Don Juan Olivier

There were nine hours to go. The plane had one quick stop in Bamako and then I’d finally be in Ouagadougou.  I was stifling my excitement and nerves as best as I could while I pretended to wait patiently as the plane sat idly on the tarmac. I was becoming hopeful that I no one was assigned to sit next to me as more and more passengers passed me by.  Then it happened; the event that changed the rest of my flight.  A man, between the ages of 32 and 57 if I had to guess, paused next to the empty seat on my left. Trying to remain polite even though my dreams of having a row to myself seemed to be quickly fading, I asked the man if his ticketed seat was the one next to mine. He looked confused, and that’s when it dawned on me, he probably didn’t speak English.  So, naturally wanting to prove that I wasn’t the typical ethnocentric American, I prepared myself to communicate in a foreign tongue…12th grade Spanish.  Fortunately for me, my ignorance was quickly humbled when he responded in broken, but quite understandable, English. He explained his seat was further back on the plane.  Crisis averted.  Or so I thought.  That initial, seemingly insignificant interaction would lead to nine hours of vigilant avoidance.

I was gingerly paging through the on-flight magazines before takeoff when a familiar gold-embroidered tie grabbed my attention. I turned and smiled at the man who threatened to take away the comforts of my empty row just moments before.  Without invitation he sat down next to me and introduced himself as Olivier. He leaned in closer than any amount of social awareness would advise and asked my reason for visiting Burkina.  I answered in vague details. A smile of both purpose and determination crept across his face.  Olivier, a Burkinabe, continued on by telling me he has lived in Florence, Italy for 20 years and was visiting family back home in Burkina. Once again, I gave an apathetic response.  With each spoken syllable it became clearer and clearer that Olivier’s determined smile was the result of his determination to win my affection.  My suspicions were confirmed when Olivier, without reserve, told me he wanted to give me happiness. He spoke of owning his own car and being able to show me all the sites of Ouagadougou.  He promised me a “funny” time, which I couldn’t help but find funny.  His tone and facial expressions became expectant. Leaning forward, Olivier ripped a page from the very magazine I was innocently enjoying earlier and wrote his name, address, phone number, and email on it and handed it to me.  My tepid grasp on the torn page went unnoticed as he reminded me of our plans to celebrate Easter together by drinking wine and whisky.
To my relief the fasten seatbelt sign flashed and the announcement to prepare for takeoff was made.  Olivier stood up and remarked that if no one took the empty seat next to me he would return and give me company for the remainder of the flight. Olivier interpreted my grimace as a smile. I bluntly told him I was probably going to be sleeping the majority of the flight since I was quite tired.  (This, I assure you, was not a lie.  I was genuinely tired and my exhaustion had only increased tenfold in the 45 minutes since meeting Olivier.)  In the hours that followed I used every technique I could think of to ward off welcome.  I put my jacket on the empty seat next to me.  I sat with my arms intimidatingly crossed.  I lowered the neighboring seat’s tray and used that for my drinks and snacks instead of my own.  I slept, and pretended to sleep, as often as it seemed natural to do so.  I also watched the in-flight movie with as much interest as I could muster up for a film like “Happy Feet Two.” (The first “Happy Feet” would have been a different story.)
The plane landed in Bamako for what was supposed to be one hour, though it slowly stretched into two.  When the first 30 minutes passed without incident I became cheerfully confident that my contact with Don Juan Olivier was no more. Before my next thought, before my next breath, Olivier appeared next to my seat and resumed where he left off eight hours before. He told me he had checked on me during the flight and didn’t want to bother me.  Small talked ensued and Olivier asked if I would call him after I settled in Ouagadougou.  I gave a non-committal reply and tried to smooth the conversation over. Olivier then asked why I hadn’t given him my email address or phone number.  This was my chance to break this thing off once and for all.  I simply explained that I don’t give my personal information out to strangers- a lesson I learned and have held dear since childhood.  Olivier looked at me with surprise and made a noise that I could only assume meant he was disappointed. And just as all good relationship end, Olivier asked me for a piece of gum and left. 
The final hour of my flight to Ouagadougou was peaceful and flew by (pun intended).  Olivier’s sincere effort was flattering, but his aggressive and entirely inappropriate approach made me thankful our contact was limited to the confines of a Brussels’ airbus.