Whenever I get on a plane, I tend to think about that bit at the beginning of Fight Club where Tyler Durden chats a bit about planes. He talks about how pointless the seatbelts are and how the brace position is only a technique established by the men in black to keep your teeth with your body for identification purposes after your plane has smacked a big rock. Whilst I have occasionally repeated these theories to unsettle some of my travelling companions before, this time I was sans friend and I had to look to another piece of his aeroplane philosophy: the single-serving friend. I always hype myself up when I’m about to get on a flight. Who on earth might I be sitting next to? What wonderful stories will they have to tell?
The reality is, that the only exchange I will make with the person next to me is the gradual exchange of germs and occasional crumbs if the bread roll is a bit stale. If they are especially large, I might have a bit of them over- and underflowing the armrest- but Emirates are quite good, they give you more horizontal than other airlines. On my first flight, I got on bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and I found that my two travelling companions would be an elderly couple. Ah, yes! Older people always have more stories to tell! There was an evident topic of conversation I could immediately use to engage in my long-awaited hotly-contested badinage of intriguing anecdotes: the woman, who sat next to me, appeared to be nursing a burn on her hand with a bag of ice. I did have sympathy for her at first, but then, after my opening conversational gambits cut through any veneer of stiff upper lip, I found out how she had done it. Rightly or wrongly I found it quite funny: she had burnt it opening a microwave meal because she hadn’t put holes in it with a fork. Lol. I gauged from the caliber of that story that they might not be the intrepid travellers or ex-criminal masterminds I was looking for, and although the working hours of an assassin may require some cutting of corners in the kitchen, on balance I went for a safer bet and I settled for Despicable Me 2. During the flight her attention clearly strayed from the melting bag of ice that rested on her lap. About 3 hours in she fell asleep and accidentally punctured the bag with her fingernail. She got a bit of icy water on my crotch, but thankfully she absolutely soaked her own lap, and her husband flipped a nut at her for getting his aviation book wet, can’t really blame him, it didn’t look like many copies of it had been printed…
Then I arrived at Male. I switched my phone off safe mode. “James. You may have some problems with your visa”. You wot. I rang up and was told that despite my employers having already completed a visa application for my last stay, they manage to completely fudge it up this time. They suggested I go through as a tourist, but then five minutes later I got a call saying that I could actually go up to the desk and just explain my visa was on the system. So like a proper tit I walked up and said: Look, I don’t have a visa, but I’m pretty sure you should be letting me in. Nice lady looks it up on the computer. Computer says no. Look, I’m sure it’s on there, look talk to my employer on the phone. Nodding and uh-huhs follow and it turns out my employer has told her that it is still being processed and that I will have to wait half an hour. My passport is then held and I have to sit in the passport area. Half an hour passes and I call my guy, “Yes James, it will be another 3 hours.” You wot. Two and a half hours pass and 7 flights worth of tourists enter the Maldives. I was without food, without water and hadn’t slept in 24 hours; especially after water-on-crotch-gate so I went a bit stir crazy. But nevertheless I tried to embrace the moment, after all aren’t these moments what a gap year is for? For the first time in my life, I was an “illegal”, potentially trying to enter a country under malign pretenses and I had to fit the bill. I made myself a “I’m hungry” sign and listened to my music while looking folorn and slightly ill-intentioned. I realised after twenty minutes that my phone had been repeating my 3 gangsta rap songs on loop, which no doubt added to my vibes. Despite my surely intimidating façade, I managed to get some food off a lovely Chinese lady, which included a suspicious biscuit.
I actually fell asleep on the metal bench and awoke to a passport officer prodding my shoulder. “Mr James, you are free to go”. And five and a half hours after I touched down in Malé, I completed my Long Walk to Duty Freedom.