“You’re going to meet the love of your life,” Francesca was beaming with enthusiasm. I figured she was enthusiastic because it would take the heat off of her.
I was messaging her while walking the gangplank on to my New York-bound flight, and playing the time-honoured game of “Which fat loser am I going to sit next to for the next 8.5 hours”.
“Maybe you’re right…” I wrote back.
Turning right onto the plane, I headed up the right-hand aisle, eyes scanning for my row. Being a trip to America, there was no shortage of potential candidates, but I just knew fate had some greater than the usual portly, cheery American tourist returning from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the CDG Travel Inn.
By now I was nearing 40D, my seat, and I started to gauge just what awaited. In fact, 40D was in the middle row of four. I was to be positioned between the aisle – extra leg room! – and, dear God…
I sized my neighbour up. In his giant clubby paw I could just make out the name on his boarding pass: John Merrick.
“If I’ve just met the love of my life,” I wrote Francesca. “Kill me.”
On my seat was placed a black bag the maximum size of a piece of carry-on, overflowing with pills. Mr Merrick’s paw was also spilling over half the arm rest. He seemed to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic (though being on budget XL Airways, that was true of the catering too); or perhaps he was just from rural France. It can be hard to tell.
“You’ll have to sit somewhere else I’m afraid.” A woman in black had appeared from nowhere and was apparently talking to me. No sign of a chiffon scarf or dicky hat, so she clearly wasn’t an air hostess.
It was his carer. She explained that his pills were to be stowed above my seat. The logical option, it was set out, was for me to instead take her seat, on the other side of the man, so that she could readily access them.
Needless to say, this would wedge me between his arm and whoever had the fourth seat, depriving me of ready access to the toilet and any legroom.
I considered making a fuss, but to what avail? The steward couldn’t help – “It’s a full flight; you’ll have to sit in the carer’s seat for the time being,” she said, adding with a flicker of empathy, “I’m afraid.”
She wasn’t the only one that was afraid: I was about to fly across the Atlantic in the equivalent space of a bike seat.
I walked across to the other aisle and started my second weary trudge of doom in 10 minutes.
When I looked up, however, so was my situation. The fourth seat, it transpired, was occupied by a stunning young woman, reading a weekly news digest.
Interested in current affairs, intelligent, seemingly able to breath without needing to leave her mouth open – call me shallow, but she seemed to be the opposite of the guy now on my left.
We quickly got talking, aided by endless bar-fridge servings of rose wine – the best 4.50 rose I ever bought I have to say – and drank and chatted the 8.5 hours till touchdown. She was worldly, self-deprecating, and wanted to make films about the subjugation of women.
By the time we arrived in JFK, I had invited her for burgers the next week Paris (I figured I’d help with hers) and scrawled a love letter of sorts in the jacket of the book I finished reading on touchdown … the title of which, by sheer coincidence, “The last girlfriend on earth”.
But still, a question remained: how on earth did she manage to find time and money to study at university, live in at two countries separated by the Atlantic, and still find time to travel the world?
“Oh. Well, I’m a model…”
“What, a hand model?”
It was of course, a classic “neg” technique, used by douches the world over to woo women out of their league.
Needless to say, I’m still waiting for the call about the burgers…