29 June 2016: In this series of short stories from, and of, the B seat, the author recalls events from a lifetime of travel…
Knowing I needed to be up early, I’d slept badly; it’s always that way with me. My head heavy, I had spent the night tossing and turning, buffeted by long lists of things I had forgotten to do, things I wanted to do, and brilliant ideas about stuff I didn’t want to forget. It was cold and dark and rain was falling. The taxi was late and the agency had booked me on a budget carrier, to save money at my expense.
On the plane, the rows of seats were even closer together than normal, with the B seat already occupied by an enormous man slumped forward and snoring loudly. He woke briefly as I pushed parts of him across the boundary from C to B, before he lost consciousness again. He smelled, that man – an acrid and quite sickening smell; and he radiated heat too.
Déjà vu, déjà vu, déjà vu I thought, remembering another time when the glamour of travel and my “love for the job” were most sorely tested. That was several years ago when, at short notice, I was sent to the deep south by the Minister of Health to deliver a message of admonition to the then Chair of the Board.
That day also started early in the cold dark-before-dawn, and was preceded by another bad night’s sleep. No fat man then, instead stormy weather was sweeping across the country from the south with such ferocity that the plane bucked and lurched like a rodeo beast, prompting the pilot to tell us to “hold onto your hats”. The woman in the window seat grew progressively pale then vomited, and out of the stunned silence I could hear the occasional sound of other passengers retching. When we landed there was applause – all right for them but I was due to go on to Invercargill, not in this big animal of a plane but in something smaller and thinner, more akin to a flying pencil. To my horror and disappointment that flight was not cancelled but seriously delayed so, many hours later, go on I did; another gut-wrenching ride through turbulent air, finishing with a terrifying descent onto a tarmac covered in hailstones and swept by bursts of horizontal sleet.
The Board Chair turned out to be a proud self-made Southland man, not someone to take a telling-off lying down. Already late in the day, our conversation was civil, short and blunt and soon after, somewhat chastened by the experience and the persistence of the appalling and gloomy weather, I began my journey back to Wellington. Hurtling through space in the pitch-black sky, the plane was struck by lightning – with a loud cracking sound and flickering lights, we spun sideways and dropped a few hundred feet. Holding firmly onto his hat, the pilot wrestled back control and landed us at Christchurch. It was 7pm, the airport was almost deserted and it was freezing cold. Hours later, my onward flight to Wellington was finally cancelled so, furious and completely wrung out, I made for a nearby hotel desperate to lie down and get some sleep. The room was quiet and potentially welcoming, but OMG when I pulled back the bed covers, remnants of a previous guest remained strewn across the sheets …
Well, that was my great day at work – How was yours?
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