take your seat belts off

Everyone is smiling when we get on the plane. There are no masks now, no passenger locator forms or tests and it’s a warm, sunny day and all this seems to have put everyone in a good mood. Gradually we all sit down and put on our seat belts. We’re sitting with our seat belts on waiting for take-off when the stewardess comes down the aisle and says take your seat belts off.
Off?
Off.
Why?
We are refuelling, she says, it’s just in case we have to run.
Run?
If there’s a fire, she says.
We’ve just got on the plane and the first thing we’re told is that there might be a fire and we might have to run. Not everyone is smiling now.
A few minutes pass. The fasten seat belt sign comes on. No-one knows what to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts.
Some do, some don’t.
We are left to assume that there was no fire, but no-one confirms this. There’s a lot they don’t tell you on planes.


The captain says that because of the refuelling take-off is delayed by half an hour. He speaks quickly to avoid being understood. To pass the time I listen to Joan Didion’s essay Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream. It’s about a woman who was driving with her husband one night when the car suddenly stopped and suddenly caught fire – so she said. She managed to run away but her husband burned to death in the passenger seat. Several parts of her story didn’t add up and she was later arrested on suspicion of murder. I’m only realising as I’m writing this that the story is similar to the thing about the fire on the plane.

We finally take off. I take my earphones out and close my eyes and enjoy the ambient sounds of the plane and the feeling of not being on fire. The rest of the passengers relax in their seats or chat quietly to each other. It’s a normal flight. There’s a woman and a little boy sitting behind me. The boy is bored. The woman says why don’t we play a game where I say a word and you say a word that begins with the last letter in my word. The boy is way better than her at it. She keeps asking him what his words mean. Then she says let’s have some quiet time for a bit.


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