Note: After a six-week hiatus, Baron and Sykes are finally back and have landed safely in Scotland. This is the 8th of 14 episodes of the first “season” of The Shape of Us. I’m looking forward to there being no further interruptions.
Bradley Singh had bad Tuesdays. By the time his week started, everyone else had already taken the pulse of the place for a day and a half. Aberdeen International Airport had these weekly moods and Bradley always felt he was playing catch up. This Tuesday was enhanced the by the fact that he was working in Oversize Baggage for the first time in month and some of the protocols had changed. Also, Alec, who usually manned this area, was out with a particularly nasty stomach bug and Bradley tried and failed to touch everything.
The bug had evidently reached Majorca as evidence by the pile of vomit he was currently mopping up. It was amazing how much “matter” a five-year-old could contain. The custodial staff were busy dealing with an altogether larger emergency at the gates and it was either continue to work as the small space slowly filled with the scent of partially digested fruit cocktail or clean it up himself. He’d nearly finished when a young man walked and gagged.
“Whoa, man. This is no better than the gate,” he said stepping gingerly around the freshly mopped tile. “Looks like the Majorca party got you too, eh?” Bradly smiled his ‘for customers smile’ and chuckled. “It happens sometimes. I hope the little one is OK.” He watched the man empty the contents of his pocket on the counter, evidently looking for his claim ticket.
“We just side-stepped the little bastard before he started projecting everywhere.” He laughed and after finding his ticket in a pile of papers, he held it high and said “got ya!”
Bradley leaned the mop and bucket against the wall and slid behind the counter. He took the ticket and scanned the bar code. “Here we are, Mr. Sykes?”
The young man’s ears went red and he looked away for a moment. “Ah, no. He’s on his way though.” Bradley estimated his age to be just shy of thirty, though he had a boyish air about him. Not in the obnoxious way he found most American men, but in a carefree way, unbound by etiquette but infused with kindness. The realization startled Bradley, who never spent much time musing about his customers. There were the odd angry interactions between too-tired travelers and too-burdened staff, but generally people wandered in an out of the airport without much reflection. To them, he was another logo-plus-name-badge helping them get somewhere else. To Bradley, they were all bar codes.
This man, with his reddened face, seemed different, and Bradley worried that he’d embarrassed him. He didn’t meet the attendant’s gaze as he stuffed all the bits of paper back into his pocket. Bradley watched and worried about the tension in the increasingly close space. Fresh air flowed slowly from the outer doors in baggage claim and he desperately needed to dump that mop bucket. The man stood with his hands in his pockets, unsure of what to do next. Bradley remembered the old adage: dispel an uncomfortable situation by having the customer fill out a form. He picked one randomly from a folder.
“OK. While we wait, if you could…”
The young man suddenly turned his back to the counter and faced the entrance. Large windows formed the wall separating the office from the baggage claim proper and Bradley searched for someone making their way to the office. At the moment there were fewer than twenty people mulling around the stopped conveyor belts. None of them looked their way. Bradley watched the young man carefully. He faced the door with an air of expectancy, that reminded him of those busby-wearing tourist traps outside the palace down south. Despite the casual clothes and carefully curated disheveled-ness, the aura of the young man had changed, from beach bum to palace guard. Goose bumps broke out on Bradley’s forearms and he wondered what was coming.
He saw the coffees first. Two medium travel cups carried with care and ease. The tall man followed. He looked like a departure instead of an arrival, his grey suit fresh and uncreased. If you asked Bradley at that moment, he would have said time slowed down as the man entered the room. His silver hair radiated under the fluorescents in the same way the rest of the world looked bleached and wan. He stopped in front of the younger man and handed him a coffee. “Sorry for the wait,” he said and smiled.
If you asked Bradley at that moment, he would have said time sped up and the world was full of teeth. Incisors to be precise. He shuddered.
The young man came back to the counter, his expectancy relieved. He looked at Bradley, who momentarily had no idea what to do.
“This,” the man said pointing behind him, “is Mr. Sykes. You have a form or something for him?”
Of course that was Mr. Sykes, Bradley thought, because there was no other name for something so simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. The gentleman, for the rituals of the United Kingdom run deep in the bones of all her citizens, this gentleman probably wasn’t just a Mister, either, and Bradley crumpled the piece of paper in his hand and forced himself not to kneel.
“Ah, no,” he stammered, tearing his gaze away from the tall man. “That was just a formality. You have the ticket. Let me get your bag.”
“Chest, actually,” the tall man said. Bradley’s spine turned to ice. “It’s a large chest.” Mr. Sykes sipped his coffee, keeping his eyes on the Oversize Baggage clerk. He took a long pull from his drink and sighed. “It may help you find it quickly,” he offered.
“Yes, thank you, sir,” Bradley said and turned his head away before that smile was forced upon him again. He ducked into the side area where the large suitcases and oddly shaped items were stored. The flight from London was a recent arrival, so Bradley maneuvered around a set of bright pink travel cases and a kayak before coming upon Mr. Sykes’ chest. It looked right out of an epic fantasy. The sturdy box was covered in well-worn leather, the corners and edges patched with care over the years (centuries, Bradley thought). Three large clasps held the piece shut, each with its own key padlock. As he reached for a hand trolley to lift the chest, he wondered how security was able to search the luggage. Surely those weren’t approved locks. As he wondered over the chest, his hand touched something warm and hard and not the hand trolley at all. He turned.
“Hey,” said the young man.
Bradley pulled his hand back from the man’s arm. All at once he wanted to admonish the man for following him into the holding area, but his intense relief that Mr. Sykes was still in the outer room overwhelmed him and he managed a weak, “hey” in response.
The young man pointed at the chest. “It’s pretty heavy. Is it ok if I just grab it from here?” He leaned forward. “We’re in a bit of a rush.” He nodded his head in the direction of the outer room. “Family business.”
Bradley blushed and nodded. He backed away from the baggage and gave the man room to work it out of its space. The thing had to weigh…it didn’t matter, Bradley thought. In that second, the young man hoisted the chest in both arms and carried it out of the holding area as if it were empty and made of nothing more than cardboard.
Bradley followed but stopped at the doorway between the holding area and the office. Mr. Sykes smiled at the young man. “So strong,” he said, joking with him.
“If you’d let me pack we wouldn’t have needed this,” he replied, still holding the chest.
Mr. Sykes held up his phone. “Sylvia, my dear cousin, is driving us there. Turns out she and her family just got back from a vacation in Majorca.”
Bradley grabbed the door jamb when the chest hit the floor. The ground shook under its weight. The rolling mop bucket shifted and rolled behind the counter.
“Her family doesn’t contain a small boy, say around five years old?”
Mr. Sykes’ face fell. “Ah. It just so happens to, yes.”
The young man sat on the chest, folded his arms, and prepared an ultimatum. “No way I’m getting into a car with that little puker. Call Primmy.”
The phone chirped and Mr. Sykes read the message aloud. “Hurry up. If you don’t leave with us, uncle will truly disown you.”
The young man laughed. “That’s not much of an incentive. You’ve been trying for that for years.”
Mr. Sykes put the phone away and ruffled the young man’s hair. “We may as well go. You’ve always wanted to see the family place. And I want to get this over with.” He pointed at the chest. “You need help with that?”
“Hardly,” the young man said and leapt up. They left, taking the short walk to a pick-up area where Bradley could just make out a pair of Land Rovers sitting idly curbside. He waited and as the SUVs pulled away, he felt the tension of the space release, or perhaps it was just the tension within himself. He felt that Aberdeen had been relieved of a couple of menaces at once: the serial vomiter and Mr. Sykes, a man of indeterminate threat.
Bradley half-heartedly kicked the mop bucket and knew that night he’d dream of nothing but teeth. He hated Tuesdays.