I sat on the runway at Shannon airport waiting for the Ryanair plane to take off. I’m not a good flyer. There have been many, many flights to and from Poland and each one has plunged my mind into a downward spiral of dread and fear. Most of the time I can pull out of it, distract myself with PMI – Positive Mental Imaging, the type of psychological bluff golfers use to kill their putting hobgoblins- The ball won’t roll by or stop short! It goes in the hole!
The girls were fighting in the seats beside me and Malina burst out crying when Lilly bit a chunk out of her arm.
‘Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,’ I shouted at her, sounding like a low-income nineteen eighties Irish parent. The flying anxiety had pushed my mean side to the fore. I sat there simmering in low-level panic
Picture the plane landing safely at your destination…
when an incredible thumping noise emanated from under my seat. I turned to the woman sitting across the aisle.
‘Did you just hear that?’
‘Excuse me?’ She was Polish and almost half asleep.
‘There was a ferocious noise just now – didn’t you hear it?’
‘Probably luggage,’ she said.
Luggage? Is she nuts? What are we flying to Poland with a Blacksmiths convention? No, it’s the landing gear. This was my thought. Wouldn’t you just know my luck, I’ve just boarded the only faulty plane on the lot. Long have I been taken with the notion that fear has a colour and that colour is brown. Brown is also the colour of accumulated metal fatigue, a colour I could now see in large patterns on the plane’s right wing.
‘I think there’s something wrong with the plane,’ I said to the Polish lady.
‘Everything is going to be okay,’ she replied absently. Her voice was a leaf falling off a tree.
‘I’m going to tell one of the cabin crew right now,’ I said, my voice not a falling leaf, more akin to the squeal of brakes from a getaway car driven by George Bush.
You are landing at your destination relaxed and happy –
No I’m not! The landing gear is broken! The Dunlop is in the rough! This plane is not going to survive take-off!
The Positive Mental Imaging was gone, replaced by Sky News footage of feral children plundering
plane crash debris. I’ve got to get up and talk to the Captain! But when I tried to undo the seat-belt, the damn thing was stuck. I was all set to start gnawing at the material to fashion a rip, when a hostess lowered her lacquered head to mine.
‘Having trouble with your belt?’
‘Eh…just wanted to leave the seat…’ I said without moving my lips.
‘We’re trying to seat the remaining passengers. Is there anything I can help you with?’
Her singsong accent owed everything to southern Ireland and I was fortunate she had taken it easy with her make-up. Often I’m susceptible to hernias when confronted by women whose pan-cake foundation outweighs their actual amount of skin.
‘Did you hear an almighty thump from under the plane a few minutes ago?’ I asked her.
‘Yes, a loud noise. It sounded as if someone took a giant hammer to the under-carriage.’
‘I heard nothing at all,’ she said as she leaned in closer so as to block our conversation from the other passengers, all the while her face never breaking from its false smile rictus.
‘This noise was Jurassic. I think there’s something wrong with the plane.’
‘Did anyone else hear the noise?’ she asked and I got the implication; it’s all in your head you big loop. Now calm down like a good boy or I’ll zap you with the Ryanair stun gun.
‘I really think someone needs to tell the Captain.’
Another hostess closed the plane door. Uh-oh. Something bad was going to happen. I could feel it in my waters.
‘I have to get to my seat now,’ she said. And she moved to go but couldn’t, as there was something clenched around her wrist stopping her. My hand as it turned out.
‘You have to believe me…that noise wasn’t natural. When I heard it, I thought the plane was going to break in two. Can you please mention it to the Captain? Just in case…’ I was keeping calm, but I knew my next words would be in the voice of the Chairman of the Chinese Tourette Syndrome Association.
‘Sorry sir, but we can’t enter the flight deck when the plane is preparing for take-off. A team of technicians have given the plane a thorough safety check. So sit back, relax and let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your flight more enjoyable.’
She extracted herself from my grip and moved away. The plane lumbered onto the runway. That’s right, lumbered, giving the impression of a Scottish sailor standing in a canoe at four in the morning. The engines fired up and a scream positioned itself in my throat. I could feel my heart beating in my nipple. Just scream and be done with it, I told myself. They’ll have to listen if you scream. I gave a pull at the seat belt again, but it wasn’t playing ball. The buckle was a mouth and it was mocking me –
Helloooo! You’re trapped and you’re going to die! No more Belgian Beer for you de Búrca!
The plane boosted faster and I took in a breath and prepared to turn on Edvard Munch…
Then… What? The plane started to slow down. Slow, slow until it ground to a halt and I made the sound of a man who has just extracted himself from under a Sumo wrestler. The passengers looked around at each other. The Captain’s voice came over the speakers;
‘We have encountered a minor technical problem and in the interests of safety this plane will not be departing on schedule. Apologies on behalf of the airline.’
Half an hour later, when we were being transferred off the plane, the Polish woman across from me woke up.
‘Have we landed?’
‘No,’ I told her. ‘We have to go back to the departures area.’
And then, with the satisfaction of a hypochondriac who has finally been diagnosed with a malign melanoma, I told her, ‘It seems there was something wrong with the plane after all. Told you.’