01 February 2017

A tense flight—Prayers at 30,000 ft

“Oh, no,” I thought with fear and dread as I got in my right-side aisle seat on the 8-hour Kuala Lumpur/ Sydney flight. A young woman in a chador settled herself and her two children in the middle row just ahead of mine. Her husband was separated by the aisle, so I was directly behind him. Children! If only they could be flown as baggage.

The woman was in her mid-twenties, her husband maybe mid-thirties tops. Both were unusually good looking. He and the little girl and boy were dressed as if they lived in a middle-class suburb of Sydney and were going out for a special occasion. Casual nice. The mother settled the children with no fuss. Indeed, through the whole flight, those three were passengers to die for. Quite unlike the flight from Vienna where a bloke who would make Crocodile Dundee look like George Clooney, walked on my seat to get to his, pawed through a basket of hot rolls proffered by the stewardess until she told him to get his mitts off, and drank beer after beer, carefully placing his empty tinnies at my feet.

But back to the family. Husband and wife occasionally whispered across the aisle, but otherwise kept to themselves, she busying herself making sure the children were cared for and quiet, and comforting her daughter when the little girl vomited from what looked more like exhaustion and fear than airsickness.

The father/husband was something else. He was the busy sort, and as soon as the screen was available, channel surfed until he got to the Koran. Several times during the flight, he went to this channel. At other times, he surfed the games channel and played several. But whatever he was doing was always interrupted by him bending over and nervously tweaking the contents of a large plastic bag at his feet. I couldn’t see it, but could hear the plastic. He watched two movies--something with Sandra Bullock, and The Devil Wears Prada. But that bag seemed to obsess him.

On the flight, we were given enough junk food snacks that I stored them up, and offered them to the mother for her children. She thanked me in fluent English, and her husband turned around to chime in.

In the same centre row as the woman and her children, was a man in his mid-twenties and his woman. That’s said deliberately. She was almost a cliché, she was so much his. He’d wrap his arm around her neck in a proprietal lock, and talk to her with the assurance and menace of her being a possession. She never said a word that I heard. Now, I don’t usually crane to see everything everywhere, but he was impossible to ignore. He drank, ranted in pure Australian the whole time, and kept jerking back the seats in front of him, loudly demanding their occupants agree with him, all with the friendly insistence of the drunk. His woman had her eyes closed most of the time as if she was asleep. The staff tried their best, but were ineffective as recorking champagne.
And all the while, the man in front of me kept rifling through that mysterious bag.

When we finally landed, the captain’s announcement wasn’t that we had landed, but to keep to our seats because we were to be boarded by federal police.

They took away the creep, to muted clapping.

Soon, I finally had a chance to see the bag. It was a tough plastic, a brand bag, and it said “UNHCR: United Nations High Commission for Refugees” illustrated with those unforgettable uplifted-in-support hands.

The family was in front of me in the wog entry queue, for I also, am an immigrant without an Australian passport.

I remembered my first day in Australia, when I fumbled paying on my first bus here. The driver took the money from my hand with a smile, and a “She’s right, luv.”

The family and I were just about to be called, each to an immigration official, so I had to speak up. There was so much to say, but all I had time for was, “I hope you’re treated well here.”

“Thank you,” said the woman, as the man distractedly nodded my way as they stepped forward left.

* * *

I can’t stop thinking of them now. How, even with our often inhumane Australian government treatment of refugees and the serious infestation of bigots in our parliament, it was probably a good thing that those refugees were coming to Australia, and a bloody good thing they weren’t on an American flight.

The Koran is bad enough, but imagine the horror if someone saw the guy reading Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on ... I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:" As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal"; Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, Since God is marching on . . .

And if someone doesn’t know songs, how could anyone blame anyone for not realising a person could be innocently reading that sword of God shit to become an American citizen? How could the vigilant think anything but “TERRORIST!”

Indeed, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was sung by the cream of US leaders in Washington DC’s National Cathedral as one of the first 9/11 responses, and will most likely be again, since it goes on to say, quite comfortingly to those who have gained yuge, unpresidented power and call America a Christian country: In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.

(and yeah, eternal noseyness is my creed, so I was as stickybeaky on this flight as years ago, in a Moscow hotel when I eavesdropped on a bunch of American Christian evangelists planning their campaign while flipping pages in large ringbinders labelled To Russia With Love.)