But what if..?

I think too much.

At least that’s what the doctor tells me. How can you think too much? That’s like being told I breath too much.

If you were paid to If you think’, he said, ‘you’d be a wealthy man’.

I’m not a wealthy man. Quite the opposite. And I’m not paid to do anything; I haven’t been for a long time.

Ever since I was a kid I have doubted my ability to do anything well. I can’t help but believe that the next person is more suited to the job than I am. If a reaction to a request that I had carried out wasn’t overly favourable, then I would know immediately what that person thought of me, and I can tell when someone doesn’t like me. I can read the signs – Signs that ‘experts’ tell me exist only in my mind.

The phrase: ‘But what if…?’ Has been the bugbear of my life. That phrase has got in my way and prevented me from doing so many things. It has stopped me from fulfilling my true potential. That sounds like a sentence that I’ve lifted from an expert, doesn’t it? As if some man in a white coat has picked up the shoddy outfit that is my life, examined it with forceps, so as not to contaminate himself, and come to that conclusion. Well its not some expert’s phrase. It’s mine. That’s my conclusion. The phrase: ‘But what if..?’ Has prevented me from fulfilling my true potential. I don’t need an expert to tell me that. They don’t know my life. They only know what I choose to let them know. I’m the expert in my life; I’ve done a degree course in me. I’ve studied longer than a vet, a doctor or a lawyer. I’ve devoted the whole of my adult life to the subject of me.

When I was younger I had a mental blueprint of my future. I had a cosy idea of a wife, a house, kids and a job. Not a lot to expect. Needless to say I’ve not realised any of it. I rent a flat – well, a room. I may be wrong but I believe you have to have sex to have kids. Huh! And so far as a job goes I’m limited as to the work that I can do with the medication I’m on.

They give me pills to slow down my thinking. Well I don’t want my thinking to be slowed down. So I don’t take them. The pills don’t agree with me anyway, they affect my sleep.

I told the doctors that I intended to go away and they tried to use ‘but what if…’ against me. But I stayed strong, and in the end they had to admit that the sunshine would do me good. And now look where I am…. Some of the people here look at me, with suspicion. They are trying to make me feel out of place. But I won’t be cajoled. I’ve bathed and found the cleanest clothes that I have. I’ve shaved and combed my hair. I’ve done what I can.

As I sit here on board the aircraft I take in the scene of everyday ordinariness that goes on around me, jackets are folded and placed in overhead lockers, books are removed from bags and placed within easy reach. And perfect strangers exchange greetings. It appears the most natural thing on earth, to squeeze 300 plus people into a pressurised container and launch it into the sky.

Further down, along the aisle two stewardesses are leaning over seats and offering pleasantries. They look beautiful in their pristine, deep blue dresses and caps; they present an air of sophistication like models in a newspaper. One of them turns and catches me staring at her; she immediately flashes a perfect white smile. I try to respond but my lips are dry and stick to my teeth. Then, I see it happen, her expression changes and the show of respect and equality that she afforded me a second earlier is gone and replaced by a glimmer of contempt. I feel my cheeks flush. My head bowed, I glance to my right. A young boy is peeping out at me from the middle seat across the aisle. In the departure lounge, earlier, the same boy came over and stood before me. I raised my head then and forced a smile. He did not react. He studied me until I was forced to turn away, then a woman came and ushered him off, whispering into his ear as they went. Although I didn’t hear, I know what she was saying,

What are you doing? You shouldn’t go near people like that. I’ve told you about people like that”.

As they went the noises came. And all the sounds of the room became one. Crockery, cutlery, distorted announcements and raised, excited voices. I almost took a pill, but I was strong.

The boy stares at me still, through the constant flow of people making their way down the aisle to their seats. Again, I offer a thin smile of friendship. He stares on.

I never knew my father – my mother never knew my father. My strongest memories are of hospitals. Itching. Crying. Prodding’s and tests. Brightly painted rooms with friezes of cartoon characters.

My eczema was really bad then and often I spent days wrapped in cream – sodden bandages. Name-calling. That’s my childhood.

Patrick, my friend at the hospital, he was waiting for some transplant or other. He was there whenever I went in. He came from Scotland. Told me his house looked out over a lake.

A man’s voice comes over the tannoy. He tells us that we will be taking off, shortly. I suddenly feel very nervous. My palms begin to sweat and my forehead starts to itch. I raise a hand and scratch at my head. As I do so a flurry of snow-like skin flutters past my eyes and lands on my dark trousers. The sight of this makes my skin tighten even more and I can feel the moisture draining from my entire face. My face is becoming a desert.

One of the stewardess’s has reached my seat. She asks is my seatbelt fastened, I can see her welcoming face change to a look of disgust. She pretends that she is looking at my seatbelt, but she’s looking at the pile of skin on my trousers, I know she is. Her smile returns as she moves away, but I know what she’s thinking. She can’t wait to tell her friends that there is a disgusting man on the middle seat of row 28. She’s only human. If I were in her position I would do the same.

To my left there is a man sat by the window, a big man. Too big for these seats. I can feel him looking at me. Our upper arms are touching. He shifts in his seat and breaks the contact. He is offended, wondering how he is going to eat his meal with me sat next to him, shedding my skin like some giant snake.

The tannoy voice again. ‘Cabin doors closing’ A trickle of sweat works its way from my scalp and down through my hairline. I clutch my hands together and squeeze my fingers around each other focussing my tension, as the bead of sweat rolls down my forehead and deliberately irritates every pore that it passes, until gravity finally draws it to the tip of my nose and away it goes. Then, I feel another trickle hovering around the back of my neck just above my collar. I can bare it no longer. I release my hands and discreetly scratch the spot with a nail. Then I bring my hand back to be clenched again, but notice that a large piece of dead skin has attached itself to my finger. The man next to me shifts in his seat and makes as if he is looking out of the window, but I know that he has just seen what’s attached to my hand. He’s disgusted. I am ruining his day.

I never realised at the time, but whenever I was in hospital with Patrick I was watching him die. One time, when I went in for some tests I was told that he had been sent back home to Scotland. I asked my mother could we go to see him and she said it wouldn’t be possible.

It was ten years before I heard of his death. She told me just before she died. That’s Irony for you, I hear of the death of my only childhood friend on the deathbed of my only parent.

Before I know it there is an enormous roar from the engine, I am thrust back into my seat and we are dragged forwards through the broken clouds. The feeling is at once disturbing and exhilarating.

The distraction of the take-off has enabled me to get myself back in order. I reach down and take a soft tissue out of the bag under my seat and dab at my face and neck this won’t take away the itching, I’ll need to put some cream on for that, and if I get a chance I will. But this will do for now. Fortunately the seat to my right is empty so I will be able to put my bag on there. That will be handy for later in the flight. The boy across the aisle is looking out of the window now. He looks about seven years old and is very excited by the take-off. I think he’d like me if he got to know me. It’s probably his first flight too. It’s a first for me and I’m excited as well.

It’s been a long day – lots of planning. And I had a lot of touching to make up for this morning. The fridge and cooker doors both had to be opened and closed twenty five times each – I can join them together to make them an even fifty. Then I had to get the corner of my pillow right- it just wouldn’t point outwards! It kept on folding back into itself; I must have spent ten minutes on that. Then switching the light on and off, that’s a pain sometimes and I don’t know what it must look like from outside! And then I had to keep on coming back in and checking that I’d not forgotten anything. Fortunately I’d got up early enough to allow for all this.

But I’m here now. It’s not been easy but it’ll be worth it. I was a bit anxious about airport security. I thought they’d give me a bit more trouble, but I sailed straight through. You could say that I’m doing them a favour really, because they’ll learn from this. They’ll see that you can’t be lax when people’s lives are at stake. And fine, it’s not a problem that most of these people don’t like me, I don’t blame them for that. That’s not why I’m doing it.

I lift my holdall and place it on my lap. In the darkness of the bag my hands search out the portable CD player. While my fingers are working on opening the battery cover I can freely glance around the aircraft. I have practised this blindfolded so many times back at the flat.

The plastic cover gives and now I gently work one of the batteries out from it’s housing. I glance to my left and see the man is still looking out of the window. My hands feel around for the aluminium framework on the inside corner of the bag, and begin to work the tube loose at the point where I had cut it with the hacksaw. A final glance around the plane and I drop the battery down inside the hollow tubing along with the powder and the rest of my little cocktail. Then I peel the strip of gaffer tape off the lining and wrap it around the pipe, sealing it tightly. Ta – daaa! Done.

This is a big one for me, better than all the glass in the supermarket food and the letter bombs. They were just my apprenticeship. This is the one. This is my coming of age and I’m going out with a bang.

 

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