It was the second car-ride to the airport that day; neither of my parents spoke. The air inside was thick with unspoken resentment. They had laughed at me the night before when asked if I needed a passport to fly to Scotland. Comedians wish they killed like I did asking that question. Their laughter, and lack of an answer, meant I didn’t take that little burgundy booklet with me to the airport for my school Duke of Edinburgh trip. Hence the repeat journey and a replacement flight, courtesy of my parents.
This would be my first time travelling alone. I had to go through customs, board a flight to Prestwick, a cab from there to a port the name of which was unpronounceable, then a ferry to the Isle of Arran where the rest of my school were. I had to do this all by six pm or I would be stranded on ‘the mainland’, as they called it.
It should not have been a great challenge; I had hours. Few challenges though, include Mary.
Mary was a classmate and one of those ‘difficult’ human beings. She was by turns racist, sexist, violent, melodramatic and hysterical; wholly irrational and irreparably self-centred. She had the hygiene, build and body hair of a feral bear. She was also dating my closest friend and was always with him, judging, belittling, emasculating and criticising. Born centuries ago, she would have been the inspiration for Grendel in Beowulf; sat atop a pile of bones picking at her yellowed teeth. I had once seen her beat someone to a bloodied pulp, with an unopened beer can for commenting on her hair. She was there at the gate for the flight to Prestwick. She had overslept and saw me instantly. I silently cursed my fluorescent hiking gear.
She took my hand and with no formal greeting strode us both to the gate. It was like a bison towing me. My hand was oil slick in hers and somehow managed to stay attached to my wrist. On-board, she almost threw me into a window seat, and occupied the middle, filling the armrests and caging me in. The fuselage forced my head down against my chest and a needling pain started in my spine.
“I need to switch seats,” I said, rising.
“No.” Mary’s arm came out, hitting me like cricket bat and winding me. “I don’t want a stranger sitting in the window seat next to me.”
“My neck hurts,” I pleaded, aware of how feeble I must have sounded to the other passengers. They had never seen Mary bite anyone before.
A rotund Scotsman took the aisle seat and Mary was forced closer to me. Having overslept, Mary went from bedroom to front door, ignoring the routines of hygiene in the process. Her greasy hair clung to my arm like wet seaweed and acrid breath burned my tear ducts. My short flight became immeasurably longer as I resorted to shallow breaths to ward off dry heaving. I thought of my parents’ laughter the night before and cursed them.
We were delayed forty minutes upon landing because Mary’s bag got caught in the conveyor belt. Time was now an issue.
“I need to go to the toilet,” she declared, upon receiving her bag.
“Can it wait?” I asked. “We are running out of time.” She threw her bag on the ground and walked off, whilst I began to pace uncontrollably. The clock was ticking. I contemplated leaving her but stopped myself. I had to tolerate her. She was my friend’s girlfriend and bound to me by school affiliation. The drama my abandoning her would bring down on me wasn’t worth it. There was a good case for it too though; I’d be rid of her.
She returned wiping her damp hands on her waterproofs. “Let’s go,” she said, eyeing me with contempt.
My anxiety peaked in the taxi. Our driver joked about stopping for food whenever I checked my watch. I impressed upon him that no-one carries cash on DofE; he accelerated, grumbling about the royal family and taxes. We arrived to see the final ferry already out at sea. I was stuck on ‘the mainland’, with her.
Our teacher arranged a B&B for the night. A small double bed between us. I lay there that night, with her caustic breath impregnating our shared linens and her sweat-matted hair itching my skin, and again, cursed my parents for laughing about my passport.