“What’s that?” inquired Douglas, though his tone neither indicated confusion or wonder at the thing that Martin was pulling out of a cloth bag.
“Well,” replied Martin casually as he set the object down on the table. “What does it look like?”
“A whale wanting to be a rainbow bird.”
“A rainbow what?” Martin picked up the toy and lifted a brow as he turned it over in his hands. “It’s an aeroplane, Douglas. A stuffed aeroplane!”
“Oh, and what, pray-tell, are you doing with a stuffed aeroplane that still looks like a rainbow whale? Trying to land yourself a job with the South African Airlines are we?”
Martin glowered internally at the comment but deliberately decided against showing it and instead smiled calmly in response. “As a matter of fact this is a gift.”
“Really? And who is the lucky child?”
Martin paused for a moment and cleared his throat. “Ah, t-that would b-be, Arthur.”
Douglas stared hard at him, unflinching in his calm, calculating demeanour. “Our Arthur?”
“Of course our Arthur, who else!”
“And why are you giving Arthur a stuffed aeroplane?”
To this, Martin smiled and replied, “For the very reason you’re here, Douglas.”
“Right,” agreed Douglas and he quickly cleared his throat.
This touched Martin and his smile widened. Of course Douglas would put on a façade of indifference, but the truth of the matter was, Arthur winding up in the hospital for the last two nights had affected them all, though the least to show it was Douglas. He had never been the sort of man to wear his emotions on his sleeve, unlike Martin who was helpless to be anything but an open book, and so for Douglas to remain so calm and unaffected about this whole ordeal was nothing out of the ordinary for Martin. However, in little glances, Martin could see the stress lingering in his eyes and dragging the corners of his lips down. Douglas Richardson, fearless pilot of the skies, had a heart. He always had. Martin never doubted it for a second.
“Shall we go and see him then?” asked Martin casually as he opened the door and gestured for Douglas to go in.
Douglas went into the room and straight over to the bed where Arthur was sitting, propped up by some pillows, trying to work the remote. When Arthur saw his two friends coming over to him, his face lit up and he let out an excited cry.
“Wow! Douglas! Martin! You really did come!”
“You didn’t think we’d come?” asked Douglas, his sudden change in tone betraying the worry he had been desperately trying to conceal for the last few days.
“No, I did, well I did… but you see, visiting hours are almost over and well, I thought that you would have been too busy flying or something, you know, doing what you two always do best.”
Martin answered, “Our next flight is tomorrow morning, actually.”
“Brilliant! Where are you going? Somewhere nice I hope!”
“Nairobi,” replied Douglas.
“Oh, lots of zebras then!” Arthur’s smile faltered none during this exchange, though it was no secret to Martin or to Douglas that Kenya had been one of the countries that Arthur had been looking forward to visiting ever since he became fascinated with zebras whilst in a game reserve in South Africa. It wouldn’t have surprised Martin any to see Arthur look sad, but to his complete astonishment, not a trace of sorrow was evident on his face.
“You’re looking a lot better than when we left you,” said Martin, coming up alongside Douglas and hiding the stuffed plane behind his back. He smiled lightly before asking, “Does this mean you’re going to be released soon?”
“They want to do a few tests tomorrow, just to be sure I’m fit to go home, then it’s bed for a couple of days.”
“Ah, at least you’ll be able to catch up on all your favourite shows,” said Douglas.
“Yes well, I’d love to watch them now but this remote, it doesn’t seem to want to work!” Arthur lamented, picking up the remote and gazing forlornly at it.
Douglas smiled and took it. “Leave it to me, Arthur. You’ll get to watch your shows tonight.”
“Oh wow, really, Douglas?” exclaimed Arthur breathlessly, something that made both Martin and Douglas cringe in sympathy over the sickness that had suddenly put their friend in the hospital. Douglas nodded, to which Arthur became even more excited at the news and clasped Douglas’s hand, giving it several hearty pumps as he said, “Thank you, Douglas! Thank you, thank you! That is just brilliant!”
“Anytime,” replied Douglas kindly as he patted Arthur’s hand, letting it linger there for a moment before disengaging himself from the matter once more.
“It just gets so lonely and quiet here,” Arthur grumbled.
Martin brightened and thrust the stuffed plane at Arthur. “That’s why I got you this! Now you don’t have to be lonely.”
“Oh wow!” Arthur’s jubilee was complete the moment he had the stuffed aeroplane in his hands and he immediately gave it a cuddle. “This is really really brilliant!”
Douglas leaned over to Martin and muttered, “I bet you first dibs on the cheese tray even he will think it’s a whale.”
Martin smirked and replied back, “You’re on. He’ll see that it’s an aeroplane!”
“I’ve never seen one like this before!” Arthur continued in his mirth, releasing the plane only for a short bit to admire it.
Martin felt his spirits sink at those words and frowned sadly. At least it hadn’t been the whole cheese tray he had bet.
“Most ones I’ve seen are one colour and smaller…” Arthur flipped the plane over in his hands before sending it on a spectacularly wild ride through the air. “Not nearly as soft as this one, or realistic looking!”
“Here it comes,” grinned Douglas. He folded his hands neatly across his chest and asked smugly, “So, what do you think of… whatever that is…”
“Oh, you mean the aeroplane?”
Martin grinned triumphantly at Douglas, who’s jaw had dropped slightly upon this revelation.
Arthur, unknowing of the bet, continued on happily, “It’s brilliant! Really really brilliant!” Looking up at them, Arthur caught both Douglas and Martin’s gazes and with tears welling in his eyes, Arthur said, “The last few days have been really rough on me and you know how I am always the happy one, yeah? Well, I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to pull through, but then I thought of you guys and how strong you always are. Now, here you are.”
Tears could never stay suspended for long and they quickly fell down his cheeks as Arthur said, “You being here means a lot to me. It really does. Douglas, Martin, you’re the best friends a person like me could ever dream of having. Thank you.”
Martin’s delight warmed at those touching words and he gently embraced Arthur whilst Douglas ruffled his hair fondly. Clearly, MJN Air would never be the same without Arthur Shappey and as much as they liked to tease and annoy one another, they truly did care, as friends always do.