A short story by Tito Valery
As I rose into the sky off the cold grounds of Helsinki, I looked into the horizon through the white window of the Turkish Boeing. I recollected from the morning events. I had arrived at the airport, in a bid to check-in early enough to have the time to balance my kilos. I had a suit case and a side-bag that could not take more than. 15 kilograms…
I had arrived the previous night from a cold autumn in Berlin. Shaken both by my last conversations within this very peculiar city, with loved ones and hostile ones as well. My eyes were heavy. I had slept a few hours, and had just less than 10 hours left to jump on another 20€ city taxi and a 37 minute train ride to the Helsinki Vaanta Airport…
To say the least I expected to be ahead of my woes as I heeded to the check-in counter. It was about 9.45 am when I wheeled and dragged my bags into the left alley to terminal 1. My flight was Istanbul bound and left at 12.35… So I was way ahead of check in time.
She was probably in her late 20s… Blonde, petite and uppity in her tone. The kind of person you would expect to be “nice”. But that happens in movies and this isn’t one. For an excess of three kilograms on my hand luggage, she was adamant : “you either repack, leave something here or pay the 199€ for an extra bag…” Her tone was steady and rough at the same time. I smiled at the rush of anger that slowly filled me. The lady before me, an elderly white woman in her early 50s I would say, had just gotten away with 5 kilograms extra and was embarrassed as she looked away from the scene.
– ” for 3 kilos seriously…? You would have me repack or leave my belongings for 3 kilos ? I have books. I can’t leave my books…” this is all I could blurt out frustrated at the ridiculous scene.
-“Well that’s your problem sir… Please to the side and when you’re ready come back and let me know what you’ve decided. Next please ! ”
I was sweating under my rolled up sweater and jacket. As I pulled my 2 bags to the side, I noticed almost every passenger in the queue looking at me with helpless pity but with that “this is familiar black treatment ” look.
Twenty three minutes later, I’m back in queue, one pair of old bike trainers left behind, and self-carrying on me 2 extra jackets. I was heavy, physically and emotionally, but I was materially lighter… The paradox of compromise.
This time, I pulled up to another counter right next to my previous encounter. The lady sitting was a round brunette with almond eyes and a sharp smile. She winked at me compassionately and said : “Are you okay ? Just give me your passport and I’ll take care of the rest. We don’t need to weigh this, put it under your seat OK ? There’s days like this…”
This is the kind of start of the day that confuses you. That makes you wonder whether the world is worth your resilience, whether being who you are is a curse or a blessing, and gets you thinking about too many revenge scenarios.
As I rose into the skies… A few hours later… I revisited this day and previous ones… The looks in the U-ban in Berlin, the encounter with the ticket controller on my way to Frankfurt, the bars who wouldn’t let me and two other Black Africans in, because it was “too late and they were closing” (then 5 mins later let 3 young white Germans in right in front of our noses), the allusions to the black man being a helpless migrant, the uneasy conversations, the guilt playing, etc. And I thought to myself : why are we such a threat to the white man ?
Maybe one-day someone somewhere would find an answer… For now I feel incredibly lucky to be on this flight. The only black man, on my way home.