Can You Keep a Secret?
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Why am I even looking at this? How will it help me to gaze at pictures of little stick people jumping into the ocean while their plane explodes behind them? I stuff the safety instructions quickly back in their pocket and take a gulp of champagne.
'Excuse me, madam.' An air hostess with red curls has appeared by my side. 'Are you travelling on business?'
'Yes,' I say, smoothing down my hair with a prickle of pride. 'Yes I am.'
She hands me a leaflet entitled 'Executive Facilities', on which there's a photo of businesspeople talking animatedly in front of a clipboard with a wavy graph on it.
'This is some information about our new business class lounge at Gatwick. We provide full conference call facilities, and meeting rooms, should you require them. Would you be interested?'
OK. I am a top businesswoman. I am a top highflying business executive.
'Quite possibly,' I say, looking nonchalantly at the leaflet. 'Yes, I may well use one of these rooms to … brief my team. I have a large team, and obviously they need a lot of briefing. On business matters.' I clear my throat. 'Mostly … logistical.'
'Would you like me to book you a room now?' says the hostess helpfully.
'Er, no thanks,' I say after a pause, 'My team is currently … at home. I gave them all the day off.'
'Right.' The hostess looks a little puzzled.
'But another time, maybe,' I say quickly. 'And while you're here — I was just wondering, 'is that sound normal?'
'What sound?' The air hostess cocks her head.
That sound. That kind of whining, coming from the wing?'
'I can't hear anything.' She looks at me sympathetically. 'Are you a nervous flyer?'
'No!' I say at once, and give a little laugh. 'No, I'm not nervous! I just … was wondering. Just out of interest.'
'I'll see if I can find out for you,' she says kindly. 'Here you are, sir. Some information about our executive facilities at Gatwick.'
The American man takes his leaflet wordlessly and puts it down without even looking at it, and the hostess moves on, staggering a little as the plane gives a bump.
Why is the plane bumping?
Oh God. A sudden rush of fear hits me with no warning. This is madness. Madness! Sitting in this big heavy box, with no way of escape, thousands and thousands of feet above the ground …
I can't do this on my own. I have an overpowering need to talk to someone. Someone reassuring. Someone safe.
Instinctively I fish out my mobile phone, but immediately the air hostess swoops down on me.
'I'm afraid you can't use that on board the plane,' she says with a bright smile. 'Could you please ensure that it's switched off?'
'Oh. Er … sorry.'
Of course I can't use my mobile. They've only said it about fifty-five zillion times. I am such a durr-brain. Anyway, never mind. It doesn't matter. I'm fine. I put the phone away in my bag, and try to concentrate on an old episode of Fawlty Towers which is showing on the screen.
Maybe I'll start counting again. Three hundred and forty-nine. Three hundred and fifty. Three hundred and—
Fuck. My head jerks up. What was that bump? Did we just get hit?
OK, don't panic. It was just a bump. I'm sure everything's fine. We probably just flew into a pigeon or something. Where was I?
Three hundred and fifty-one. Three hundred and fifty-two. Three hundred and fifty—
And that's it.
That's the moment.
Everything seems to fragment.
I hear the screams like a wave over my head, almost before I realize what's happening.
Oh God. Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh … OH … NO. NO. NO.
We're falling. Oh God, we're falling.
We're plummeting downwards. The plane's dropping through the air like a stone. A man over there has just shot up through the air and banged his head on the ceiling. He's bleeding. I'm gasping, clutching onto my seat, trying not to do the same thing, but I can feel myself being wrenched upwards, it's like someone's tugging me, like gravity's suddenly switched the other way. There's no time to think. My mind can't … Bags are flying around, drinks are spilling, one of the cabin crew has fallen over, she's clutching at a seat …
Oh God. Oh God. OK, it's slowing down now. It's … it's better.
Fuck. I just … I just can't … I …
I look at the American man, and he's grasping his seat as tightly as I am.
I feel sick. I think I might be sick. Oh God.
OK. It's … it's kind of … back to normal.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' comes a voice over the intercom, and everyone's heads jerk up. 'This is your captain speaking.'