I was early for my Wellington to Hawkes Bay flight as I wanted a long uninterrupted run at my book. The rain lashed the windows of the far-flung building that holds the provincial travelers and the room was fuggy as the crowd of passengers grew. I shut out the crying babies and cellphone shouters and hunkered down over my riveting story. (All the light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr)
Eventually, we were bing-bonged into a queue and as I stood waiting in line, the man checking our boarding passes began talking about the new Dreamliner out on the tarmac. With emotion in his voice, he told us about the plane that was to be phased out and in true kiwi style, we, the silent column of people, edged away from his unseemly show of sentiment. The man was holding my boarding pass, so the onus of discussing the company’s fleet of planes was my responsibility. I provided the ooh, aah and reallys? at the right times.
Released at last through the sliding door reminded me of similar releases many years ago when we had to stand in a line at school. The monitor holding the door open often had to make small talk with the nun on duty. The real skill required by the selected monitor was an ability not to giggle when your friends laughed at you from their positions of safety.
Once on the plane I showed the steward my ticket. ‘Eight on the left,’ I think she said. My boarding pass was my bookmark and I was still wearing my reading glasses. It didn’t bode well for finding eight on the left.
I couldn’t think if C was window or aisle but I sat down by the window to get out of the way. I’ll move if I’m in the wrong spot I thought and before I knew it, I was again transported back to World War 2 and the story of a little blind girl.
‘You’re in my seat.’ I looked up at a middle-aged man in a crisp pale blue shirt. His beady animal eyes, peered at me from behind wire-framed glasses and he frowned as if I’d taken his winter store of chestnuts.
Oh, hell. I could be too, I remembered. ‘Sorry.’ I grabbed my bag and began to slide out. I hadn’t even managed to set both feet into the aisle before he shoved past me and jammed himself down in his window seat.
My knee hurt where he’d banged it and my pride hurt at my stupidity for not making a better effort to check my seat number. The man settled into his seat as if he was nesting in a bed of twigs. I glanced at the people in the row behind me and although I’m not a great believer in sisterhood for the sake of it, there was a very satisfying connection between the ladies seated there and myself. A smirk and raised eyebrows was the quiet show of solidarity for a rude man.
I sat down in my aisle seat and tried to ignore the ferreting buffoon beside me. He patted his pockets and arranged his things. Each jabby movement connected with my arm or foot and I slid away as far as I could towards the aisle. He found his phone and brought out enormous earmuffs. Really? It wasn’t exactly long haul.
Reading time is precious and I was determined not to let him spoil my flight. I went back to my book.
I turned the pages and tried to block him out but he was a complete pain in the bum. I re read the page, once, then twice. His arm was angled far over the centre line and I had to hunch into my seat to avoid its sharp edge. Was he completely thick?
The forty-five minutes felt interminable and my concentration static. As we came closer to Hawkes Bay he upped his busyness and went from music listening to photo taking. The latter required more twisting in his seat, and his swiveled leg kicked me as he angled for the photo.
Finally the familiar landscape of the parched dry brown of Hawkes Bay came into view and we touched down beside the sheep and goats. Everyone in the plane prepared to disembark and the airhostess did her patter. I was just going to close my book when I had a brilliant idea for revenge.
I kept reading.
There was bustle around me and we taxied to a halt outside the terminal. I kept reading.
Passengers unclipped seatbelts and began to stand up. Lockers were opened and bags were dropped down. I clutched my book as if my life depended on it.
The man beside me was now facing me, intent on his getaway. His toys were packed away and he was ready to push on. I slowly marked my page and managed one of those fake yawns. People filed past us, so I hunted around on the floor for my sandal. I managed to push it further away.
I dragged out my purse and was just going to stand up when I just knew I wouldn’t be able to walk one step with that stone in my sandal. I slipped it off and flicked nothing out.
My sidekick was hovering a few inches above his seat with his neck twisted to avoid the overhead locker. At last I was ready. A quick glance up the aisle behind me showed I was not quite the last person off the plane so I waved them to please go first.
The lovely Asian man wanted me to step in front of him, but naturally, I insisted he keep going.
Steamy outrage poured off the man behind me. I risked a smile in his direction and my gall angered him even more. At last it was just ‘old pushy’ and me.
I slowly stood up and made my leisurely way to the front. I readjusted the straps on my bag before I tackled the steps down from the plane. It was all I could do not to giggle like the schoolgirl on door duty years ago.