I have never hit anyone as an adult. I decide that the right time to do it is when we are 33,000 feet in the air on a 12-hour long flight.
We smiled at each other in economy resignation sociality, as I got out of my aisle seat and she slides into the cramped space of the middle seat.
As we settle down, trying to defy physics and compress ourselves in the misleadingly called 34 inches of ‘comfort’, she makes a joke: “this is going to be Cosy!”
I smile politely and remind her we are going back to The Netherlands; gezellig (lazy) is what we live by. More polite smiles. When you have 12 hours to spend next to each other, shoulders rubbing, elbows navigating the 1.5 inches of the armrest, you learn to be polite and laugh at bad jokes.
It isn’t long before personal spaces have been established, and we are all immersed in the lulling immersion of in-flight entertainment, the sonic landscape of noise cancellation headphones distracting us from the cramps and tightnesses that are offered as a free service on long-haul flights.
3 hours into the flight, I come back from a saunter to the galley, grabbing water, when she looks up at me. “I know this is going to sound very silly but would you mind changing seats with me?”
I pause for a bit to see if this is some kind of a bad joke – the famous Dutch sense of humour that I don’t always get. It isn’t. She is in earnest. I look at her and very measuredly tell her that won’t be possible. There was still 8 hours of flight time left and there was no way I was going to subject myself to the agony of a middle seat wedge-in.
She gives a halfway smile. “Yes. I know. It’s just… this seat is so tight. “
“You can ask the cabin crew if they have other seats”. I offered cliche ridden wisdom.
“ I already did. It is a full flight. Sorry to ask you.” She tries to shrink herself in the seat as I mumble half-audible apologies and go back to watching the antics of Deadpool.
Somewhere in the riveting superhero adventures, I have dozed off. There is this back-of-mind recognition that I should try and sleep as much as I can to avoid thinking about the slow cramp building in my right calf. Even as I am ignoring the cocoon-like reborn tightness of the posture, I feel like my world is shrinking in.
The girl next to me has raised the arm-rest between us and is now spilling over in my heavily restricted real-estate. Her elbow is definitely poking against my flab, which, much as I dislike, is still mine and not used to this kind of bruising assaults. Her legs are at an awkward angle, knocking against my octopussian knees.
After 5 minutes of semi-dreaming that I had reincarnated as a scratching post, I open my eyes in complaint. I see her wide awake, not blinking, and crouching towards me, subjecting me to unsolicited reflexology.
As I turn my reprimanding eyes I notice that she is leaving precious inches on the other side. Now, I am all for people throwing themselves at me and gratified that my charms and attractions are cutting through my hobo sweater and the dried snugness of long-haul flight, but I decided it is time to draw some boundaries.
Even as I prepare to say something, ungluing the tongue which has, of course, retired to the back of the mouth and feels like sandpaper, I see her gasp and draw in a deep breath and her body flinch.
I notice that since I last talked to her, she seemed to have grown extra appendages. Or rather, there is a hand on her body, grazing the under-thigh. She squirms to get away from this mutant formation but it is right there. Insistent. Probing. Squiggling.
And I look at the man on the other side of her. The Chinese bro wearing his black t-shirt with a silverish neon ‘Ninja’ written on it, his biceps bulging with perversion, is using this long flight to catch up with his daily quota of groping women.
Even as I register all this, blinking like I am Mary Poppins, barely able to register all that I am seeing, he catches my eye. And instead of hastily correcting himself, he gives me a grin – the kind that belongs to the bottom of a pond – and winks at me as he very obviously punches her.
In that split second that he does that and she gasps, even before I can think of anything to say, some involuntary muscles take over. I lean across the person next to me, and with a wrist action that makes me consider a future career in professional golfing, I slap the bro hard on his smug face. It was a slap so hard, it hurt my hand. His designer hipster glasses fly off his face. While I nurse my aching hand and wonder if I should apply hand cream to avoid blisters, and you know, because any excuse to apply hand cream, the woman heaves in relief and starts crying.
The bro, his senses finally returning, starts raising Cain, or whatever the Chinese equivalence might be. There is an animal roar and he gets us and shouts at me, apparently wanting to punch me, but the woman was getting in the way. I get up from my seat and ask her to give us some space. In the meantime, hearing the uproar in the dimmed cabin, the cabin crew, shaken from their tasks of stealing business class goodies, has assembled all around us.
The bro, his cheek smarting red, and half crying and half snotting, has gone into paroxysms of rage and blathering in Mandarin, The young woman, now freely crying, is garrulously talking to the flight attendant. I am left standing there, wondering what happens next.
Two cabin crew members take the bro away somewhere. I am presuming secret dungeons where they keep the snakes. They come back and talk to me and the woman. We tell what happened. They make notes. They tell us that it is a full flight so they can’t move us anywhere but they will keep the bro somewhere away.
They feed us water, and for some strange reason bring us cup noodles. Ramen, apparently, is protocol comfort food. They talk to us and ask the woman if she wants to make an official complaint. She waivers. She decides no. She just wants this to be over and go home.
They now turn to me, I am told that the man is very angry and he wants to press charges of violence against me. “If he does that, sir, there will be police in Amsterdam who will meet us at the gates and you might have to spend some time with them explaining what has happened. “
By now, all my fellow passengers, their boredom interrupted by high power drama are, of course, listening with all their might, and as soon as she says this, there is another uproar. 5 people, their wrists ready in mimetic action are angry and shouting in colourful Dutch at the cabin crew attendants. They are furious that instead of being celebrated for the slap of the century, I was being threatened with possible police action.
The senior purser calms them down. “ I am not threatening him. I just want him to know that this is the protocol. But if it happens, I am going to tell you sir, that the entire crew is going to come with you, and this young lady, if she wants, can also join us. I want to thank you for doing this, and I am glad that you did. My hands are tied, but yours aren’t and we are very proud of this. I don’t want you to worry but I want you to be prepared.”
Two other passengers now are slapping me on my back and saying that if this happens, they are also coming with me to the cops. Nothing is going to happen to me.
We are settling down when the cabin crew comes with glasses of champagne for me, my neighbour, and the 5 people who had stepped in. I ask sheepishly if I can change mine for Diet Coke. Hilarity Ensues. Things finally settle down.
An hour before landing, the senior purser comes to me again and tells me that the bro is not going to make any official charges. We land. As I am hauling my fat ass out, the pilot stops me at the flight gate and shakes my hand and thanks me. A basket is shoved into my hands. It has alcohol and chocolates. Everybody else is looking at me. I am feeling very sheepish.
I get out, holding a festive gift basket. At baggage claim, the young woman and I are together again. Bags arrive. We are talking and walking out. I give her the gift basket. She cries a bit. Gives me a hug and a big kiss on the cheeks.
We say goodbye and disappear into the Schiphol crowd.
I sit on the train and type this. Occasionally looking at my hand with respect. It obviously has taken carpe jugulum as it’s war cry. I feel like I am a little afraid, that all those Adams Family cartoons have resulted in the hand developing a brain of its own. My hand might be cousin It. Also, I am never going to use the phrase “talk to the hand” ever again, scared of what it might do when I am not thinking.
Story By – Nishant Shah
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