‘Excuse me… why are you polishing the window?’ The young man was tall and pale, squashed into his seat beside me on our Ryanair flight from Faro to Leeds. That was how our conversation began. I’ve had many on board exchanges over time, but this young man and his troubles really touched me. I was at the back of the aircraft and my husband far away at the front, because we are too mean to pay the extra to sit together. We can cope with separation for a couple of hours, and on this occasion I had the compensation of a window seat. Which is how I came to be polishing my smeary window.
Glancing at him, I replied ‘Because I like to take photos’. Fair haired and blue-eyed, he nodded. ‘That makes sense’. He seemed eager to chat and we exchanged a few details till he sat back, with a sigh. I thought maybe he was an anxious flier. We hadn’t yet taken off when he reached beneath the seat and pulled out a full sized wine bottle. Glugging at it greedily, the flight crew still about to start the safety demonstration. Time for some friendly advice! ‘You’re not allowed to drink your own alcohol on board’, I said, feeling a bit hypocritical because, for the first time ever, I had purchased a small rosé in the Duty Free, intending to drink it with my sandwich. He looked at me. ‘I need it!’ In a polite, conversational way he explained to me that he has an addictive personality, currently using alcohol, and that he has an appointment with the family doctor in Leeds tomorrow to check him into rehab.
A moment later he was on his phone, to a friend. I assumed it was a friend. In close proximity it’s impossible not to overhear someone’s conversation. I looked out of the window as we began to taxi along the runaway. He was talking urgently to Tom. ‘You are going to meet me? You promised! My Dad will give you a lift to the airport’. Almost pleading. He was near to tears when he switched off the phone. Out poured the story. He was gay, and it was hard to trust anybody. His boyfriend was supposed to bring drugs to the airport to help him till he could see his GP, but he hadn’t got them. He was desperate to give up alcohol because it was ruining his life. He had been terrified they wouldn’t let him on the plane home if he was drunk, but his friends had helped him board. He had spoiled their holiday because he had no self control.
The plane was now in the air, so all he had to do was appear sober a little while longer. He was waiting anxiously for trolley service to begin, and we talked. I felt so sorry for him. 25 years old! I wondered how I could bear it if my own son was in his situation. He said that he had a good family, and that they would help, if only he could get home. The middle child, his siblings were successful. He had managed to work sometimes, but had spent most of his life addicted to drugs, whatever he could get his hands on. He’d tried to ‘give up’ numerous times. This time it had to work because his life was completely out of control.
He’d been to the Algarve several times before and liked the place and the people. He was interested in the landscape unfolding below us, and was amazed at the vast area of lakes along the border. When the trolley pulled alongside he ordered 2 beers and a wine. I asked if he should have something to eat but he said it was better this way. He had to drink himself into oblivion and he would sleep. He downed one can in seconds and slumped back. Beads of sweat had broken out on his face. ‘Are you alright, sir?’ asked the air hostess. He struggled to answer, and she gently informed him that she wouldn’t be able to sell him any more alcohol. I smiled, despite myself. After a while he drank the small bottle of wine, and soon his eyes had rolled. Unless it’s cloudy I’m usually glued to my window throughout a flight, but I couldn’t settle. I kept watch as he slept, hoping he could make it through the flight.
He jerked half awake, and groped for the remaining can, spilling much of it in his haste. A male crew member went past and gave him a disgusted look. I felt defensive for him and wanted to explain that he couldn’t help it. The stupor overtook him again, mercifully. With 20 minutes to go, he woke. The captain had just announced our descent and, with relief, he reached beneath the seat for the last of his wine. The crew man was just passing back through the cabin, reached over and took it from his hands. ‘I must have it!’, he protested, to no avail.
We talked some more. I asked if he would need assistance to get off the plane and he agreed. He gave me the name of one of his party, a girl, sitting much further down the plane and said he thought she would help. When we landed, I climbed past him and went to seek the help of the crew man. Though sceptical, he noted the details. I went back to say my goodbyes, to wish him luck and to hope that he could get his life back in order ‘You’re a really nice lady’, he said. I so hope that his family have been able to help him. He seemed a really nice boy.
I would probably have kept this sad story to myself if it hadn’t been for Cathy. I thought it might work for her On Journey invitation, over at Wander.essence. She has the makings of a novel over there, and much else besides.