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Up in the air encounters

Fat Mum Slim /

I had a 4 hour wait at the airport yesterday morning, after my blogging trip up north. I bought a handful of magazines for the flight, jotted down notes of things I didn’t want to forget from the workshops and did some people watching as I waited to board. A man caught my eye, with his neon coloured shoes, a denim vest and a limp as he walked. He walked past a young family, stopping for a moment and smiling at them. They awkwardly turned their backs, uncomfortable with his presence.I boarded the plane and took my seat in 51K. I’d changed my seat at the last minute so that I had a window seat, and the last views as we made our way home. The man with the neon shoes sat in front of me. A lady walked towards me, with a puzzled look upon her face. It turned out I was in her seat and my assigned seat was next to the man with the neon shoes. I moved forward and buckled up.

“I don’t want to go home,” the man slurred, holding his arm.

We talked for those 3 hours up in the air. He {I later learned his name was Pip} shared that he’d just spent a week in Cairns and didn’t want to go home. He had a physical and mental disability and his parents were his carers. He wanted to be independent and didn’t want to go home back to live with his mum and dad.

As we chatted in depth about our lives, Pip would sometimes pause. “My stomach is doing flips. I don’t want to go back. Turn the plane around.”

He told me that he was born this way, his wrist and leg both challenging him physically. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t write, and he couldn’t read. He was difficult to understand, his speech was unclear and as he spoke he dribbled. We talked the whole flight home.

“Do you think I’m normal?” he asked me.

My heart jumped into my throat, “Yes, I think you’re normal.”

“No one talks to me,” he sighed, “They all think I’m weird. They stare at me.”

“You’re not weird,” I assured him with a smile, and a lump in my throat.

He wasn’t weird. He was lovely. He was sweet. “When I flew up here, no one talked to me. You’re talking to me,” he smiled.

“I don’t want to go home,” he groaned again.

We talked about body piercings and computers. We talked about the weather and music. I guessed that he liked heavy metal and he laughed when I told him I liked Prince.

“I wish I could be normal for just one week,” he wished. “I just want to feel what it’s like to be normal, only for a week. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. It’s hell.”

Tears streamed down my face. The girl from across the aisle glanced my way and quickly returned to her book. “Why are you crying?” asked Pip.

“It’s just not fair,” I told him, “If I want something, I can get it. I’m frustrated that it’s harder for you.”

“Please don’t cry,” he pleaded, obviously uncomfortable with my tears. I wiped them away and assured him again with a smile.

He had a look in his eyes, that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. A sweet man, just 42, trapped in a body that didn’t work the way he wanted it to. I could see that he had the sweetest heart and he wanted more, and I hated that he couldn’t have it.

We hit turbulence and the plane bumped, dropping slightly over a period of about 15 minutes. The pilot asked everyone to return to their seats and to buckle up their seat belts. A sensitive flyer, I grabbed the seat in front of me.

“Are you okay?” Pip asked, concerned.

“I’m okay. I just don’t like when it bumps like this. I’m okay.”

“You’re not okay,” he told me, with a look of worry in his eyes, “I’ll get you some help.”

I was okay. Just a sook. I didn’t need help. Eventually the turbulence ended, and lunch was served. I ordered my lunch, he ordered the same and insisted I have his chocolate. I opened his drink for him and helped him when his wrist brace repeatedly came loose.

“I wish I could find someone like you. I want to get married and have kids. I’ll never find someone. If it doesn’t work out with your husband …” he trailed off. “Can we be friends?” Pip asked, “Can we keep in touch?”

“Of course,” I said, reaching for my handbag to get some paper to write down his number.

The plane started to descend and Pip groaned loudly. He was agitated and sad that the flight was actually going to land, and not turn around to take him back to sunny Queensland. “I don’t want to go home,” he sighed for the last time, “Turn the plane around.”

We got off the plane, Pip stopped the other passengers who were eager to depart and get home so that I could get off with him. We chatted as we walked down the aero-bridge and I told him how nice it was to meet him. I planned on introducing him to Hubby and Lacey, but as Lacey ran towards me Pip limped off and onwards to grab his next flight.

I was excited to see my little family, I soaked up their hugs. As soon as I got to the car I burst into tears, a mess of mixed emotions. After spending a week feeling like a princess, with people at our every whim, I was back to normal. I was back to my almost perfect little life, and Pip was reluctantly heading back to the home he didn’t want to go to.

Those 3 hours up in the air have changed me. Forever changed. I talked to my little sister about it all. I’m a thinker {those that know me well, know that I process everything, perhaps too much} and sometimes I have to unravel it with those I love. “This was meant to happen,” she told me, “You changed your seat for a reason. You were meant to learn from him. And perhaps you’ve changed his life too. You made his day by listening and talking to him and that might just be enough.”

It’ll never feel like enough. But I know I’m lucky. Lucky to live this life where I can do as I please and take care of myself. Lucky to have met Pip, in seat 51J.

Have you ever had a chance encounter that changed you? Do you think everything happens for a reason?