Back at Heathrow in the departure lounge after two weeks on my own in England and smelling like a tart’s boudoir after a visit to the perfume shop I settled down to watch the overhead screens for my flight.
Like the flibbertigibbet I am when tense, my eyes flitted from screen to book to screen to magazine to screen to newspaper to screen and took in nothing other than the fact that the departure gate hadn’t been announced for my 10 hour flight with only 20 minutes left until departure time. Had I missed something? Had the aircraft come and gone without me? Wishing my absent minder to share in my panic though there was nothing he could do to help me I decided to text him. Good journey to H’row. Watching screens for gate. Paying attn. Wont miss flight. XX. He’ll know that’s not true and wonder what is wrong.
By perusing best sellers, window shopping, drinking cappuccinos, reading sensational headlines on tabloids before returning them to the shelf dog-eared, trips to the loo and trying on bracelets I’d ambled right down to gate 25. When my gate number popped up on the overhead screen for boarding – gate 1a – it was completely at the other end of the terminal building.
My minder would be cross with me if he knew. He would remind me of the time I missed my flight from New York to Baltimore because I was playing video games or the time all the cars on the Seattle ferry were honking at him because he had to wait behind the wheel of our car, engine running, while I stood at the rail of the ferry watching the approach of the fetching Seattle skyline oblivious to his ire (until I got back in the car that is). He would have made me stay put near my gate. Oh well.
I huffed and puffed the length of the terminal building carrying in my heavy backpack a large bottle of water, five magazines, three books and a newspaper for the flight knowing I would probably watch two films, drink the airline’s wine and fall asleep instead. Flustered, I sprinted straight through the now nearly empty gate to board . . . . a bus.
What? Where am I? The bus station? Mustn’t procrastinate when I’m on my own and pay better attention. Ah yes, the aircraft had been abandoned halfway across the tarmac and we were to be bussed out to it. Looking around for familiar faces on the bus to reassure myself I was in the right place, a few unfamiliar weary faces glanced back at me. I realised that as I’d checked in online, not queued at check-in, I wouldn’t recognise my fellow passengers. I could be about to jet off anywhere in the world if I’d bounded through the wrong gate and the ground staff happened to glaze over just at the point when I handed over the scrap of paper that I’d printed off as my boarding card. I made a mental note to check our destination as I boarded the plane, like some addled old dear.
Taking my pick of seats at the back of the bus, I chose an empty side-facing bench that would seat three(ish). A plump florid blond collapsed beside me and scooted across as far as she possibly could to leave a narrow gap between us. As the bus filled to capacity with standing room only I could see no further than the belly in front of my face. A voice speaking Arabic or Farsi made me look up to see a dark-eyed beauty homing in on the tiny space beside me. She began to rotate and I hoped she was looking for another seat but like a dog in his bed, she circled twice then began to reverse her ample bottom towards the gap between me and the blond.
Blondie and I exchanged looks of wide-eyed dismay. Either I hadn’t appreciated the size of Sultry Beauty’s aft section or how small the proposed seating area was but as Sultry Beauty’s left bum cheek made contact with my right shoulder I lost sight of Blondie. The large cheek slid down my arm, slithered over my hip, and on impacting the seat squeezed me into a bolt upright position, forcing the air from my lungs and crushing my ribs against the metal armrest.
Afraid to move a muscle for fear of disrupting numerous pressure points and squirting myself out of my seat and across the bus, I prayed that this was my bad seat karma for the journey knowing I could be this unlucky for the next ten hours on the plane. I was breathing shallowly, with eyes bulging when the bus driver eventually braked and eek, eek, eeked to a halt. As I was thrown from side to side my left ribcage was bruised on the arm rest while alternately my whole right side was cushioned in billowing flesh.
The dilemma then was whether to attempt to get up first and extricate myself like a toilet plunger stuck to the floor or stay put. I was wedged under the armrest on one side and a longitudinal section of my thigh on the other side was trapped under Sultry’s voluminous thigh with a pinching sensation as though a row of bulldog clips had been attached. My leg was going numb but rather than leave a strip of flesh behind, I awaited developments. I didn’t need to wait for long. My wide beamed travelling companion bounded to her feet with surprising ease. I gawped at her agility as I fell over across the seat upon release from the body trap and exchanged looks of bemused relief with Blondie, the remaining seat hostage, as Sultry Beauty was swallowed up by the crowd.
The outsome? Seattle flight. Aisle seat. Three seats to myself. Hooray!