I was flying back from Japan. It was October. I was coming back on my own. I don’t really mind flying, but I don’t love it, either. However, a determination to visit other countries trumps the somewhat uncomfortable feeling of being miles and miles in the air, in my view. So I deal with it. But I don’t love it.
I climbed aboard the Turkish Airlines flight with a small, stuffed Totoro I’d bought at the airport for comfort (yes, this was only nine months ago, yes, I was a 22 year old adult then, and also yes – I still buy cuddly toys from time to time. I think they’re lovely).
An elderly, slightly rotund and very comfily-dressed Japanese lady sat next to me. She had a lot of blankets. She had her own slippers, too. She also had a fairly wrinkle-free face that perpetually looked a little worried.
The plane set of. Phwoosh. My neighbour couldn’t get her TV to work. She was pressing the screen, over and over, but nothing was happening. She kept glancing at my screen to see how I was doing it, then trying to replicate, but to no avail. I glanced back at her screen – she seemed to have a light touch, which I calculated was probably why none of the buttons wanted to play ball.
I leaned over and started navigating her stubborn screen for her while she directed as to what she wanted to watch and what she wanted me to press. We couldn’t communicate at all but for positive enunciations, yet that was enough to set up a film for her with the correct subtitles. She smiled and nodded at me a lot by way of thanks. I did this for her for the rest of the flight.
About a third of the way through, we hit a little turbulence. I had the Totoro pressed firmly to my chest, and though I was trying to police my anxiety, I couldn’t help but glance consistently out the window (I’m not sure for what reason – perhaps to see if the plane wing was on fire, or we’d accidentally flown into space, or whether some other paranoid fancy had come true).
My friend noticed. She started faffing around my seat, tucking me in more firmly with my blanket. She propped me up with a pillow. She stopped the air hostess to get me water – all the while chatting to me in Japanese, not quite making eye contact – I have no idea what she said, but it was comforting. Later on she fell asleep on my shoulder.
I have always felt a warmth for people who ‘mother’ other people. I think it’s symptomatic of a nurturing nature – a genuine person with deep empathy. I won’t forget my friend. I hope she enjoyed England.