I was strapped in, ready for the flight from Gold Coast to Melbourne.
An old woman in her early eighties appeared near the top of the airplane ladder. One hand gripped the handrail, hoisting herself up, the other jostled around a wooden walking stick. She hesitated at the doorway, looking back.
‘Come on,’ said the air hostess. Her smile stretched across perfect teeth and the words hissed through. Ms. Smiler, I am observing you.
‘Oh…’ said Joan, the old girl, ‘…I’m… my husband…’ She turned back towards the temporary stairwell.
‘Your husband will be fine’, said Smiler, grabbing hold of Joan’s walking stick, Joan still attached. Smiler pulled the stick along, Joan followed, unsteadied.
Another girl took over, genuine smiles this time.
‘Look! We match!’ she said to Joan, lining up their orange shirt sleeves.
Joan settled but peered over the seat. Her husband, Derek, was getting craned up and into the aircraft, and as it set him down on the entry ramp, Joan grabbed the headrest in front of her and tried to stand up. Smiler hurried Derek in, push push, gently done but push push nonetheless. He too settled and Smiler seemed satisfied.
Back to business.
Smiler stood in front of me, D-man and a middle aged, middle-heighted guy with a deeply furrowed brow.
‘You are sitting in the safety seats. Are you willing and able to assist?’
She acted out a monotone charade. I guessed that she’d probably struggle to hold back from being the first down that emergency slide should our plane face misfortune.
A well dressed businessman with trimmed hair and an expensive looking briefcase stepped on board. Smiler actually smiled. Proper.
‘How long are you in Melbourne for? Any plans?’ she purred. She may as well have lain down and presented, then and there, so obvious was her change of tone and interest.
The last passenger came aboard, a slip of a fine haired thing who lightly stalked to her seat amidst a fluster of flyaway hair, and then the plane took off and flew high above a dense, fluffy cloudscape that undoubtedly meant a dull day was being had by all below.
As we flew into Melbourne nearly two hours later, I glanced over at Smiler who was strapped down for descent. She caught me looking and gave me a broad, fake smile. A learned response? Maybe it was actually genuine? Maybe.
Maybe she was just totally out-air-hostessed. Maybe she was bored after years of short haul flights, of watching people peer out of windows at patchwork landscapes, of damn well smiling when she didn’t feel like smiling.
Mr Businessman certainly set alight a certain something. But otherwise? Frustration and fake smiles for the lesser-moneyed and lesser-abled. Pah!
Maybe it’s time for a career change, Smiler. I’d advise that you don’t rely on Mr Businessman to get you out of this one.