She wasn’t the sort of travelling companion I would ever choose. Not in a pink fit, much less when trying to evacuate a country, through an airport not designed for its task. The press had promised chaos, mayhem and crushes of travellers.
I was standing under the A4 Jetstar sign, sellotaped to the outside wall of the building. I wished my ticket was with a more established airline – so I could have left my bags in a marquee and been herded by airline staff.
The girl was 20 and I knew she was Australian when she said hello. A party-girl-tourist with her fake Louis Vuitton handbag, a micro mini and suntanned legs. When she’d learned protesters had closed Bangkok’s airport, she’d rung Mum in Sydney to find a way out. She was confident Mum had changed her booking onto the second Jetstar flight out of U-Tapao military airport.
“Go over and ask the Australian Embassy staff if they know what Jetstar did last night.”
I watched her approach the two young men, flick her long blonde hair and smile. They dropped their heads attentively.
“You’re good at that” I said, envious because they called me Ma’am.
“I’m a lingerie waitress at home” she said. No wonder she was good.
If the flight is happening, airline staff will come to where the sign is. They’ll have a paper copy of the manifest. Your names will be checked off. Your bags will be manually searched. Only then will you be allowed into the building. If there’s any room left on the plane, perhaps some of the passengers whose morning departure has been cancelled will be allowed on.
We held our position at the front of the line as the morning-crowed hoped. We sweated and squinted into the sun. The mayhem of the previous two days had muted to a carnival of food stalls and boredom. Our desultory conversation traversed how she combined competitive Thai kick-boxing with her need to wear fishnet stockings at work (good make-up covers bruising, I learned) to her hopes of getting to university as a mature-aged student. When she rang Mum again I heard her say she’d met a nice old lady who was looking after her.
We watched sweaty parades of 747-loads follow a uniformed stewardess holding a flight number into the building. We envied them. I wondered when I’d stopped being a seasoned traveller and become an old lady. The sky turned pink, the sun set over the palm trees as an ensemble of lady-boys belted out All that Jazz. Standing outside became more bearable.
The staff arrived. Finally, we said to each other. The manager was strict about forming a queue. I elbowed a fat Singaporean who tried to get in front of me.
“Your name?” the Jetstar girl asked. She couldn’t see it and was shaking her head but I pointed to it by reading the list upside down. Bag and passport checked I was given a hand-written boarding pass and told to wait. I exhaled the tension I had been carrying for days.
The girl was sobbing into her phone. “They said I am not booked on it.”
When I took the phone, Mum was distressed too. I introduced myself and promised we would ring back in an hour with the solution.
I remembered being 20 on my first solo trip.
I spoke to the boys from the Embassy. It was OK they were boys. I was pleased I knew enough to go to them. I asked them what the chances were they could influence the manager to find a seat for the girl. There was a chance, if there were spare seats, but we wouldn’t know for hours.
She railed. She cried as I tried to distract her. Her Mum rang Jetstar in Sydney and wanted to talk to the manager at U-Tapao. I convinced her to trust the embassy staff. Two hours became three.
There were spare seats so the boys from the Australian embassy negotiated.
They were successful.
I exhaled for the second time that night and thanked them. Profusely. The girl was grateful too but accepted her victory easily. She flicked her hair as she smiled at them and joined the queue into the building.