So, I’m standing in a line with around 40 or so others. Looking around, I notice many of them have the same physical appearance as the couple immediately behind me. The men are all short haired and clean shaven, with immaculate dress, shoes shone to polished shine. Women, very long haired, heads covered with a scarf or head adornment. Make up, heels, and again immaculate clothing.
I don’t look – or feel – anywhere near as polished as any of them. Wearily I rest my head against the side of the corridor and lean against geek boy. He hugs me tighter.
Its early morning and we are waiting to board a 747 bound for Perth, and for some reason we are all standing in the corridor in no man’s land. The place between the boarding gate – goodbye Queensland – and the silver bird, waiting to wing me ‘home’. I am emotional and tired and on my way to bury my father. It’s March 2008. It’s an endless day.
A group of the immaculate young men stand a few meters away. They are discussing the flight. I hear them joke and laugh and one particular red headed young man is quite vocal. And just as I am about to turn back and answer GB’s question about the way they are garbed, I catch the words of a sentence he shares. “.… don’t tell anyone else about the bomb on the plane“. His fellow immaculates quickly shush him.
I raise my eyes – the women behind me has heard it too. She raises her eyebrows and cocks her head – I frown and shake my head a little. Surely they are joking, right? Surely it’s the young man’s idea of a joke? I look at others around me but no one seems to have heard. The line starts to move forward and I turn, step, step again and join the herd.
But it bugs me. That sentence caught in time – it really bugs me. It sits heavy and I hear the man again, the words… bomb… bomb…
The stewardess shepherds us on. “Sorry for the delay” she chirps. “These things… oh – row 17? Just along there please… hello sir… ”
Leaving her behind, GB and I find our seat amidst the usual organised chaos of pre-take off chatter. I look around. At least two thirds of the plane are occupied by members of the Brethren. All ages, all hierarchy levels. I catch the eye of a woman in the middle row – the same woman who was behind us in the cattle queue. We hold gaze for a moment, it’s clear she is still unsettled. She travels alone. She wears trousers.
A voice comes over the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for flying whatsit airlines – we apologise, but we will be delayed a little longer. Nothing to be alarmed about, please bear with us we will have you on your way as soon as possible. Thank you for choosing to fly whatsit. ”
A stewardess approaches looking flustered. As she passes by I can feel my tummy lurch and I make a snap decision. I explain to GB that I have to tell the staff something important and that he should not be worried. He squeezes my hand and tells me he knows how important it is to do the right thing. I push the little button, and the light above my seat shines. I take a deep breath and hope I don’t look like an idiot with what I am about to do.
The stewardess approaches with a smile I ask her to lean closer. I apologise profusely for taking up her time. I start to waffle, telling her I am sure it was not meant as I heard it and I am sure it was nothing but…. this is what I heard. And I repeat the words.
The change in her is immediate. She snaps up straight like she had been held by a spring release. She asks to tell her where I was when I heard this? When? Exactly what did I hear? I tell her straight and carefully and she looks deep into my eyes. Probably checking in case I am pathological. She tells me she will be right back – and true to her word, she returns with another stewardess. I am again asked to tell of the where- what- when. The second stewardess obviously had more clout than the first. She tells me to speak to no-one until she returns. She races off like she has to be somewhere in a hurry.
Less than a 3 minutes pass before a male returns along with the 2 females of earlier. He introduces himself as the head Steward and asks me to accompany him. I stand; take GBs hand and we follow the steward along the corridor. As I head out of my seat, my cohort nods her head.
We arrive at the little alcove near the amenities. The Stewards asks me and GB to wait ‘right here’ (where else can you go on a plane?) and he will return. By now, many passengers are becoming antsy and by the curious stares we are getting from people it is apparent they think we are the problem. Or part of it. It occurs to me then that we probably are.
I look up and now there are four people heading my way, all looking very official. I have a security guard (are they going to arrest me? Throw me off the plane?) and another guard with gun and a radio (holy crap) and the Steward and another man who looks very official. The steward introduces me to the PILOT. (That’d be why he looked official then?). Once again, could I please tell them exactly, word for word, the who-where-what story. The man behind the pilot writes everything down. He writes quickly, using squiggly scribbles of shorthand.
I take a deep breath, ready to relate the info….. and promptly burst into tears. Stewardesses race over with tissues. Water. A cloth. They escort me to a seat. The entire back section of the plane is now watching me and possibly most of the front section, seeing many of them are standing or leaning over their seats, heads craning to look at the action. Even the curtain across first class is open.
I take a deep breath and gather the thoughts, suppress the emotions. Slowly, enunciating each word, I repeat once again the story. This time I explain about the woman behind me, and our eye contact. The Pilot is lovely, he tells me to take my time. He tells me to describe the man. Describe the other men. Describe the tone of voice. I apologise for the millionth time and assure them that it was probably me misreading something – just a joke made by someone. I explain I am sleep deprived and emotional and on my way home to deal with my father’s death – which immediately brings more tissues. I have an overwhelming desire to curl up into the foetal position and rock.
But the Pilot takes my hand and assures me that even if it is a joke, its way out of the bounds of good taste. He tells me how people like me can save lives – and that no matter how small, the reporting of such a statement is warranted. He tells me that no one will worry if I am mistaken. Then he asks me to walk with him, down both aisles from the front of the plane to the back, and identify the speaker. He cautions me not to speak to the person or make eye contact, but to take note of the seat number. I am so nervous by now and ask that someone take GB back to our seat and give him something age appropriate to do. (They came up with a DS from somewhere, along with soft drink, chocolates and a basket of something pre-teenish). I am terrified and it takes me two trips around the plane to finally find the red headed male who was behind us earlier. I see him; he is oblivious to me and is joking with his mates about something. I see my eye gazer cohort also touring the plane.
Right – so no one is looking at me like I am a problem are they? People are pointing and muttering and harrumphing – but the lovely Pilot is right behind me and murmurs encouragement. I discover I am holding his hand like a child.
We return to the amenities and I recite the seat and row number. The pilot nods over my head to a guard – and when I look I see not one guard any more, but 6. Six guards in airport security clothing and 4 more in deep navy garb. I swear they have brought in the SWAT team. The Pilot thanks me, the Steward returns me to my seat, all eyes upon me. I sit and wish I could crawl under my seat. My heart is hammering so loudly.
However, within seconds, no one is looking at me anymore. No – they are all looking up ahead – for along come the guards and look-alike SWAT team and they physically LIFT the young man out of his seat and carry him off the plane.
The young man was just plucked from his seat and ejected. His shouts of objection echo in the sudden stillness that takes over inside the 747.
For a moment, the silence continued.
Then the Brethren started. Voices raised, shouts are heard, commotion unleashes. People are standing and calling and pointing and in all this, I sit very still and concentrate on looking at the floor.
The SWAT team are back in a few moments, and politely ask the group of well dressed men he was seated with to stand and move off the plane with them. And as the group of men stand and leave the plane, my eye gazing cohort looks at me and I look at her and she gives me a smile.
And I breathe again for the first time in what feels like an eternity.
And that, dear Brethren children, is why you should never make a bomb joke while standing in a queue waiting to be seated on an aircraft.