It was evening. One of those summer evenings that you want to sit in the garden and enjoy a good glass of wine, a book, some olives. Instead there I was, I was fighting a deadline and was stuck with Mrs. Nomad.
“This is a must!”, she cried. A must can mean anything as far as the photographer is concerned. It could be a beaver print bikini or a fast car too small to store a beaver print bikini to begin with. Those exhaust-fumes spitting race cars that make me gasp for air. I have to take a train now and again just to compensate for her climatic misconduct.
We had two days before leaving on an assignment to Spain and I was suffering a from a paralyzing deadline. So I ignored her.
“She is exactly the woman I need”, the photographer continued.
“Who?” I asked.
“The woman from Alpine .”
An image of a stout woman sprung to my mind. Wearing an apron and carrying a bucket full of homemade fermented yogurt. The kind of woman that would invite us on a press trip specialized in cow massage in a region even senior citizens wouldn’t bother go to. Not even by force. Like Graubünden or Steiermark.
“And what does the Alpine cow woman want?”
“It is not a woman, it is a brand. She wants us to test earplugs.”
“I beg your pardon? Earplugs?”
“I can tell you won’t be needing them”, said Nomad. “But if I am going to spend coming weekend sharing a hotel room with you, these things will save my live.”
“Stop being a drama queen”, I said. “Besides I did hear you, but what I meant to say, is that we don’t do consumer testing.”
“We do now”, she answered dryly.
Rich and famous
“Listen Nomad, our goal was to be rich and famous. Not to become the ultimate earplug testers.” “Well”, she shrugged, “You have to start somewhere. Besides, I would love to sleep for once in a bed instead of behind the service lift just because your snoring is keeping the entire hotel population awake.”
I wondered whether the Alpine cow woman had mouth gags that needed testing.
On the day of our departure a big envelope was delivered, containing four small boxes. Two for each of us. Yellow earplugs for a good night’s rest and black ones for a pleasant flight. According to the leaflet we would never again suffer from noisy passengers, while we still would be able to hear essential instructions, in case the plane would crash. The latter I thought highly unlikely since messages through the intercom are completely incomprehensible anyways.
Another advantage of the plugs was, according to the information, that they reduced pressure on the ears. And, last but not least, they were hardly visible. That did it for me! I had really no intention of dribbling down the aisle looking like a cow with flashy plastic in my ears.
In Nomad’s fast car we spurted to Amsterdam Airport. At the full-body scanner the photographer was send back. “You have to keep your arms above your head and put your feet in the white circle. Stay put during the scan.” The photographer ignored the security guy and once again stepped through the glass box without standing still. The man went for his gun. “Nomad, for god’s sake take out your earplugs”, I shouted.
At the gate the photographer quarreled with a fat guy who tried to jump the queue while almost knocking her out. The kind of man everybody hopes he doesn’t turn out to be sitting next to you during the flight.
We took our seat in the back row. Behind us the stewardesses were rummaging. “The plane is full”, I heard one of them say. And then I saw him. Wobbling undisturbed towards row 30.
No! Way! He didn’t even fit in three chairs, let alone in one! Seat 30B to be precise. Between the A of Nomad and the C of Villager.
I had heard that when travelling together you should choose the aisle and the window seat. In case the plane is not full it will leave you with three seats since no one voluntarily chooses the one in the middle.
Believe me this was far from voluntary, as far as we were concerned. As he sank into his tiny chair, fat gushed over the armrests. Surviving possible calamities with or without earplugs, was no longer an option. I was S-t-u-c-k! “Ohgodogodogod”, Nomad moaned. “If he leans to the left, you no longer have a partner.” Tempting, I must admit.
People that weigh eight times your weight, deserve respect, so I introduced myself politely. I omitted the hand shaking part because my hand was stuck somewhere underneath the aluminium armrest. The man did not react. He just stared at me blankly. “Maybe he doesn’t hear you, because of his earplugs, Nomad joked.
In front of me a baby started crying. Next to me, across the aisle, I heard the bleep bleep of a computer game. That was the moment the airline decided to treat us to some collective happiness, so Pharrel Williams blared his state of mind into the cabin.
To my surprise, we did take off without any problems despite the overweight between us. I was just trying to figure out how I was going to make clear to this lump of grease that I had to go to the toilet, when all of a sudden there was this loud rupture. As if the plane was breaking in two. “Nomad, we are dead meat. We are going down!”, I screamed.
“No, it is just him coughing”, she yelled back, from behind this meat mountain. “Put in your earplugs and close your eyes.”
I considered putting in all four earplugs for a maximum effect. According to the description the plugs are made of thermo-reactive elastomer: a soft, flexible material and therefor always fit. Then I decided against it and only used the fly fit plugs.
And then it became quiet. Well not quite, but at least the coughing now sounded like the breathing of someone with asthma. The baby seemed to be smothered with a pillow, which got me so anxious that I kept trying to find out whether it was still alive.
Somehow, at some point, I must have dozed off because I woke up from a stewardess pulling my arm “We are about to land. Do you have any idea where the gentleman next to you has gone?” Gentleman? I looked up in surprise. Apparently the lump of fat had climbed over me, without me noticing. What was even stranger was that a man of his size could just evaporate on a plane.
During the descend the pressure on my ears remained absent, so did my neighbor. As we were the last ones to depart the plane, we saw a man with a toolbox trying to pry the toilet door open. “Pushing inwards is no option”, we heard him say. “Too much pressure on the door. I am going to try to take out the door, but if that doesn’t work I will have to cut it open”, he said to the pilot who stood there with his hands in his pockets.
“The thing is, with these earplugs”, said Mrs. Nomad thoughtful while we were waiting at the belt, “is that you’re missing all the fun. How could we have possibly missed the fact that the guy was stuck for two hours on a toilet?”
Text: Anneke de Bundel – Image: Nicole Franken