Mind Your Olives

A few years ago I was working at an airline lounge when a mother and her two grown daughters approached me at the front desk. Whoever said good things come in threes had never met this group. 


“How can I help you?” I smiled but held my breath. 


The first of the sisters slurped on what was left of her Bloody Mary and placed the empty glass on the desk between us. 


“Are you gonna eat those olives?" the second sister poked her head from behind. 


“Shh, let her speak!” the mom, I presumed, who shooed her aside with the flick of one hand and bit into the bagel in her other hand. 


The sister reached for the cocktail stick with the garnish anyway, but the olive owner was too focused on me to notice. 


“There is a Middle Eastern man at the window..." she lowered her voice into a shout-whisper, pausing between words, “He's taking...pictures...of...planes!" 


Her eyes grew wide and she pointed towards a photographer in the distance behind stainless glass windows that spanned the length of the floor to the ceiling. 


“Uh...and?” The lounge had the best view of the tarmac. People took photos all the time. 


"And, what if he works for Al-Qaeda, hello!” 


"I'm pretty sure it's ISIS now," the other sister added, stepping on a trashcan pedal besides my desk and tossing away the now bare cocktail stick. 


"Whatever! We want to make sure he isn't on our flight," she continued. 


The mom took another bite of her bagel and glanced at my name tag, which said "Jehan" in all caps. None of them knew they were addressing their complaints to someone who actually was Middle Eastern. I thought maybe the mother would be tipped off by my name, but I was wrong. 


“Jeanine?” she began chewing. “Cud ya flease gon' talk tuh hum tah fff-ind oht?” 


She swallowed and wiped her mouth with the backside of her hand, then tossed the remainder of the bagel in the trashcan alongside evidence of the embezzled olives. 


"You can never be too safe these days, especially after 9/11 and all that,” she admitted, overlooking how she'd initially entered the lounge complaining about her "ridiculous" and "completely unnecessary" TSA pat-down. 


“I'll look into it...” I muttered under my breath. “Wait right here.” 


I felt accosted and had no intention of paying the feeling forward, but I did wonder who they were even talking about. As I walked closer towards the seated passengers, the girls pointed towards someone in particular and mouthed, “That's him!” 


I recognized him right away as a young twenty-something I'd checked in about thirty minutes prior. He had handed me his boarding pass and declared it was his first time flying on Virgin. I remembered the relief I felt when he didn't follow up with the, “I'm a Virgin to Virgin!" quip I'd heard so often, one usually followed by an even more cringe-worthy wink and nudge combination.


I had written down his last name, which by the way was Ramirez, into a daily spreadsheet of visitors and handed him back his boarding pass. He took a picture of the Wi-Fi sign and extended his hand to thank me. 


“What's your name?” he asked, looking towards my name tag. "Ah, Jehan! Are you Middle Eastern?” 


"Yeah...” I shrugged. 


"Cool." He had said. “Thanks, Jehan." 


On the way back to the front desk, I passed by the bathroom and wondered if it would suffice as a hiding spot for an hour and thirty minutes until the group boarded their flight. But I was well aware that neither of the three ladies had taken their eyes off of me, or him, and rubbed my temples as I re-approached them. 


"For your information..." this was my chance to speak up. To let them know that they were "afraid” of someone who looked Middle Eastern and wasn't, but didn't share the same fears towards someone who didn't look Middle Eastern but was. “He's...ummm...." Come on, you can do this. "He's a famous Instagram influencer, and the pictures are just for his many thousands of followers," I blurted out. 


“Oh.” Their jaws dropped. “Are you sure?” 


“Yup, nothing to worry about.” 


Their mother headed back towards the buffet. I took the momentary opportunity of silence to open up a blank document and type random words into my computer. 


"Oh. Well, what's his handle?" The first sister said. 


"I can't give out that info." I kept rapping on the keys. 


“Fine I guess...well, thanks, Jane.” 


The other sister nudged her, “Jeanine!” 


"Yea, yea, thanks.” She reached for her glass. Instead of leaving, she paused and scrunched her face. "Hey, what happened to my olives?" 


The thief averted her eyes. 


When the front door opened, I saw my fairy godmother walk in. “I'm sorry, but I need to help the next guest," I said looking towards the light-filled entryway. 


They turned to find their mother, and I rubbed my temples as the welcome interruption approached. She glanced between me and the girls whose voices echoed across the room, "I was...gonna...eat...thaaaat!” 


“Long day?” she asked. 


I caught sight of the empty glass that lingered on my desk and nodded. 


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