It's the day after a glorious Lebanese wedding, or more accurately a long, drink-fueled wedding weekend, so I'm tired and hungover as I board my hour-and-a-half Middle East Airlines flight from Beirut back home to Istanbul. I want peace and quiet, the freedom to read, relax and look out the window, perhaps even catch a bit of shut eye. More than anything I want to be left alone.
Nearing my aisle I'm smacked upside the olfactory by the strong smell of vomit. I settle in to my window seat as a flight attendant comes by and sprays some cheap, potpourri-smelling air freshener. Apparently Febreze has yet to reach Lebanon. Within minutes the smell returns. I hit the call button. She returns and sprays for a full minute. Again the smell returns, though now overlain with eau de fake flowers.
I resign myself to the stench and start digging into my New Yorker, when the woman sitting next to me spies her friend a couple rows back. She asks the slim, thirty-something fellow sitting next to her friend to switch seats. He does so, and sits down next to me. "That woman, crazy,” he says to me, grinning. I nod and return to my reading.
"What are you reading?"
"Please," I say, wearily, "no."
A few minutes pass as we taxi for takeoff. Our elbows bump on the armrest between us. He grabs the small airline pillow, and places it on the armrest. "Here," he says, grabbing my elbow, lifting it up and placing it back on top of the pillow, "put your arm on this, very comfortable."
We take off and I take a drink from my water bottle and put it back in the seat-back pocket in front of me. "I’m also thirsty," he tells me. Is he suggesting...
"Good," I say, "they are bringing drinks."
The flight attendants come down the aisle handing out meals -- a slab of white cheese between two thick slices of white bread, orange juice and a biscuit. I turn mine down; he accepts and rips open the tray.
"Eat something!" he shouts, thrusting his sandwich towards me. "It’s delicious."
A minute passes. "Here," he says. "This, good biscuit." Again I say no thanks and attempt to focus on my reading, or the view out the window, anything to get him to understand.
"Orange juice!" he exclaims, offering his cup. "Very fresh. Drink some."
I shake my head.
"What this?" he asks, holding a packet of powdered creamer. I explain and start reading again. Out of the corner of my eye I see he’s ripped open the packet and is pouring bits of the powder into his hand and slapping into his mouth.
The flight attendants are coming down the aisle again. "Do you want coffee?" he asks me. I plead with him to stop and leave me to my reading. One, two, three minutes pass. Perhaps he's finally gotten the...
His hand shoots across my field of vision as he reaches over to my side of the aisle. "Here, take this," he says, popping my controller out of its panel on the seat-back in front of me. "Fuck the reading and play with me."
Shocked, I laugh, and decide this little episode needs to be put into writing, recounting the most wonderfully annoying seat-mate of all time. And in the eight-or-so minutes I’ve been writing this he hasn’t said a word. I think he even moved slightly away from me in his seat, towards the aisle. Respect for the writer at work? Or has he finally given up after his obscenity-laced last gasp?
Whatever the case, the pilot is announcing our descent into Istanbul. I offer him a piece of gum, and he accepts. "Strong mint," he says, fanning his mouth as if it’s on fire.
Now I'm grinning. As we touch down I realize I'd forgotten all about the vomit stink and he whips out his phone. "Let me get a photo of you to remember... uh, what is your name?" I tell him. "To remember my friend David," Ali says, grinning broadly. He leans towards me, extends his arm into the aisle while tilting the back of his phone towards us, and snaps.