Many years ago now, 2004, I was security personnel for a Central Queensland airport. I was on afternoon shift this day that had a late flight. It wouldn’t be taking off until 1am, as there were no engineers available for the plane leaving that had issues. So an engineer had to fly up from Brisbane when he was available and then be able to catch a flight to our fair city at the time.
About 200 people were waiting around for this flight, and as it was in our airport, you would have to take your bags in and out of the lounge if you wanted to go get something to eat or have a smoke. And that meant you have to go in and out of security and have your bags checked via the x-ray machine. Now, this lad and his brother and sister-in-law had been sitting out in the smoking area of the terminal for some time and had not passed the security check that night. But after an announcement, they grabbed their gear and proceeded to security.
The brother and sister-in-law went first and cleared, but the younger brother did not. He had a large jar in his bag in a plastic bag with this material in it that came up on x-ray and I was told to check it as I was on bag check. The lad was very nervous, and he looked like he wanted to say something to me, but kept looking to see where his brother and sister-in-law were.
I asked him to pull the bottle out of the plastic bag and open it up, and his face lost all colour. His brother walked over after putting his steel capped boots back on, and the younger lad kept telling his brother and his girlfriend to wait for him in the lounge. But something made the brother hang around, wanting to look to see what was in his brother’s bag, as he was a bit mouthy in taking his steel capped boots off.
Out comes the bottle and in it was this grey ash. I said to him: “What is this?” He just looked at me with this painful look, and then his brother exploded.
“Are they Mum’s F**King Ashes?” and as the lad opened the top of the jar, the brother punched him in the back, and his mum’s ashes flew out and over me. Now it would have been ok if their mum had flung onto my lower half and onto the floor, but no….
Out it flew from the jar over my face, up into my nose, mouth, eyes, ears, hair, arms, down my top.
It was like time stood still, and everyone was frozen in what just happened. I stood there thinking to myself “This cannot be happening”. My colleague on x-ray said out loud “No f**king way!”, which in turn bought about our supervisor, who put two and two together of the grey ash and then said out loud “F**ck off!” and started to dry wretch. That, in turn, started me to dry wretch. I had to run to the ladies toilets.
Bursting into the ladies toilets, I was lucky no one else in there, and as I got to the basins I was shocked at what I saw. It was like I had grey talcum powder exploded into my face with gravelly bits here and there. My eyes are looking back at me with this look of do I burst out crying or hysterically start laughing look. There are wet marks of where tears, from dry wretching, had run down and around my nose and side of my face.
I rinsed, splashed water into my eyes, blew my nose till tears came out, cleaned my ears. I undid my top and let it all fall onto the floor and sink of the washroom basins and got as much toilet paper I could, to wash. I shook my hair, and watch it fall into the sink below. All this time, I was still off and on dry wretching.
It was horrifying, I finally thought. Why does shit like this happen to me?
A knock on the door of the ladies room came, and it was from my supervisor who yelled through the door that I have to get back to my station, as people were coming through. I swore under my breath and then tidied myself up as much as possible, took a deep breath and walked out, crimson with embarrassment.
The two brothers were still there, trying to dust up as much as their mother’s ashes as possible. They wouldn’t look at me. Someone had gone to an office to get a dustpan and brush, and when it finally came, you could see other bits of dust and shite from airport floors in it.
The eldest brother was fuming still and yet not one of them apologised for the incident, and he was fuming and calling his brother all the names under the sun.
“You told me you had her in a proper urn, you $#*&^%.”
“You said you had her in a safe place, *&^%$#.”
It went on. I stood there in a bit of a daze because people witnessed it, but no one said a word, and yet they kept staring at me. I tried to act like it was nothing, but inside of me, I was starting to play it over and over in my mind. There was this one nagging thought that I had kept at bay and tried to push to the back of my mind:
“Did I swallow any of it?”
Well, the brothers walked off after they cleaned up their Mum, with the eldest claiming the bottle. My best friend, whom I worked with that night, walked over from her station and said quietly to me that as soon as I got home, take a long shower and wash my hair. I said thanks, that I would do that. She reached over to me, which I thought she was going to give me the reassuring hand on shoulder or pat on back to not think about it. Yet her hand went up to my hair, picked a few white bits as if they were nits, looked at them in her hand and said:
“Wow…Do you think that is bone?”