It’s my job to push Sam wherever he needs to go. SeaTac is a big airport, bigger every year. It will expand even more in the future, so pushing a client from Alaska Air to Kenmore or Kenmore Air to Alaska will be many miles. When the airport was small, it was no problem. I pushed with ease, made a small tip, and it was enough. I could survive in this city which has become more expensive since the tech giants arrived. Seattle will soon be nothing more than a monster computer, which won’t help me in pushing but might increase my clientele. That would be a plus.
I grew up in Seattle. The constant rains kept it green. Mount Rainier is in the distance topped with snow, like those ice cream cones I loved as a kid. They seemed so huge until I licked them down. This is how Rainier is now. Some commentators call Seattle the most polluted city in the world, worse than Beijing. It’s all because of the fires. Our forests have not been well-tended, too much undergrowth that needed removal. But we were too busy with technology to bother with the forests. So our green paradise disappeared behind a layer of smog so dense we could hardly see the planes as they descended.
Today I’m wearing an industrial mask. The last thing I need is to have my lungs infected. Then I’ll be out of a job, unable to push anyone from Alaska to Kenmore or Kenmore to Alaska.
My client today is a problem. Sam has a ticket on Alaska to Los Angeles. It’s my job to get him to his gate on time. He’s handicapped, something to do with Vietnam injuries. Sam can board first, but the way it’s going he’ll be boarding last. He never stops talking. Right now, we’re stopped in front of Information. We don’t need any information, but Sam wants to talk to the girl behind the counter. She’s too young for me, could be the daughter I never had but always longed for. And surely she’s too young for Sam. The girl is pretty in a pale, Northwest way. Her eyes are green as the trees, hair as blonde as the sun. Black skins are scarce here. We hold most of the jobs like mine and feel lucky to get them.
Sam’s feet were blown off on midnight shelling. The only thing that saved him was God. It was a miracle. They could have blown his head off instead. Then he wouldn’t be holding a ticket to LA where he’ll join the other Vets scrounging for a place to sleep and a free cup of coffee.
“How did you afford this flight?” I inhale an extra breath.
“A Vets’ convention. The guys with no feet got a free ticket just for showing their stumps. I tried to entertain them. Even did a little dance in my chair.”
He turns back to Information. “Sweetheart, do you know that God loves you?”
She doesn’t answer. She’s trying to help the next person, probably hoping if she ignores him he’ll shut up. But he doesn’t. He tries to hold her hand. “Sweetheart,” he insists, “did you know that God loves you? I love you. I want to take you to Paradise, if not in this world, in the next.”
Information tries to withdraw her hand. The next person in line interrupts. But Sam will not be silenced. “Paradise is waiting for you. Even with no feet, you can walk there. Look at me…” He thrusts his stumps at her. “No feet, not a one. But still, I will be welcome. God will help me enter.”
No one pays attention. Sam starts to shout. Security approaches. I give Sam a shove.“Sweetheart,” he yells and waves, “meet me in Paradise.”
We pass Ivar’s and Anthony’s, IHOP and Coffee Bean. The fragrance of coffee is delicious. I missed my morning cup today to greet the early flight. Sam wants to stop. I push on. That’s my job. I will not lose it because of Sam. “Paradise,” he yells at the barista, “Paradise.”
The barista waves an espresso. “Paradise,” he laughs.
I’m sweating. I feel it trickling down my back, staining my SeaTac shirt that I laundered so carefully, hanging it to dry in the rain. It has a faint, musty odor.
We pass Jasper’s, Beecher’s, and Sharp’s. Finally, we reach his gate. They’ve just finished boarding. Sam waves his ticket. The flight attendant pays no attention. “Paradise,” Sam yells. They shut the doors. “Paradise,” he screams, “Wait for me. I need to get to Paradise.”
He begins to sob. Through the murky windows, we watch our plane taxi down the runway.
I lay my hands on Sam’s hunched shoulders. “We will push to Information. She’ll tell us where to change your ticket. Don’t worry; I’ll get us to Paradise.”
Sam smiles. I smile as well, dreaming of the big tip I’ll earn when we finally reach Paradise.