02 December 2010 – Delhi Guesthouse, Delhi, India Ok, so we made it to India safe and sound aboard Air India Flight 188. It was an absolutely direct flight from Pearson International to the brand spanking new Indira Ghandi International Airport in Delhi. The flight path took us north-east from Toronto, across northern Ontario, up over Greenland, over Scandinavia and over western Russia, too. We cruised down over the barren wasteland of God-forsaken Afghanistan (who in their right mind would want to live there), over Pakistan and the Punjab and finally, down into Delhi. It turned out to be (thank God!) a 12-hour flight instead of a 14-hour ass-kill, as we originally thought it was going to be and what we mentally steeled ourselves for. (Well actually, as we were promised by our fuck-wad Travel Agent who, incidentally, was the same moron who told us we were going to be sitting in one of the prized and precious bulkhead seats because we had a little baby travelling with us, and who knew bloody well that the seats she booked for us were so far from the bulkhead seats that you’d have a hard time hitting one of them with a stone if you threw it from where she stuck us).
But wait, there’s more. As we complained bitterly at the check-in counter about not getting the seats we had our hearts set on, the woman behind the counter listened compassionately and sympathetically to our pleas – which was nice because it’s always nice to have your concerns acknowledged. But then she did something unexpected. She suddenly stood up and told us to hold on as she ran over to speak with her supervisor. Coming back with a big smile on her face, she told us that, because we didn’t get the bulkhead seats as we were initially promised, (it seemed there were nearly more infants on board this flight than regular sized people), she was going to block the third seat next to us to give us a little more room with The Little One.
“Wow,” we both said, “that’s awfully nice.”
We thanked her and thanked her and waved good-bye in a warm and friendly manner – like she was an old, dear friend - as we walked towards the security check-in, forgetting, of course, that this was Air India, where strange and mysterious things happen, as if by magic, nearly all the time.
We passed through a second security and baggage check at our assigned gate and then had to wait patiently for almost 45 min for what appeared to be a traffic jam of nearly 30 wheelchair bound elderly folk as they jostled for position at the gate entrance to see who would be first on board. We even saw the same kind woman from the check-in counter who got us the extra seat for the baby and chatted in an open and friendly manner with her, like she was an even older and dearer friend.
As the wheel chair traffic thinned out around the gate entrance, the announcer called all families with small children to board next (which happens to be one of the greatest perks about becoming parents and travelling with your kids) and so we grabbed all our stuff and bolted into line. Naturally we had to wait a while in the line because, I imagine, with all the old wheelchair people needing assistance to their seats aboard the craft, that it might take longer than anyone previously thought. So again we waited and when everyone was ready, we made our way through the on-board screening process, walked down the long corridor to the plane, found our assigned seats (smack dab over the wing, of course) and sat down.
Everything seemed to going perfectly as everyone who had bought their tickets and were going to join us on the long flight to India had finally boarded, stored their luggage in the overhead bins, and sat down in a somewhat orderly fashion. The traffic up and down the isles on both sides of the aircraft had thinned and that precious seat next to us remained blissfully empty!
Totally and completely empty.
I’m starting to get excited about the flight, but I’m keeping my eye on the entrance to the plane, just in case.
And then I saw it.
I knew what it was even before I really knew what it was.
At the very front of the plane, just moments before the big doors to the craft are swung closed for the duration, sealing us all inside for the fight, I watched as one final passenger enters the craft. In my minds eye, I see this lone and desperate fellow bolting through the terminal, rushing past all the crowds of happy travellers, leaping over people here and there who have stopped or bent down to check their luggage or child, as the “last call for Air India Flight 188” echoes for the final time over the terminal loudspeakers and, just as the tube connecting the plane to the terminal is pulling apart, this fellow jumps the gap and lands in a sweaty, out of breath heap at the feet of the smiling hostess who greets all the boarding passengers. She ever so gently lifts his panting frame and checks his boarding pass, carefully wipes the streaks of sweat from the sides of his face, and points to the aisle furthest from the door - our aisle. I watched it all unfold in horrifying, slow motion technicolour, and I know long before it actually happens, where this latecomer is going to sit.
“Sit! Sit! SIT!!!!” I scream at him in my head as I watch him pass each and every row and seat ahead of us. “Sit, you sonofabitch! Take one of those seats! Take ANY seat! Just sit before you reach us”
But where does he stop?
You don’t need to be a Rocket Surgeon to figure that one out. You don’t even need telepathic powers or a crystal ball, or friggin’ Tarot cards, for god’s sake. You just need a twisted sense of irony and a rather sardonic sense of humour.
Of course he stopped in the aisle right beside seat 25C; that last virginal seat on the entire aircraft, the last remaining unclaimed seat on the plane – at least that was according to the stewardess whom we screeched at in protest approximately 4 minutes later.
I watch him with disbelieving eyes as he checks his boarding pass, turns to look at the seats behind him, checks the pass again, squints his eyes and brings his face closer the bottom edge of the overhead bins and the little seating diagram screwed on there, check his boarding pass again, and then proceeds to drop his coat in the empty seat beside us and place his things in the gaping overhead bin directly above his seat.
So much for the blocked seat beside us. So much for the magnificent promise of our cheerful check-in friend. So much for the little extra room for the baby. So much for a little breathing space for the next 12 hours. So much for nothing, fuck you very much!
But here is the really fucked up part: the guy is as sick as it’s possible to be before one is hospitalized and put in palliative care, awaiting Death’s gnarled knuckles to escort him to Hades by the throat.
He’s so sick and delirious that he can hardly sit upright.
He’s so far down on the sick scale that dying isn’t even an option down that far.
He’s so sick that all the in-flight stewardesses avoid him like… like… like he’s got the plague or something…
Hey wait a sec… Does he have the plague? He certainly does look like he could! I mean, all he does is sit there all sweaty and hunched over, looking forlorn and miserable like he has a bad case of something that could easily take his life before we reach Hudson’s Bay.
How perfect is this?
At one point during the flight I came back from the toilet to find his seat empty. “Great” I thought, as I attempt to squeeze myself back into my window seat. “Maybe they took him to the sick bay or even tossed him off the craft.” But that’s when I step right on his legs and discover that he’s actually lying on the floor in the foot space between our three seats and the three seats ahead of us!!!
How the fuck does a rather large human being do that? I’m sure a six or seven year old could contort themselves enough to do it, but a grown man? And with all those metal poky things down there attaching the seats to the floor of the plane? Not only would it be cramped and claustrophobic, but it would be painful as hell, too! And why the hell did he have to be wearing black, of all colours, so you couldn’t see him lying there, even if you had great eyesight or a seeing-eye dog? Who would even think that lying down there was a good idea?
At one point I swore I could feel his deadly germs crawling over the seat between us and slowly creep up my arms. I knew it was only a matter of time before I fell sick.
And boy, was I right.