Hobbits, as I said in a previous post dislike adventures. Bilbo and Frodo of JRR Tolkein’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were healthy, contented hobbits living in their houses under the hill in the Shire. They had no desire to leave even though Middle Earth might depend on their becoming wandering “thieves” in a good cause. As time passes, we catch a glimpse of an older Uncle Frodo, but he was a relatively young hobbit when he reluctantly joined Gandolf’s ragtag seekers of a just world order.
I’m more of a curmudgeon. I blame it on the PTSD. (See my memoir Never Tell.) I just paid Jet Airways about $700 to torture me for seven hours and in about three weeks, I will do it all over again. Coincidentally, they were transporting me from Toronto to Brussels. They began, as most airlines do by cramming me into a seat so close to the one in front of me that my tray table practically jammed into my mid-drift when the guy in front took his ease. I dropped my water bottle. Impossible to reach by bending. I had to take off my shoes and rescue it with my feet. It took me half the night to get my shoes back on.
And what a night! We took off at 18:15 or 6:15 p.m. to you non-24 hr clock people. (I mention this because my ride to the airport arrived 12 hours early.) Dinner had to wait until cruising altitude and other arcane circumstances had been achieved. Some of us had already swallowed our sleep aid in preparation for the torment. We were going to arrive at 1:45 a.m. Toronto time and be expected to function as if it were 7:45. I opted for the vegetarian meal just for show -and/or the smell. Oddly enough the meals were Indian on this Indian airline, the only airline that flies non-stop from YYX to BRU. In truth, I had a plastic container of plain rice noodles, green beans and chicken. By avoiding curry and yogurt, I hoped to avoid gastric torture. I hesitate to admit that I also dropped the lid. (Well, see, there was this vortex…)
Then it was lights out about 9. Nothing but the glow of a dozen seat-back screens playing Bollywood movies silently. My own was not on. But wait, it is. I press the bottom of the screen, I get the menu, which invites me to “Turn off Screen”. I touch that choice. Nothing. I am back to the glaring white screen advertising Bandit Queen, which I have memorized, “Married at 11, —- escapes her husband’s demands, is raped by village elders…” Well good for you becoming a bandit queen. Now vanish. And she does, but she appears randomly throughout my short night, waking me from my fitful sleep. Finally I pull my red tam down over my eyes. Begone white light. I’m not ready yet.
My seatmate is a long-legged fellow on his way home to Delhi. He has been watching a spy movie with English subtitles and, for all I know, English dialogue, but, although he is now Canadian, he finds what little I say to him puzzling. I do not tell him that his elbows and knees are encroaching on my $700 space. Where else can he put them and besides imagine what he is paying to be tortured until Delhi at 20:30 tomorrow.
Actually I am quite surprised by the amenities – an actual meal, a little red pillow and a beige and brown plaid blanket, wrapped in cellophane. On transcontinental flights, I am used to paying $5 each, if they are even available, and being offered subs at an additional cost in case I should feel food necessary.
So here we are, crammed into a vertical shelf-space, getting a little entwined limb time. I know at my age I should thank my lucky stars. I am grieving a little because I wore my red shawl to the restroom. It must have slipped off and one of those scarf-wearing, India-bound women snaffled it for her own. Or turned it in, but not to the flight attendant, I asked. She can’t know that it was the only pretty thing I could jam in given the 23 kilo weight allowance. And it matched the tam.
So we turn -in unison of course- and shift and rustle about in our strange intimacy. We lose our pillows and retrieve them, twist our blankets, flinch when the over-lap is too much. How is it possible for the lower back to hurt so? And then suddenly, it’s morning. No dawn is not creeping up over the dark, deep ocean. (Floatation device under your seat.) It’s hospital rules. Lights shall come on. At midnight in this case. The big screen at the bulk head fires up to show our stalwart plane approaching the coast of Belgium. No glow from London off to the north. Did I mention I have a window seat?
A small wrapped cake lands on my tray table. Whoa! An Indian custom? I stare at it about half a second before ripping into it. Sugar! Food rules be damned.
An hour later -why did we need a whole hour to eat a small cake?- I find myself reporting to a custom’s officer with a Flemish name who silently feeds my passport into the computer to see if I am that septuagenarian terrorist they’ve been expecting. He asks me one question in English -what is your destination. Well, Brussels as it happens. Then I have only to wait and wait and wait at Belt #4 for my 23 kilo bag. It’s spooky. Only 3 other people and zero bags. We take comfort in each other until more people and finally a few bags arrive. And there is my purple one whanging down off the drop.
And now for that special European treat -the taxi ride. I say to myself 50 Euros, $75 CD. And guess what? After being charmed by my lawyer/ taxi driver and after being allowed to choose -highway or grid-locked streets, that is exactly what it costs. But the worst of it is, being Canadian, I tip him.