They say things happen for a reason – although I couldn’t really see the truth in this as our bags were offloaded from the flight we were scheduled to be taking to Cape Town.
Boarding was underway and we trooped up to the counter, clutching our boarding passes and passports. We’d already checked we didn’t need visas.
“And you have the birth certificates?” asked the gate agent matter-of-factly.
That was all it took – the curveball that brought our travel plans to a screeching, shuddering halt. My throat tightened as a sinking feeling in my chest took hold. DH and I stared blankly at the man behind the desk, then at each other, as we processed the news that South African immigration required original birth certificates for all children under the age of 18, even when travelling with parents and even when said kids were clearly far too noisy and troublesome to have been kidnapped.
Somewhere in the back of my hearing I heard a last-call boarding announcement.
“We’ll try to find a solution,” said the gate agent, who – kudos to him – did try, and let us down gently, before sending us home with a regretful shrug.
Getting out of the airport, without having left, then proved a whole challenge in itself – as did finding our suitcases. We eventually climbed into a taxi without our luggage. Disappointed, but determined to try again the next day.
Things went a lot more smoothly the following morning, and as we boarded the Boeing 777 we were greeted with the news that there was a special guest on board. “Who is it? Who is it?” clamoured the kids. I think they hoped it was a famous YouTuber – Dan TDM or the other one, whose name completely escapes me.
But the VIP passenger was far, far better than that – in a league of his own, in fact. It was astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second human to walk on the moon after Neil Armstrong, and he was sitting right behind me.
I knew immediately that I wanted to talk to him, I wanted to talk to him so much that my mind began whirring with possibilities. I could show him my supermoon photos to get him on the topic. Tell him I’ve always wanted to go to the moon, ever since my mum sat me down in front of a black-and-white TV as a baby to watch the moon landings in the early 70s. Failing that, I could wait until he needed the bathroom, and queue up outside (Saddo, I know!).
DH shook his hand. “Mr Aldrin? It’s a pleasure to have you on board,” he said as Buzz made his way to the cockpit to meet the operating pilots. On his way back, I smiled at him, noticing his t-shirt promoting manned missions to Mars. Buzz smiled back!
His hair is winter-white now, his face timeworn and wrinkled (must be about 86). His eyes were ever so slightly milky with age but there was an unmistakable twinkle in them – a sparkle that suggested he wasn’t about to stop exploring the planet (indeed, he was on his way to Antarctica to visit the South Pole!). Wearing blue jeans with a low-slung belt, he kept a low profile and none of the other passengers realised who he was, until the end of the flight when the captain said over the tannoy that he was honoured to be flying Buzz Aldrin.
So did I get to talk to him? Well, no. Not exactly. He’d flown from the States, and slept most of the way. But I spoke to his travel companion, who was lovely and said she’d take a photo with my younger son. “Go on,” I urged Son2, nudging him to cooperate, pleading with him in his ear to “just.do.it” – to no avail. Son2 was struck with shyness, and the opportunity passed. Still, I’ll never forget the moment I sort-of met a hero of mine.