October 19th, 1990
Flight from BKK – SYD
SYD – MEL, as a passenger
The flight we boarded in Bangkok originated at Heathrow so the majority of the pax were exhausted and somewhat grumpy, which, after being cooped up in economy for thirteen hours, with ten hours still to go, was understandable.
All except for 28H who was full of smiles as I made my way through the cabin during the first drinks round.
“Would you like something to drink?”
“What’ve you got?”
She screwed up her face in a gesture that said, something stronger?
“Oooh,” she cooed, her face lighting up. “Could you do me a gin and tonic?”
“Absolutely, ice and lemon?”
I noticed her small, bony fingers were slightly curled, arthritis, I suspected. “Would you like me to mix it for you?”
“That’d be lovely,” she smiled up at me. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I smiled back. “Are you heading home or going on holiday?”
“I’m off to see me daughter,” she said in her lovely cockney accent. “And her four granddaughters and me three great grandchildren I’ve never met, plus all the spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends. Sixteen of ‘em altogether.”
“How amazing. When was the last time you saw your daughter?”
“Not since she left London over forty years ago.”
“Wow! I hope you told her you’re coming,” I teased.
She let out a little chuckle. “We’ve been planning this for a long, long time,” she said wistfully. “I was hoping I’d be alive long enough to see this birthday.”
“It’s your birthday?”
“It was when I left London but I’ve been on this ruddy thing for so long it’s probably Christmas by now!”
I laughed. “It’s a long flight, isn’t it? I don’t think I could do it!”
“It’s not as bad I thought it’d be.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I have to press on but once the service is over, why don’t I bring you a nice cuppa and we can have more of a chat.”
“Oh, aren’t you a good girl,” she said, raising her glass in a cheers gesture.
Over tea and carefully “acquired” chocolate biscuits from First Class (thanks Andy!) Mrs. Orion showed me pictures of the family she’s never met. “They’re all coming to meet me at the airport,” she beamed.
“What a reunion you’re about to have!”
“I had better brush me hair,” she chuckled, fingering the thin strands of her hair. “You know, when I was a young girl like you, I had beautiful hair.”
“You still do,” I smiled. “Can I ask how old you are?”
“Eighty”, she proudly stated. “And here I am, on an aeroplane for the first time in me life!”
She nodded, visibly pleased with herself.
“Well in that case,” I said, “we need to get you up to the flight deck for a visit. Would you like that?”
“You’re not pulling me leg, are you?”
“Not at all. Let me go and sort it out, I’ll be right back.”
“Is this the way to heaven?” she chuckled, slowly climbing the stairs to the upper deck, after which she smiled and said hello to every (awake) passenger as she moved down the aisle towards the flight deck. Inside, the guys (female pilots are still few and far between) made a big fuss of her and she had them in stitches with several what she called, “saucy jokes.”
On the approach, I peered out the window and saw the Sydney Opera House for the first time. It looked more amazing from the sky than the pictures in the encyclopedia at home that dad and I still flick through from time to time.
Mrs. Orion waited for most of the passengers to disembark before she came shuffling down the aisle.
“You sure you’re alright?” I asked, knowing she previously refused any special assistance after landing, stating, “I’m not showing up in a wheelchair!”
She nodded yes and took my hand. “I can’t thank you enough,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “I made it!”
“You made it,” I smiled, choking back the tears as I bent to receive her kiss on my cheek.
There really is a first time for everything.