Back the other way

There’s plenty worse: I could be in prison, in hospital, shipwrecked, a hostage, or trapped in a lift with Vladimir Putin. Instead, I’m on my way to Perfume Island, aka Mayotte.

But still, it’s an ordeal. 24K. Middle seat. Can’t lean my head against the window, can’t stretch my legs in the aisle. Crumpled up like a piece of origami gone wrong. Eleven hours to go.

It’s one of those low cost jobs, no frills. So I don’t have an interactive screen in front of me with games and music and films, not even the cool map that shows the plane wriggling over the planet.

Food. They do give us food. It’s one in the morning and no one’s hungry but what the hell? There’s nothing else to do.


Seventeen minutes later…


The trays are taken away and I surreptitiously wipe the sauce I’ve spilled down my pullover. I’m wedged between a short, bulky man with a grizzly face and a very tall woman with blonde hair. The man detects my accent and talks to me about London. Then about Paris. Then about Arabs, Muslims and bombs. It’s a safe bet he belongs to the National Front. I stop replying, grunt dismissively and pretend to go to sleep.

Then I talk to the woman and she’s fine. We talk about sharks, as one does on long haul flights. She lives in La Réunion, where bathing’s been forbidden because swimmers and surfers keep getting eaten. Sometimes it’s just a leg or an arm for hors d’oeuvre, sometimes the whole main course.

Lights out. For the next eight hours, in between trying out various origami shapes, I dip in and out of sleep. Then lo and behold, breakfast! And I’m so happy that although the pain au chocolat is made of plastic, I eat it.


And then it’s over. I unfold my limbs and step outside. I’m back in Mayotte and all is right with the world. All except for the grizzly-faced racist, that is.

The post above was an oldie, one of my very first from over a year ago. I was flying out to Mayotte and now I’ve just flown back. But I thought I’d post it again because the experience was pretty much the same. Somewhat better this time, perhaps, as I had a screen and an aisle seat and I wasn’t next to a racist. I was next to a Comorian woman whose accent I couldn’t understand. We had a sort of conversation, me nodding every so often and putting on different expressions – amused, sympathetic, shocked – and hoping they fitted. Not that it mattered if they did or not – she just just kept on talking. I don’t think it was about sharks.

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  1. This was a fabulous piece and very enjoyable. I really like your style of writing. Small sentences but so packed with detail that you have to read closely to glean everything. And it’s great to re-read because there is always something you might have missed. Rich writing, they call it. I like airplane food, for some reason. I always get hungry on planes.

    • Thanks, Lenora! To be honest, I quite like the food experience too. A bit like going on a picnic when I was young, everything wrapped up neatly in its own little space. And the challenge of eating it – like a Houdini escape routine.

  2. At first, I took it for fiction — an excerpt from Perfume Island, perhaps. To learn it was your actual experience set me to giggling, and now I can’t find the off switch.

  3. I love travelling, but I HATE the problems in flying -especially long distances- I could add some more disaters… but then when I look at my photos and my good times in the place I visited…it seems I forget the problems in the plane…haha

  4. You capture the feeling of flying very well in a sharp writing voice. I always wonder at the amount of food they insist on throwing at us, particularly during international flights. The set up, the clean up. And hardly anyone’s hungry.

  5. Like Sue Ranscht in her above comment, I was settling into what I thought would be of your fictional tales, but alas whether truth or conjured…your writing is always so interesting.
    All my best to you Curtis. 🐞

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