a few pictures of Jamaal and Derrick with Derrick’s phone, which he promptly posted online. He would be the envy of his friends. The following night, he attended the game and cheered on his new friend Jamaal, while sitting in stands with Edna. The Knicks beat the Lakers in an overtime thriller as Jamaal scored a season high 46 points.
Flying back to Atlanta, Derrick thought about his amazing weekend. He had met one of his favorite NBA players, dined at a 5 star restaurant with members of the New York Knicks, attended a game at Madison Square Garden, and made a friend in Edna. Not bad for a scrawny 19 year old kid. He was amazed at how lucky he had been, but in reality, his kindness to a total stranger had opened the door for it all to happen.
Life would return to normal for Derrick, there would be other girlfriends, exams, and the rigors of college life. He told the story of that weekend countless times, to anyone who would listen. It was a memory that would last a lifetime, and every time he would watch a Knicks game, he would think about Edna, and their flight up to New York.
Copyright 2012 Pete Fanning