I’m on the nine pm tiger flight to Adelaide. My tray table is upright, my knees unbearably close to the seat in front, my lower back humming with the beginnings of the almighty ache I will have when I disembark in an hour and a half. I have the aisle seat, we’ve just begun to taxi.
Seated to my left is young man, probably 24 or so wearing thick framed glasses, a white tee and dark skinny legs. He is fiddling with his phone. I have buried myself in my Stephen Fry bio immediately after boarding but as I read a part of me remembers something.
No. 35: Talk to Strangers.
I’ve noticed he has begun to use his phone as a mini skateboard and is doing little flips and stuff off his lap. I should talk to him. I will talk to him. I will put down my book under the pretence of having a drink from my water bottle, and then I will say “So what brings you to Adelaide?”. Aw yeah.
The plane has come to a bit of a stand still when I finish my chapter and serenely close the book, wondering if there’s any way the hipster next door could anticipate the verbal fireworks that are about to explode right in his face. I reach down, clasp my water bottle, unscrew the lid and take a drink. I put it back in my bag. I gently nudge the bag a little bit more under the seat. Now nothing stands in the way. I look at the pouch in the seat in front of me. Now it’s just me and you, little man.
We idle lazily on the runway.
I stare at the back of the seat.
I look slightly to my left, then to my right. I look down at the book closed on my lap.
talk talk talk talk talk you can do it what brings you to Adelaide what brings you to Adelaide whatbringzzyuutoadelaaaide
I study my fingernails for a bit.
The guy’s phone does another trick, a spectacular mini spin in the air over his right thigh.
I clear my throat slightly, then move my head to my right.
We move forward slightly, then come to another halt.
I pretend to be interested in the cement I can see out of the window, as though I need to visually verify that no, we haven’t taken off yet.
He looks downward, at his flipping mobile, adjusts his position slightly.
talk talk talk what brings you to adelaide what brings you to adelaide say it say it what are you waiting for? what is he going to do? rip your face off? plunge his phone into your eye socket?
I summon my courage and open my mouth. I close it again and look out the window opposite.
We are still on the ground.
The guy is reading the inflight menu. For the second time.
I feel physically ill.
I have now thought the words “what brings you to Adelaide” so many times they have lost all meaning.
Stephen Fry is smirking consolingly at me from his book jacket. Yes you can smirk consolingly. You have to know him.
The guy is looking out the window as well. Probably confirming we’re still on the ground.
I look back at Stephen. My heart pounds in my ears.
talk talk talk taaaalk TALK FOR CRAPS SAKE YOU UNHOLY AND RIDICULOUS COWARD just OPENYOURFUCKINGMOUTH!!
Dude pulls out the in-flight emergency instructions.
He begins to read them.
He needs me.
The plane is still not moving but is now making a loud buzzing noise from the rear.
A sweat breaks out on my forhead and I turn jerkily to my left. In a voice that is aimed at casual but probably hitting strangled and teary I say
He looks at me and shoots back in a low and slightly awkward voice “Yeah, pretty sure it is”. He is attempting to be reassuring.
“right right,” I say “it’s pretty weird though..”
He again assures me in his short, deep voice that all is well, clearly thinking that I’m on the verge of hysteria.
Loud buzz continues, sounding like an elephantine mosquito has landed on rear of plane.
Anxious, now that we’re off to this magical start, to make sure he knows my intent was relaxed convo not mindless panic I spout brightly that I’ve never heard that particular noise before at which point he looks at me sharply and asks if I fly a lot.
“Oh yeah, loads!”
Dude now looks as concerned as he thought I was.
Smiling manically, as though alarming young men on stalled flights is something I’m quite cheerful about I happily trill “Oh but, like, I’m sure it’s not a problem. hahaha!”
We are still on the ground.
I shouldn’t talk to strangers.