Thursday, November 11, 2010

Plane drunk.

Location: Somewhere between Sydney and Hong Kong

My fascination with the young girl began before we'd even left the tarmac.

I do that sometimes; become fascinated with people. I believe it’s the organic bud living inside me that has flowered all of my deeply-loved interests:

Acting - people’s stories.

Books - people’s stories.

Journalism - people’s stories.

Occasionally, I will see a person that interests me, for no reason known to me (or them), and I will quietly think about them until my mind wave is blown in a new direction. This often happens in places like planes, buses and trains, where I have little else to do except contemplate these strangers that surround me. Who are they? What are their lives like? Where are they going? Are they happy?

A few days ago I became fascinated with a young girl sitting right across the aisle from me on my flight back to Hong Kong from Sydney.

She was beautiful: early twenties, blonde hair, wide smile, and eyes far bluer than the ocean that chased us down below. Every time she locked eyes with me I was wowed by their intensity. I wondered who she was. She seemed happy. Relaxed.

The girl was traveling with an older lady I assumed was her mum. She took photos of the clouds outside the window and turned and smiled to her mum multiple times. My mind wave soon blew into a new direction and I forgot about the mother and daughter pair.

We all settled into our flight.

Soon after our first meal, when I was finally relaxing back in my seat, outside of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a small light-coloured animal on the floor next to me.

I glanced down with alarm and realised it was the young blonde girl’s hair, and that she was lying on the ground, squeezed in below her mother’s feet. I thought it was a little strange and wanted to tap on her blonde mane and warn, “You’re not allowed to sleep on the floor you know,” but I was too shy. The steward can tell her that, I thought.

I looked at girl’s mother, who was staring straight ahead, her TV set off. She was just looking straight into the back of the seat in front of her, with a completely dead face. It was like she didn’t even know her daughter was wriggling around on the floor below her feet. I thought that was strange too, but went back to my movie.

Around twenty minutes later, we were around three hours into our flight, when I noticed the young blonde girl was back in her seat and trying to climb over the seat in front of her to reach two old Chinese ladies sitting there. They looked worried and she looked agitated, so I removed my earphones to see what was going on. I heard the girl aggressively yell to her mum to, "SHUT UP!!" Again, more strange.

The old Chinese ladies were unnerved and looking at each other in alarm, as the young girl reached out to grab them with her fingers like a monkey. They didn’t speak a drop of English and began urgently chatting to each other in Mandarin, clearly freaked out and wondering what the girl wanted from them.

“Excushe me, do you have a cigarette?” the girl asked them, in a slurry, spaced out way.

A cigarette??? I thought. This is a plane!! What is she thinking?

The girl saw me looking at her and smiled at me with her eyes half closed, which is when I realised she was mind blowingly drunk. Completely and utterly intoxicated. Pissed. Inebriated. Blotto.

I went into a mini state of shock at how someone who was clearly stone-cold-sober when we got on, could be so drunk within three hours of taking off. I didn’t recall the steward pouring her any drinks at all. WTF?

But there was no doubt. She was totally off her face.

"Exchuuuse me, hic, do you, hic, have a, hic, cigarette?" she asked me.

Before I could even reply, she began fumbling through all her bags, her hair messed up in her face, clearly on a mission for cigarettes. She didn’t find one and moved onto her mother’s bags.

I looked at her mum, who was making that same dead face. She wasn’t looking at her daughter, or at the Chinese ladies, or at me. She just looked straight ahead and didn’t flinch. No response at all.

At that moment the male steward came walking down the aisle and clearly hadn’t seen the girl.

I was about to stop him and alert him to the intoxicated passenger, but the young girl herself beat me to it. She saw the man coming and drunkenly reached out to stop him.

“Exchushe me…”

The man looked down hurriedly and asked with a smile, “What can I get for you?”

“Do you, hic, have a, hic, cigarette?”

The steward’s face crushed into a frown.

“I’ll pay you…” she pleaded. “I’ll, hic, sherioushly buy it, hic, off you.” She looked deadly serious, alright. This girl wasn’t making a joke.

“You can’t smoke in here, this is an aeroplane!” said the steward sternly.

He stood back and sized her up. “Are you feeling alright mam?”

The girl dropped into her seat and started giggling sleepily and shaking her head around. At that point I jumped in and said to the steward that the girl seemed really drunk and was starting to get out of control. The whole cigarette thing was starting to freak me out.

“Yes. She’s been drinking and I couldn’t stop her,” the mum suddenly turned and chimed in, as if she had suddenly snapped into reality.

The steward questioned the mum about what the girl had been drinking and whether she was on any medication. The mum reached down under her daughter's seat and handed the steward a large size vodka bottle.

There was only around a quarter left.

“She drunk all that??!” the steward snapped with concern.

He took the words right out of my mouth.

Three-quarters of a bottle of vodka before we’d even reached the halfway point. I had been sitting next to the girl the whole time, and I hadn’t noticed a thing. Had she been drinking it while she was lying on the floor? Did she go to the bathroom with her water bottle multiple times and replace it with straight vodka? How did she pull that off?

I was shocked. And worried. I’m a worrier and will always jump to the most dire possibility of events. Plus, B wasn’t on this flight, which means there was noone to calm me down.

The girl finds a cigarette in her bag, lights up, has a physical fight with the steward over the cigarette, the cigarette falls into a corner and noone can find it – the plane catches on fire and we all perish.

The girl decides she’s had enough of this confined space, wonders down the aisle, finds a door and opens it. The plane door opens and we all perish.

As I contemplated how many ways this drunk girl could cause my untimely death, I heard the girl shouting out to the steward.

“Kissh me!” she slurred… “C’mon, kissh me, I know you want to, hic, all the guys, hic, do…” She reached out to grab him and the steward embarrassingly fought her off her drunken clawing hands.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, made even more awkward by the fact that the steward was clearly gay.

As the girl became more agitated and restless, the steward repeatedly asked her to calm down and reminded her she was on an aeroplane flying at 35,000 feet. He told her she could be arrested for consuming her own alcohol on the flight.

“Whaaaat?” she asked and giggled, shaking her head with her messed up hair falling in her face… “That’s shilly… we’re not on a, hic, plane, you’re, hic, crazzzzy… I’m going, hic, home…” She tried to crawl out of her seat to leave, legs and arms all over the place, but she couldn’t as the steward was blocking her path.

Great. The girl doesn’t even realise we’re on an aeroplane. She’s surely going to open the door and we’re all gonna perish. And here I had been expecting engine trouble on Qantas!

Two senior stewards came down the aisle from first class and began questioning the girl and her mum. By now many of the passengers in our economy cabin were wondering what was going on as the drunk passenger became progressively louder and more agitated. I couldn’t believe I was sitting right next to her.

The mum appeared scared stiff and spoke with a voice as tiny as a mouse’s might be, explaining that her daughter was 21 years old and was on also on medication. She handed the stewards a bunch of pills and I suddenly felt an enormous sense of fear and sorrow for this family.

I also couldn’t help but wonder why the mum had allowed the girl to buy the vodka at the airport, much less guzzle it on the plane. But I could suspect the answer just by looking at the mum.

The fight had gone right out of her. She had been dealing with this for a long time. I wanted to reach out to her but I stayed in my place. This had absolutely nothing to do with me.

As the mum quietly went through the medication with the stewards the girl became extremely agitated and turned violent. She began shouting and grabbing at her mum. None of what she said made sense, but she was clearly blaming her mum for something.

“It’s all, hic, YOU!” she shouted, accusingly through her tears. Her mum cowered in her seat.

“YOU did, hic, this….”

As the girl started taking violent swings I moved over to the empty seat next to me. I was surely the next to get clobbered as she turned progressively wilder.

There were now several stewards crowding around the girl and all passengers within view were staring at the unfolding events.

“Mam, if you don’t calm down, we’re going to have to restrain you,” said the head steward.

The girl turned positively ferocious as they tried to hold her arms down and then, without warning, her face fell and her eyes closed back in her head. I think we all realised at the same time she was having a seizure as her body shook violently and she crashed and fell to the ground, her head slamming on the side of my seat on the way down.

The staff appealed for a medically trained person through the P.A. but there were none on this flight. We all panicked.

The older man in front of me lept out of his seat and grabbed the girl, making constant eye contact with her and repeatedly saying, look at me… look at me… just relax… breathe… look at me… and it eventually worked. The girl’s seizure wore off and she gazed up at the man as her body relaxed and she came to. She lay there for a few moments and began slurring again and trying to stand up. By now she was making no sense at all.

The stewards carried her out and that was the last I saw of the girl.

I sat there in a state of shock at what I had seen, when her mum turned to me and started talking.

And talking.

We talked for nearly two hours and the movie I had been watching was long forgotten.

Her mum, who was also very obviously highly medicated, seemingly wanted to talk to someone, so I listened to her heartbreaking story.

The woman had decided to try and rescue her daughter from her depression by taking her to a Hong Kong – a city of bright lights and shopping. The woman was a recent cancer survivor and all her doctors and some of her friends had strongly advised her against taking her daughter on a plane. Apparently, this sort of thing had happened before.

I felt so sad for them, even though I knew she wouldn’t have wanted my pity. The woman had had such high hopes for a trip of fresh beginnings and now her daughter had been taken away, with a doctor waiting at the other end of the flight.

After we spoke, the girl’s mum spent the rest of the flight staring into the back seat in front of her, with two brand new passports sitting forgotten in her lap. She held her stomach with fear as to what would come next.

I am not a mum. I don’t have a daughter. I cannot begin to imagine how one could try to maintain care and responsibility over someone so out of control. I can imagine the pain of having a close family member in such a situation. But not a daughter.

As I walked off the plane, past a waiting doctor and a bunch of security guards, I wished I had given the mum my phone number in Hong Kong, just in case they ran into any trouble on their trip. She certainly looked as if she had her hands full.

Or maybe everything would turn out just fine.

Maybe I didn’t need to always imagine the most dire possibility of events.

Maybe the young girl would wake up with no more than a hangover and a string of regrets. And she would spend the rest of the trip shopping with her mum and drinking Jasmine tea.

It’s not my place to know.

It’s not my place to ask.

But it is my place to take better care of myself and of those around me.

And we can't help but notice people in trouble and want the best for them.

I do hope the mother and daughter pair are having a lovely trip in Hong Kong. Or at the very least, a safe flight home.

1 comment:

  1. WOW!!
    What a sad story and how traumatic to watch.
    Fingers crossed they are having an enjoyable time in Hong Kong X


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