From escalators to driverless trams – to what next?

The first time I travelled by air was 1978, if I remember well. It was a good experience for as long as I was airborne, all right, only that it involved reunion with the land.

The first time I travelled by air was 1978, if I remember well. It was a good experience for as long as I was airborne, all right, only that it involved reunion with the land. I liked the flying bit and did not necessarily dislike the landing bit but I cannot say I was exactly overjoyed for making acquaintance of some modified surfaces. In short, I wished I’d landed back where I’d come from, on the same familiar surface. Alas, it was not so to be!

For doing French as a subject at university, we were given a short course in France and that’s how I travelled by air. On landing at Paris-Orly Airport, instead of observing others and how they went about their every business, I was arrogantly sightseeing, observing my new surroundings.

With only the tail of my eye, I could vaguely see people ahead moving forward and I followed without paying serious attention. So, I was totally unprepared when I put my foot forward and it was immediately yanked and the back of my head hit the floor!

My conceited belief in myself, it will be the death of me! It was by sheer good luck that I did not hit the hard floor. But even as a Good Samaritan was helping me to rise, I was puzzled that the back of my head had hit a soft floor that had continued to pull me along. Unbeknownst to me, I’d come in contact with an escalator – one that acted as a level floor. But my woes with the escalator were only beginning. As it turned out, they would dog me to the end of my life.

The next time must’ve been 1996. This time I was in transit through Frankfurt Airport, back from a Far East country.  I’d gone through the airport, on my way to that country, and didn’t want to look as if I’d relinquished my work of guiding others to the airport guide, especially when that guide was not fast enough. So, I hurried past the guide and took the elevator, continuing to hurriedly walk even as it conveyed me up. Then I found myself on the roof!

Now, of all the places in this world, what does a slopes-of-Mt-Muhabura man do when he finds himself on some European roof? I looked around for an escalator that’d rush me back down but there was none.

I rushed to the edge of the roof and cautiously looked down and could see the others walking towards the plane. Then a thought occurred to my adventurous ‘slopes-mind’: why not jump? I could see the fuselage, it was not far down. From the top of the fuselage, I’d slide down to the wing near the entrance and walk into the plane. Indeed, there couldn’t have been a brighter idea. One, two, th.....

Two firm hands gripped me from behind. On checking, I found that they belonged to an airport employee who led me down and who, when I explained I was from Africa,  asked me in a heavy German accent why I should come all the way to commit suicide on a European airport.

I curtly answered that since I was a sinner and had no hope of going to Heaven, I’d hoped to die in Europe since it was the next place to Heaven. He must have thought I meant it, since he led me to the plane as delicately as if I was made of eggshells.

As I sheepishly walked into the plane after all my charges, the last thing on my mind was another rendezvous with the escalator. But, as Rwandans say, “Uryamye nabi, burinda bucya” (Once you are visited by a nightmare, expect your night to be full of nightmares)!

This time the nightmare came only last month and again I was transiting through Frankfort Airport. Since I had a lot of time to kill between my connections, I sat in a hallway near the window to marvel at the high frequency of touchdowns and take-offs by planes of varying sizes.

Across on the rooftop, I could see a tram that crisscrossed my line of vision, as I was looking at soaring or landing planes. It must be ferrying tourists, I concluded as I hovered between sleep and wakefulness.

My dozing was brought to an abrupt end when I checked the time. I was left with 15 minutes to boarding time and I hurriedly took the elevator that the sign pointed out. Imagine my surprise when the sign on the floor upstairs pointed to the tram that I’d taken to be for tourists! When its doors split open, I entered and rushed to the front to ask the driver for directions.

But what I took to be the front turned out to be the back and I turned and rushed to the front. Unfortunately, the front had no driver either.

As I stood, perplexed, the tram stopped and the doors split open. Directly in front, I could see “Gate 8” and I looked again at my boarding pass. Yes, all the way from Kigali, it’d been saying “Gate 8”. Me, give me a driverless tram in place of an escalator anytime!

When I made to move through the doors to “Gate 8”, the tram sighed and the doors clamped shut and it set off on its ever-so silent journey...........

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