The Boy The Coin and The Lie
There is one thing about my job that is hard and will always be hard. With families and jobs spread out all over the country, we often see unaccompanied minors traveling to a mother, or father, or other family members. I have witnessed the results of gut wrenching separation as these children have to leave someone they love. Sometimes these children are so upset they cannot be calmed. Often when this happens they are sent to the flight deck to hang out with the pilots.
A while back I was saying my goodbyes to passengers when the flight attendant next to me asked if I wanted a coin he was holding in his hand. It was a medallion really, with the logo of the Oakland Raiders on one side and the insignia of a military unit on the other. He said some soldier coming home from Iraq gave it to him as he left the airplane the week before. The soldier simply said, “I don’t need this anymore.” Then he handed it to the flight attendant. I took the coin, put it in my flight kit and forgot about it.
Months later I was programming the flight deck computers when I heard a child crying and an adult voice saying, “let’s go talk to the pilots.” I turned and saw a boy about 9 years old crying uncontrollably. He had just left his mother and he would not see her for three months. He was devastated. He did not want to listen to anybody so I let him sit there and cry. He was escorted to his seat which was the aisle seat closest to the flight deck; I could see him about 10 feet behind me. Three or four adults seated next to him kept trying to console him which was fruitless. I called the lead flight attendant up and asked her to tell everyone to just leave him alone.
I was digging around in my flight bag to get a baseball like card of our airplane to give to him when I saw that coin I was given months earlier. I grabbed the coin and went back to the boy. I knelt down next to him and got close enough to him so that only he could hear me talking. I held the coin out and told him I was giving it to him. I then proceeded to lie. I told him that the coin was given to me by a soldier who had been fighting the war in Iraq. I told him that this was no ordinary coin as it seemed to have magical power. A football player gave the coin to the soldier as a good luck charm to keep the soldier safe. When the soldier stepped off the plane back home he gave it to me and said he didn’t need it anymore. The soldier told me that when he was scared or upset he would squeeze the coin real hard in his hand and close his eyes and think about something good. The charm always worked like magic. I told the boy that maybe; just maybe if he held the charm and closed his eyes, maybe he would not feel as bad as he did. All I got was the shake of his head.
I went back to my seat and finished up our preflight checks. Our final paper work came and as the flight deck door was being closed I saw that the boy had his eyes closed and his hand was squeezing the coin so hard it was trembling. The door slammed shut and I went to work.
When we got to our destination and we opened the door, there he was, smiling and waving at me. These unaccompanied minors are the last to leave the aircraft as they are escorted by one of the flight attendants to the waiting parent or responsible adult. I waved to him to come forward. He came up and I had him sit in my seat and started showing him the bells and whistles that all kids love. I asked him if he had any questions. He launched into nonstop conversation and we eventually told him we had to leave. I asked him if the coin helped and he gave me the thumbs up sign. I told him that one day, just like the soldier he would not need it anymore and when that happened, he should pass it on to someone else who may need it. He stared at the coin, put it in his pocket, looked at me, and said, “I will.” He was escorted away. I will never see him again but I think of him whenever I see those sad faces. I lied to him and I wonder if I did that to make me feel better in the face of his anguish. I will probably sit on that one for a while. There are things we all see that make us turn our heads away. When it comes to the children traveling alone and afraid on my airplane, I like to look them in the eye and let them know there is nothing that I won’t do for them. Be safe, FlyGuy.