You see them walking towards you down the aisle. You hear the screams from the eighteen month old baby, the vroom vroom of his slightly older brother pretending to be a car, or wheeling an actual car over the backs of the seats as the air hostess looks on with her painted lipstick smile and pretends to like her job. And you think, please, God, not me.
You see the harassed mother approaching fast with her unbrushed hair and her tired eyes and her untucked shirt, ignoring the high-pitched screams from her offspring as she bashes people on the arms while carrying the child, plus three giant bags of baby food and nappies. And you think, Jesus, please, I’ll do anything… just don’t pick me.
They stop right next to you in the aisle, just as you’re reaching for your in-flight magazine. You flip through the pages thinking maybe if I don’t look up, this won’t happen. You become a child yourself, thinking perhaps if I close my eyes they won’t see me.
So you squeeze your eyes shut tightly and hug your magazine and wait for them to pass, but when you open them you see only the pink, protruding mass of the mother’s bare stomach as she reaches up and starts loading her bags into the overhead storage compartment, dropping a toy as the child emits another high decibel scream into your eardrum. Jesus, please!
She forces a smile onto her face and motions for you to move so she can sidle past, and you die a little inside. Jesus hasn’t listened. He wants you to suffer.
Before the plane takes off the hostess comes along and hands out little pots of sweets. You see them on the tray before she reaches you and you think oh goody, sweeties, that makes things a little better. But when she gets to your aisle she simply looks straight through you, reaches over you with her face so close that you can actually make out the strokes her makeup brush has made in the creation of her eyebrows… and hands the child her sweeties. You get nothing. He gets a whole pot of sweets and you get nothing at all.
You’re on the runway now. The youngest child is partly excited by what’s happening but partly concerned by the noise and demonstrates this curiosity by jumping up and down on his mother’s lap right next to you, in the middle seat. He stretches up to rub his hands across the overhead lights and while he’s at it, fiddles with the air-conditioner, sending gusts of icy cold all over you. Then, just to rub it in, he drops a sweet wrapper on your head from above. You think you see him smirk, but he’s only a baby so you tell yourself he’s probably just got wind and another piece of your soul crumbles away.
As the plane lifts off, the mother claps to show her excitement, and also to indicate that this is a journey of joy, not remorse. But the child is having none of it and goes back to screaming.
What else can she do? She has to act fast. She whips out a pot of mashed chicken baby food; the smell of which attacks your nostrils with the ferocity of Colonel Sanders smacking you about the face with a pair of his greasiest grilled breasts and it’s all you can do not to gag as you begin to soar through the sky. The scenery below you is mesmerising but you’re trapped in the aisle seat as the rowdy family soak up the view and the arm of your seat soaks up the baby food, now dripping from a discarded spoon. The screaming has stopped momentarily but the journey has only just started.
You sit back in your seat, wishing you hadn’t packed your earplugs in your suitcase, which is now enjoying a quiet, relaxing flight in the hold. But suddenly, as if by magic, you notice there’s an empty seat in front of you. You have to move fast.
Before they can turn around you’re grabbing your bag, unplugging your headphones, unbuckling your seatbelt and shifting one row forward. Haha! You’ve made it. You’ve escaped. It’s not going to be such a bad flight after all.
You sit back, accept a small cardboard box holding three biscuits and a coffee with cream – which actually has no cream because apparently a tiny packet of white powder is a perfect substitute – and you think man, I am winning. Thank god I could move to this empty seat away from…
Hang on. What’s that gentle, rhythmic knocking on the back of your chair? What could be causing that tap, tap, tap in the small of your back and what on earth is clenching tufts of your hair in tiny patches on the back of your head? It hurts, it hurts, it really hurts. Oh ferfuckssake.
The screaming child’s mum has also taken advantage of an empty seat and moved the little fucker into your old one. So not only do you still have to endure the screaming, you now have to endure his physical wrath as he shifts about the aircraft with nothing blocking him.
As you scowl to yourself you swear that this is the last, you repeat last time you will ever leave travel planning to the last minute. You tell yourself it’s your fault, not the child’s, who has now graduated to singing in between shrieking and pulling your hair. It’s your fault, you terrible travel-planner, you.
It’s all your fault.