It’s the middle of the night over the middle of the Pacific. Thousands of miles from even Hawaii, which is thousands of miles from everywhere else. We’re twelve hours from home, barely finished with the meal service, when she realizes They’re after her. Whoever They are, she wants no part of them; she needs out of the airplane, and she needs out now. Desperate for a route of escape and finding none, she sets about putting a hole in the side of the fuselage. At least, this is how her son explains her violent and insistent ramming of the window next to her seat with her head, though she frantically denies not only what he says but the very fact of him. “I have no son!” She will not be calmed until we remove him from her sight, and then only fractionally.
She will not be deterred from her midair mission to abandon ship, and lashes out at anyone who intercedes. One flight attendant is pushed to the floor and another takes an elbow right in the eye while a third calls for backup. What he gets is Millie, the Chief Flight Attendant, charging to the back from First Class. It’s something of a hike for a woman of seventy, but Millie doesn’t take kindly to disruption on her airplane, and intends to make this clear. The younger crewmembers roll their eyes. Millie reminds most of them of their grandmothers; some help she’ll be.
But this is not Millie’s first day at this job. She asserts immediate control, directing two male flight attendants to take hold of the passenger, another to call for a doctor. In the middle of the aisle, she yanks her own dress up around her waist and shimmies out of her stockings. With nothing more than a look, albeit an unambiguous one, she instructs the other women on the crew to follow suit. She invites no argument, and in short order, the passenger is lashed to the last row of seats with pantyhose, the better for the doctor who answered the call to ask her questions while he pumps her full of Valium.
Whether she is answering his questions or not is unclear; she has reverted to a language that no one on the crew can identify or understand, and every attempt by her son to calm and comfort her in this or any other language is met with the only English she’s willing to use: “Get him away from me. I have no son!”
She rails and rants on until her son is whisked forward to another cabin, in need now of no small amount of comforting himself. The doctor assesses her vital signs and persists with his unanswered questions until eventually, at a loss, he turns to Millie. “There’s not much else we can do for her at the moment except keep an eye on her,” he says. “If I give her any more Valium, it will kill her.”
Millie nods her understanding. On her knees in the aisle, still in full battle mode, she looks from the doctor to the passenger, who continues to howl and thrash, inconsolable, while the doctor does what amounts to nothing but look on. Seeing that he has not extracted a new vial of Valium from the onboard emergency kit, Millie looks back to him. “Well,” she says. “What are you waiting for?”
M P Thomas