Through the 80s and 90s of the last century and for four or five years after the year 2000, the immense airport of Palma de Mallorca could offer something special to the stressed traveller. This was Señor Alejandro.
He was a shoeshine man, and what a shoeshine man he was!
I never actually saw him cleaning shoes. Whenever I passed by, hurrying along in harassed airport fashion from check-in to security, he would be sitting in his chair, which was like a throne and placed on a dais raised above the floor. The chair was made of black wood and was cushioned in black leather. The leather may, in fact, have been plastic, but for Señor Alejandro I am sure that only leather would have been acceptable.
He wore a uniform which was dark blue with gold braid on the shoulders. No senior captain of Iberia or British Airways looked smarter or more impressive. His hair was dark brown and was always neatly combed. His jacket was immaculate and his trousers were ironed with a perfect crease. He would sit majestically in the big black chair surveying the comings and goings of the passengers below him. I often felt that I should stop and bow as I passed him on my way but I always kept walking, trusting that such a lack of respect would be overlooked.
Sometimes he walked around the departures floor and the shopping area. The crowds of tourists loaded with their bags of whisky and perfumes from the Duty Free normally shouldered others out of their way without a qualm, but they would step to one side to let Señor Alejandro pass by. Such a man must have just flown his Boeing 747 over from New York and, having finished with all the responsibilities of the long flight, was now on his way to his five-star hotel.
From time to time he must have cleaned a pair of shoes, though I never actually saw him at work. How honoured the courageous customer must have felt, seated on the raised throne, looking down on the rest of the world.
Above the chair, on the pillar behind, was a card with a printed message. I read it each time I passed and soon knew it by heart. It went like this. “Si das importancia a tu trabajo, tu trabajo te devolverá el favor.” In other words, “If you give importance to your job, your job will return the favour to you.”
A few years ago, when Señor Alejandro was in his heyday, the old airport was closed and an immense, modern airport took its place. New terminals were built and the old ones were embellished and enlarged. Everything changed. The airport was now ready for the mass tourism of the 21st century. It is to the eternal credit of the Airport Authority that they allowed Señor Alejandro to remain and, furthermore, they gave him the most strategic place for his chair, which all passengers had to pass as they made their way to Departures.
A year or so ago I took a flight to England and I saw that the imposing chair was empty. I looked twice to make sure. But there it was. An empty chair. Señor Alejandro was nowhere to be seen. ‘He must be on one of his tours around the Duty Free. That’s what’s happened’, I thought. On my return journey, I looked again and the chair had gone. It had disappeared, leaving an empty space, and now there is nothing exceptional in the enormous airport.