It was Sunday night and I was a passenger on the Pabwato Flier flight to Nairobi that was just about to take off from Lusaka. A steward stepped into the gangway for the safety instructions. ‘In case of an emergency,’ he announced, ‘put your head down between your knees and pray for survival. This is a Christian Airline, so we shall all be saved.’
‘What if I’m not a Christian?’ said a voice behind me.
‘Then you’re on the wrong aeroplane,’ snapped the steward.
I turned to the creased old man sitting next to me. ‘I seem to recognize the steward,’ I said. ‘Isn’t he Splinter Kapimbe, the well-known businessman? What’s he doing working as an air steward?’
‘Because of the good business opportunities,’ my neighbour chuckled, tapping his nose with his forefinger. ‘Import-export, supplying requisites to the airline, that sort of thing.’
‘I see you know about these things,’ I said as I turned to take a good look at him. ‘You’re even wearing the uniform yourself!’
‘I’m Dotty Scotty, the co-pilot.’
‘The co-pilot!’ I exclaimed. ‘Then why are you sitting in economy class? You should be up in the cockpit, ready to take over if the pilot croaks!’
‘I’m not allowed to,’ he said sadly.
‘Why not? Has your driving licence expired?’
‘No, it’s because my late father, Lotty Scotty, was born in Scottyland. So the airline is worried that I would divert the plane to visit my relatives in Scottyland.’
‘So what exactly are your duties as a co-pilot?’
‘I have to be on duty at the bottom of the steps to salute the pilot when he gets on or off.’
While we’d been talking the plane had climbed high into the sky, and was making a huge U-turn. Suddenly a voice came over the inter-com. ‘This your captain Cycle Mata speaking. I thought you’d be interested to know that we are diverting to Mongu to pick up a few passengers who have been stranded there since 1964.’
A huge sigh rose up from the passengers. ‘That’s why he’s called Cycle Mata,’ chuckled Dotty Scotty, ‘he’s known for flying round in circles.’
But before we could get over our annoyance, things got worse. Our skinny mean-looking steward stood up to make another announcement. ‘Normally at this time we would serve supper, but unfortunately the entire catering budget has been spent on printing menus and on training workshops for the catering staff, leaving no funds available for buying food. However, I have my own small kantemba at the back where I am selling cheese sandwiches at two hundred pins each, and bottles of vintage Manzi at only fifty pins.’
‘Half a minute,’ I said to Dotty Scotty, ‘look at the first class section up front! The Chinese are all drinking champagne and a huge fat steward is slicing a roasted suckling pig! What a feast!’
‘That steward is called Great Bag of Money,’ explained Dotty, ‘and one of his many companies is the Kung Fu Restaurants Ltd, which has one of its branches on this plane.’
But suddenly the Chinese champagne glasses began to tinkle to the ground as the plane dipped sideways for another huge U-turn. ‘This is your captain speaking. I have just heard from ground control that our Mongu passengers made the mistake of protesting against the late arrival of this flight, so they have all been locked up. In view of this, we are now heading straight for Beijing!’
‘Beijing!’ the Chinese cheered as the impoverished Zambians jammed in the rear shouted, and demanded to see the captain. Sure enough, within a few minutes the captain arrived, resplendent in a cream silk Chinese uniform.
‘As captain of this aircraft I am in command of all of you here. I don’t know why you have been shouting, and I don’t know why you are trying to run away from Zambia when it is your patriotic duty to stay there and work hard, but I can tell you that I am going to Beijing to collect some hard workers because I can’t employ lazy people like you, so you can just…
But he was interrupted by a woman’s voice from the back. ‘I have to visit my sister in…’
‘Madam,’ the captain interrupted sternly, ‘much as we follow a policy of gender equality on this airline, it is your husband’s duty to speak on your behalf!’ So saying, he turned and disappeared into the Chinese banquet.
But as he left, the same woman screamed from the back ‘The engine’s on fire!’
Immediately our skinny little economy class steward ran into the first class and began to attack the Great Bag of Money with a small plastic fork, screaming ‘I told you not buy Chinese engines from Dubai!’
But the Great Bag gave him a hefty clip round the ear, roaring ‘You silly bugger, it’s your fault! You bought diesel instead of kerosene!’
Now the plane began dipping sideways again, and a different voice said ‘Vee leetun to Lu-sa-ka to collek mo chizz san-witches.’
‘That’s a Chinese voice!’ I said to Dotty Scotty. ‘Isn’t Cycle Mata flying this thing?’
‘Of course not,’ laughed Dotty, ‘they just let him use the microphone!’
As I came in to breakfast, Sara looked up from her newspaper. ‘You’re lucky to be alive! From what it says here, the engine exploded!’
‘It was under pressure from too many U-turns,’ I explained.
‘It says here that the aeroplane is almost wrecked. It will take until 2016 to mend it. So are you going to remain loyal to Pabwato Flier?’
‘I think I’ll choose another airline,’ I replied.