It had been a long flight from Vancouver to London, made longer and harder to endure because of the seatmates around him on the plane, Father Tom was tired. He had been seated across the aisle from a couple who seemed to have brought a picnic basket stuffed with incredible amounts of food on the plane with them. The man was a Jack Spratt type fellow and his wife was the direct opposite. They made a comical picture for the first part of the flight but the novelty soon wore off. The man sat quietly, almost like he was not present and the woman continuously ate from the moment she took her seat in Vancouver until the plane had touched down in London. You can now imagine the size of her food hamper. The eating would not have been unbearable, but the ongoing smells that kept wafting across the aisle, the cacophony of sound of rustling wrappers and crackling papers as one package after another was opened. Added to that was the visual image of her mouth constantly opening to take in yet another goody, before she was finished chewing what was already in it! On top of that, the man behind him insisted on reading the newspaper with it virtually sitting on top of Father Tom’s head. It seemed that each time he would doze off one or the other passengers would crackle, pop or hit him on the head. The snoring of the person on his right, and the envy of his escape…, you can imagine the frustration from the lack of any rest. Yes indeed it had been a long flight without rest or distraction from the chorus of poor travel companions!
It seemed as if he was never happier than when the rubber tires hit the tarmac of the runway and the plane landed. When the seat belt sign went off he stood and put on his Harris Tweed jacket, his flat cap and took his brief case and quickly headed for the door. Once off the plane, he hung the briefcase by a strap on his shoulder and rummaged through his jacket pocket to find his pipe and tobacco pouch. He packed the bowl with a nice thick Virginia flake as he walked down to corridor of the airport. He remembered that there was a smoking cage in Heathrow near the shoeshine stand at one end of the airport. He set his sights for the cage and the tranquility of being engulfed in a cloud of blue smoke. He had long ago learned that the most ardent cigarette smoker moved away from the blue cloud and he would have space alone.
His bag bumped along against his leg as he walked. Once the pipe was packed he stuck it in his mouth and clenched it as he walked. He was oblivious to the stares of people walking by staring at the aging priest with the pipe in his mouth. I am sure several must have said something about the airport being a non-smoking environment but Father Tom would not have heard that at all. His target was in sight and he was a man on a mission. If you had been close to him you might have heard him humming a song to himself as he walked – or at least you might have thought it was a song. I think though, in reality it was a countdown in terms of steps and paces from the gate to the cage – a series of steps that he had counted before and knew by heart.
He edged his way to the cage, walking in front of several people who seemed intent on blocking his way; oblivious to their words and comments about his person and character. He had made it! He pushed open the door to the cage and entered the smoke filled room. Just inside the door he fumbled for his lighter in his pocket and brought it out to light the pipe. He struck the wheel on BIC lighter and a flamed danced over the surface of the tobacco. The first plume of smoke came out of the pipe. He tamped it with his finger, long ago calloused and impervious to the heat of the burning tobacco. He flicked the lighter and lit the tobacco and drew the smoke into his mouth to savour. Only then did he look in front of him at the crowded room.
The place was packed with a relatively young crowd – at least in comparison to him and how he felt at this time in his life. At that moment they were staring at him – an aging priest with a pipe in his mouth and smoke billowing out around his cap and whiskers. I think that they must have found him comical to look at and were wondering what he was thinking of in his moment of relief. Obviously he was totally immersed in lighting his pipe and savoring the comfort of the moment. Only at that instant did he realize that he was the only one smoking a pipe, the only one over 30, the only one with a coat and collar in the whole room. He edged his way over to a side of the room where there was a ledge on which he could set his briefcase and lean in for the smoke. He nodded to the smokers in the room as he settled in for his retreat.
At that moment he cared not to give one thought to those around him. He did not care what they were thinking or even what they were talking to one another about as he puffed contentedly on his pipe. His eyes were closed and he was lost in thought – nothing profound or philosophical, mind you – just the thought of the long awaited pipeful. He sipped it and settled in comfortably to his corner. The smoke continued to billow out of the pipe and the corners of his mouth. At one moment he blew a couple of smoke rings and probably a soft sigh of contentment.
At the apex of his smoke he was rudely awakened to the crowd around him. A young chap was patting his arm and his shoulder, not softly either but almost roughly. He was saying something and Father Tom was brought out of his reverie to find that several sparks of his tobacco were burning holes in his Harris Tweed and not only was he smoking but his jacket was as well. The young chap almost doused him with some water but Father Tom stopped him and squeezed the sparks with his thumb and forefinger and extinguished them. He winked at the chap and thanked him for his kindness and waved off the crowd. To their amazement the pipe never left his mouth through the entire event. He made the comment that this was indeed one of the best smokes he had enjoyed in quite some time and thanks to the watchfulness of the group it had not been hazardous to his health!
With a twinkle in his eye he settled back into his quietude and finished his bowl before heading back out into the hallways of Heathrow to find a pint and some bangers and mash. He had a three hour layover in London before heading on to Budapest, Hungary for the meetings he was attending.