If you read my last post you'll recollect that I was on a plane, returning to London, with a youngish hijabed girl sitting next to me. She had quite viciously nabbed the window seat that I wanted so much, then promptly fallen asleep before take off, the result being that I couldn't watch Mother Lanka fade away as I had wanted to.
She may have been a rocket scientist, a highly successful business person or a much published writer, but whatever she was, she looked like she hadn't been on a plane before. If you fly on Sri Lankan airlines a lot you may share my glee in watching a newbie trying to figure out how the touch controls on the video screen work. You know, when you can change channels and adjust everything by touching a bit of the screen, it's now de rigeur on most phones, iPods and gadgets but many older people just can't get the idea. To most kids these things are second nature but to my next door neighbour it was always going to present some kind of obstacle course.
I watched her fumble with the screen for a while, I had been aware of her watching me as I had channel surfed at regular intervals. I never watch films on planes, I find the screen way too small and feel that I'd always rather read or listen to my iPod, but I do invariably end up reading or listening to music with the Sri Lankan variety channel on without the sound. Visions of sarong clad chaps fighting over village girls always does it for me.
This time most of my viewing of the aforementioned channel was accompanied by Muse's new live album. There was an interesting juxtaposition between the sounds hitting my ears and the images hitting my eyes. But whenever I had changed channel I noticed that she was watching me to work out what to do to her screen. I did what any person with my level of maturity and kindness would have done if they were faced with the same situation; I operated as quickly as possible and fluttered my fingers around the screen at about seven times the speed of light so that she'd just get confused.
I think it worked, when she got brave enough to try to turn her screen on she didn't have the foggiest idea what to do. I love it when a plan comes together.
At some point she lapsed into her second sleep of the voyage. I sat and did my stuff even though I did have my miracle inflatable pillow at the ready for the onslaught of tiredness. She went out like a light again and I figured that her night before must have been a heavy one. After some time I started to doze off too.
Now, this isn't the big thing, but a small diversionary one. I suddenly found myself woken from my slumber. As I opened my eyes I realised that I had fallen asleep sitting upright in my chair and facing forwards. Window seat thief was to my left and had fallen asleep facing the right, which was basically me. You know when you get woken up by something and can't figure out what it was, the sensation of confusion that lasts for a nanosecond but feels like a year. Like when you wake in a strange environment and it takes a few blinks to work out exactly where you are. Well that's the thing that happened to me. I knew where I was, but for 0.64 of a nanosecond I couldn't figure out what had woken me.
And then I did. At some point in her siesta window seat thief had rested her weary head on my shoulder. I was pretty sure that I had been woken by the thud as her head hit my shoulder, so I knew that it hadn't been long, certainly not long enough for a picture to be taken and emailed to Hi! Magazine or anything like that. Luckily the thud had woken her as well. We looked at each other and she apologised and turned away. I got all British, told her it was ok and apologised too. What for I haven't got a fucking clue to be honest but it's the correct way to behave. We both went back to sleep.
I woke some hours later. It was that spell on a long haul flight when the sky outside is dark, the interior lights of the plane are off and all is peaceful, with a mysterious smell of vomit wafting through the cabin. Most of the passengers are asleep and the air crew get a quiet period during which most of them head to the toilet for a quick line of charlie. I looked around me and saw that window seat thief was off in the land of nod. So I relaxed and leaned to the right and daydreamed of drums, Lanka and London. Come to think of it that could be a good name for a blog, it's just not quite right.
One of the things I do on any long flight is to buy a bottle or two of water to take on board. It means I don't have to drink the aircraft tap water that is bunged out and that I can also drink when I'm thirsty, always a bonus. So, in the seat pocket in front of me, was my half drunk bottle of mineral water. Now, I was facing to my right and sitting still and quietly as I dreamed. A person on my left would have seen just the back of my head and assumed I was asleep.
Now here is the big thing, the one you've been waiting for. I heard a noise, a plasticky noise, as if Michael Jackson was picking his noise. I turned my head to see window seat thief with her hand in the seat pocket in front of me, that is MY storage bit, and her hand was on my bottle of water. I looked shocked and she looked startled, though perhaps it was the other way round.
"Errmm I'm just having some water if that's alright" she said as she had my bottle of H2O in her hand. For the second time in the flight I came over all British.
"Yes, of course help yourself" I probably should have apologised for not pouring it into her mouth but I was too flummoxed.
She unscrewed the bottle and then did that Sri Lankan drinking thing, you know, when you drink from a bottle without letting your lips touch the container, sort of pouring the liquid into an open mouth. It's something I can do quite well but I never indulge in as I just can't taste the drink properly. As calmly as you can imagine she then put the top back on the bottle and placed it back in the seat pocket. She turned her head away from me and promply went back to sleep.
I felt like Bishop Brennan when he got his arse kicked by Father Ted. I sat open mouthed in my seat trying to figure out if it had really happened and if so, why? We had been on the flight for about seven hours and, during that time, the air crew had gone round umpteen times, maybe a few more even, with cups of water, apple juice or orange juice. My little bottle of mineral water was so obviously one that I had bought, not something that the crew had given out, and it was so obviously in the seat pocket where I had put my things.
She must have thought I was asleep and figured she could nick a few swigs of my water while I dozed. I just can't believe that she had made an honest mistake and thought that she had some sort of claim on the bottle, yet she didn't seem like the stealing type. That's despite the now well known fact that she had stolen my window seat so brazenly.
I'm sure if I was Darwin or one of these other quick thinking dangerous types I would have refused her request as it happened and made her feel small and embarassed, probably with a quickly thought out bit of wit that would have been worthy of Oscar Wilde, Mervyn Silva or any other iconic person. But alas, this is me and I could only stare open mouthed like Bertie Wooster caught stealing something from a room by an Aunt, then think of things after the event.
After she fell asleep I quietly removed the bottle and left it under my seat. I felt inherently uncomfortable about drinking from it again, although her lips hadn't touched it as such. I can share a drinking from the bottle experience with the best, or worst, of fellows if I know them, but I draw the line when it comes to a total stranger, especially if they're a thief.
There you have it.
What would you have done?