Four decades jumping from one zone of conflict to the next. I always managed to fly First Class. It did indeed happen that on a few occasions I was forced into Business Class, which is barely tolerable.
Fourteen hours non-stop, Ldn-Jhb, and through some incredible mix up I’m stuck with the Herd in Economy. ‘I paid for First Class!’ I protest–all the way up to the pilot: ‘You don’t wanna go head-to-head with a leading world journalist, do you?’
Next to me, possibly for outrages in a previous life, a pregnant woman with a baby, I mean one borne the other standing by.
Screaming, that smell! Some mixture of puke and lactation, baby food, whatever, I don’t know. Baby toys all round. She smiles at me:
I HATE WHEN PREGNANT WOMEN SMILE AT ME LIKE THEY’RE DOING SOMETHING COOL AND IT’S ALL OK.
And my legs are jammed against a bulkhead.
We take off. Now the kid’s ears hurt. I can’t take it. I’m having a panic attack. I pull out a pack of Marlboro Reds. I lift out a smoke and fire the lighter. ‘Please don’t smoke,’ the pregnant woman says casting a glance down at her baby.
Throwing tradition to the wind, I decide to paralyze myself with whiskey. Few down, things look better. All Dark Africa spreads out under me. The baby’s making weird noises.
Then it takes a huge dump.
I have to vomit, I must vomit. That pregnant woman smiles at me AGAIN!
I fall into a fitful sleep. Someone touches my hand! It’s the baby. It has some kind of slime on its hand which when he pulls it away stays on mine. I wipe it on the arm rest. The baby eyeballs me. I wish for sudden decompression. A babe hostess comes and she smiles at the baby. I can see her breasts when she bends over.
‘I want another whiskey,’ I tell her, ‘a double.’ She gives me a dirty look, the hostess.
Still nine hours!
Next thing I know I’m with two large-breasted, bikini-clad women in Mauritius. I can feel the sand between my toes. A waiter comes past with colored drinks. The women want to go back to the room, but I tell them I’ve got to finish a Spinoza chapter first. I point to the book.
Someone grabs my hand. I wake up. I lurch forward ready to shout: ‘Can you please control that miniature adult!’
But it’s another kid, in the aisle. He’s about twelve.
‘The captain says we should fasten our seat belts.’ I look down at my undone belt.
‘Get lost kid,’ I tell him.
The baby’s asleep, dried vomit on that thing babies wear around their necks.
I close my eyes.
‘There’s turbulence,’ the kid says. ‘You smell like alcohol.’
I lean over. I say,’we’re over the sea now sonny, deep, Mako and Tiger sharks, maybe a Great White or two. I hope we don’t lose several engines.’ I smile.
The kid’s pupils dilate. Then he runs off down the aisle screaming, ‘Mommy that man says the engines will stop and we’ll get eaten by sharks!’
Lights come on. The baby wakes up. It burps in my face. A hostess…then the First Officer. They whisper. The First Officer looks at me, then the baby. He goes back and speaks to the kid, the kid I told the story of the sharks.
The baby grabs my nose. The mother smiles. To avoid trouble I say to the mother, ‘can I hold him?’ No one hassles a man with a baby.
She’s smiling! I cuddle the baby and think about hurling it over my head into the rows behind. Just then the First Officer comes back. He sees me holding the baby.
‘Everything OK here sir?’
‘Sure. Isn’t it adorable?’ He smiles and so does the hostess. Everyone’s smiling. They go away.
The mother’s holding a pacifier. It makes me think of things.
‘Put him up on your shoulders. He loves that.’
I feel warm streams going down my back. The baby’s giggling. The back of my shirt is soaked.
Then the hostess comes to me. She walks right up smiling and she says, ‘would you like chicken or beef?’
I sat like that my back wet and I drank and I drank. The world was no more. I’d passed out.
A big bump. I woke up. My pants were wet between the legs. I looked over at the baby. It was laughing and pointing.