Share this article

print logo

ELDERLY TRAVELER'S STORY RAISES LOTS OF RED FLAGS

It was a year or so ago, and it was a day I'll never forget. The courtesy desk was fairly busy the morning I volunteered at the airport.

I met a young man who wanted directions to the University at Buffalo, via public transportation. Next came a couple thrilled to learn they needed only to walk a few steps across the street to rent a car to go to Niagara Falls. An Asian lady requested information on changing her currency to American.

The quiet times also were welcomed because they gave me an opportunity to update myself on the latest plays, exhibits and sporting events in the area. Having been born and raised in Buffalo, I am always amazed at the amount of attractions available.

Keeping one eye on my reading material and one eye on the counter, I quickly put the brochure down when a lady approached. She appeared to be in her mid-80s and was dressed in clean, neat clothing. If any of her wardrobe was the style of the day, it happened by accident. The items in her old gray suitcase were restrained by a heavy, frayed leather strap. She was all smiles and it became apparent that teeth were not a priority.

She said, "Honey, could you help me? I have never traveled before and I don't know what to do." I suggested she take the elevator upstairs and go to the desk of the airline she would be traveling on. She should give them her suitcase and not expect to see it again until she reached her final destination.

Since she was about five hours early for her flight, I made her aware of the restaurants upstairs in the main concourse. But her demeanor and reluctance to leave the counter made me feel I needed to spend more time with her.

She told me she was traveling to Cairo. I asked, "Cairo, Illinois, or Cairo, Georgia?" I was surprised when she replied, "Cairo, Egypt." Inasmuch as that was her first flight and that she was all alone and, well, elderly, I asked if her family knew she was going to Egypt.

She said they knew she was going and they were happy for her. She leaned closer and whispered, "I am going there to get married."

Further conversation revealed she had never met the gentleman. This was becoming more bizarre by the moment. I suggested she call her family before she boarded the plane. Still cheerful but unwilling to make the call, she thanked me and started to walk away.

After taking a few steps she returned and, with a gleam in her eye, said, "The groom is 30 or 40 years younger than I am, and I met him on the Internet."

My heart was in my mouth by this time. I suggested she not leave the airport in Cairo until she talked to someone in authority about her upcoming marriage.

Although I have tried, I can't get this woman out of my mind. Was this a figment of her imagination? Was she capable of finding her way around the Internet to make this global connection? Was she really going to Egypt to get married? Was the groom looking for a green card? Could he be someone who preys on the elderly? Could he be a killer?

My hope and prayer is that in her travels, this woman shared her unusual story with someone else. Someone who might have recognized the "red flag," as I did, in this strange sequence of events. Someone who had the authority to follow through and question her state of mind before she became a statistic.

Jacqueline Bruce Hanley lives in Williamsville.