I felt my eyes fill up with pathetic little tears. The plane was jumping around in the sky, but no more than what ‘they say’ (whoever they are) is normal. I hate it. Turbulence I mean. I really do. I used to love flying, but recently on short haul flights – mainly over Asia – I’ve experienced too much turbulence for my liking.
Okay, I know the facts; you’re safer in a plane than in a car, and there’s barely any fatalities in flying if you really look at the stats, but still, sometimes I just get a little freaked.
This particular flight, I was heading from Luang Prabang in Laos, to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia with two lovely pals Roxanne and Dan that I’d met a few days earlier. Sadly we weren’t seated anywhere near each other, I was right near the back, a thought that instantly brought my mum’s voice to my head “Oh you don’t want to be at the back, that’s where you feel the bumps more”. Great.
I took to my seat – well, actually I pulled a sneaky one and took the window seat – when my neighbour arrived. “It’s okay you can stay in the window if you like”, he said as I was about to move, apologetically but secretly delighted. I like to look out the window, the view relaxes me. Plus, I can lean on the window to nap, of course.
He was lovely, my new pal. “Elnur”, he said his name was, “from Azerbaijan”. He seemed around my age, with a kind face and dark hair. Our seat C person never turned up, so it was just us for the duration of the flight. As the plane hurtled down the runway ready to take lift, I felt the anxiety hit me. My heart rate quickened and my breaths shortened. My hand almost reflexively gripped slightly tighter to the arm rest and I couldn’t concentrate on reading my book. Why was this happening? I don’t really understand where this sudden fear has come from, flying has been such an adventure for me since I was a child, and take off was always the best part. So why now, after probably 30 odd flights in my lifetime, was I being such a wuss?
Anyway, I was, and then we were up. The seatbelt sign went off, and I calmed.
Elnur and I had such wonderful chats. He told me about his whirlwind trip around Asia, his home in Azerbaijan, his job, how he hosts couch-surfers. He told me the story about how he recently found a phone in Laos, went to the police, got photos with the police and the report and left a message for the owner. He was an all round wonderful guy, who was about to get a whole lot wonderful-er.
Part way in to the flight, deep in conversation, the turbulence hit. Now, I make this sound like it was insane amounts of wobble, when in reality, it was a few bumps, but it was enough to make the captain switch the seatbelt signs back on and my stomach to hide under itself. I panicked.
Elnur noticed my panic, and was slightly bewildered by it. He was cool as a cucumber (don’t you just love that phrase?) and seemed genuinely confused, if slightly amused, by my nervousness.
Remember this post, when I had to hold the little old Indian lady’s hand? Well, that came full circle as there I was, almost in tears, when Elnur grabbed hold of my hand. “It’s okay don’t worry!” he said. “There’s nothing to be scared about.” I knew that, but my subconscious wasn’t having it. He continued to hold my hand, and started talking to me about anything and everything he could think of, whilst keeping extremely calm and totally sweet. He even kissed my hand at one point if I remember right. Isn’t that the sweetest thing? I was a total stranger to him, and here he was, doing his upmost to keep me calm and relaxed.
The whole ordeal happened two or three times throughout the flight. Perhaps a little more, and each time felt like it lasted for ages, when in reality it was probably only about five minutes.
Still, five minutes of panic is five minutes more than I’d like when I’m being held in a metal bubble at 500mph, 6 miles above the ground.
By the time the wheels touched ground in KL (thank heavens), Elnur and I were firm friends. It’s easy to get caught up in your own shit every day, but people like him remind us all that a small act of kindness goes a long, long way. If you see someone in a panic, or in a distressed situation, check in. Even something so small as eye contact and a smile can change everything. We need more Elnur’s in this world!
Elnur, if you ever read this – thank you. Thank you for being my little angel on that flight, and I’m holding you to that couch surfing offer, I want to write on that wall of yours! See you in Azerbaijan, my friend.