The flight from Maputo was delayed; it took off five hours late. The security people had packed up and gone home, so the departure lounge was unprotected. The bar had, however, stayed open and one particular man made full use of, drinking steadily. There were only ten of us for the night flight to Beira, two hours away.
The plane was a Brazilian 14-seater with a non-pressurised cabin so it was cold and noisy when we got up into the night sky at 1.30am. The drinker, attired in a good-looking, light-grey suit and a shirt that had come slightly unbuttoned over his stomach, was sitting across the narrow aisle from me. He almost immediately pulled a bottle of whiskey from his bag and offered me some before taking a swig himself. He was already very drunk.
I closed my eyes for a while, partly to avoid being offered more whiskey, and suddenly I felt a hand on my bum. I jerked upright and then removed the drunk’s hand from the back pocket of my jeans. He was genuinely apologetic and I believed him. Something was happening to his thought process.
Shortly afterwards he pulled a cigarette from a packet and lit it, inhaled and savoured the taste. A little later, the time it took for the smoke to waft its way forward to the partly-open cockpit, the co-pilot came down the plane, asked him to put it out and went back to his controls. Seemingly misunderstanding the request, the drunk heaved himself from his seat-he was a portly man- lurched forward, causing the plane to sway perceptibly, got to the cockpit and proceeded to offer the pilot a cigarette.
On the way back he sat down heavily on the laps of two dozing passengers causing the plane to sway again. When he got to his seat he collapsed into it, his legs jerked forward into the small aisle, his chin slumped on to his chest and his arms fell by his sides.
He was still sleeping when we landed and I didn’t try to waken him. I half expected a policeman or to be waiting to escort him off but all was quiet. It was 3.30 am and Beira was sleeping.
Extracted from Donal Conlon’s very excellent ibook My Africa, available from Amazon.