The BB and I settle into our plane seats. We open our book and newspaper. While someone takes care of transporting us to a new country, we have the luxury of reading. Life is good.
Then Life (that same “Life is good” Life) deals its first wild card.
A baby, who shall not remain nameless – let’s call her X, as in ‘X marks the spot’, ‘X factor’, Xtreme, Xaspirating – arcs up. She has impeccable breeding: out of Dentist Drill by Can’t Find the Off Button.
It must be a nightmare for the parents. They have, for whatever reason, eschewed other forms of transport. Now their child is in pain from the altitude, thereby consigning the passengers to a similar state.
They feed their offspring with baby and breast concealed inside a tent-like sweat lodge affair. This is so modest and seems so intent on removing any notion of the naturalness of nourishment and the human body that I wonder how we, as members of such a society, manage to conceive babies in the first place.
They sing themselves hoarse. The rest of us hum along to half-remembered nursery songs, our vocal chords straining in vain hope of a collective breakthrough.
The (increasingly desperate) parents rock, stroke, jiggle and pat. These actions are punctuated by a parade of their recently acquired majority share in Toys-R-Us. A cornucopia of distracting items is produced, each with a hopeful flourish.
But X steadfastly refuses to be deterred, soothed or otherwise silenced. Her master plan evidently involves a feat of endurance for us all, ending only in disembarkation when X, mission accomplished, will promptly fall asleep. Still, as with any marathon, we may all emerge at the end as better, stronger human beings.
Parents do their utmost to secure a peaceful flight for their baby and hence other passengers. But what of the man who sits behind me and removes his shoes? He places them carefully under my seat, thus ensuring maximum stenchy waft in my specific direction.
What responsibility does he have to me and the people sitting next to him? What is the correct balance of his physical comfort and our olfactory amenity?
It’s a delicate business, telling someone they smell. (It seems juvenile and cowardly to palm the task off on a hostess.) The difficulty depends on his level of knowledge. The man who doesn’t know he ponks is an entirely different beast from the one who does and happily subjects others to his odour, exploiting their reluctance to confront him about his ill manners. (I place myself in this basket.)
I am pondering how to phrase my revelation and request when The BB points to a vacant set of seats nearby. Like a conspirator, I nod my agreement and we leave the man to his own smelly fug.
So he and I have a reprieve. He from having to ask himself one of the hard questions of Life: Do I give a fig? Me from having to engage a stranger on a personal level and possibly shatter his illusions about his bodily hygiene.
It’s easier to feel kindly disposed towards people whose behaviour aligns with a sense of social responsibilty than with those who might be adopting a more cavalier approach. One may even carelessly attribute attitude and motivation to each.