My flight out of Skavsta left at 21.55, and I was tired enough to think it worthwhile to stand queuing for half an hour to get a decent seat to sleep in. I had headphones on and a Swedish book to read; by the time I got my window seat in the third row back, I was physically tired, too, and certainly not up to switching languages: when a blonde girl gestured at the seat beside me and said something, I replied in Swedish that it was free. She had a wide mouth the colour of ripe raspberries, and large brown eyes. Beyond her, in the aisle, a young man with a wedge-shaped face sat down and started to make conversation. He had floppy hair and a striped collar to his shirt. He was going to London to visit his father, before travelling on to Thailand. So much I gathered before the plane took off and the blonde hunched forward and literally shuddered. Weren’t we, she asked, at all afraid when it tipped up like that? No, said the young man, and set about making reassuring and encouraging noises.
I went to sleep, and woke from a dream in which I was being summoned to a simultaneous chess tournament by a voice talking Russian, which resolved, as I woke, to a Ryanair steward chanting in English "Trash, rubbish, garbage" as he moved down the aisle with a plastic bag. The friendship to my right had warmed up. He had two empty beer cans on his tray; she had an empty quarter bottle of Chardonnay. She was explaining her partly Ukrainian ancestry. When the steward came by, he ordered another round. Then the plane gave a lurch, and he was mopping beer off his trousers. A minute or two later, the fasten seatbelts sign came on. The plane quivered again, and so did the blonde, who had been helping him with kleenexes.
When next I looked up from my book, she had hooked her arm around his neck and was distracting herself from imminent death with a kiss. The turbulence continued, and so did her need for comfort. By the time the plane tipped in to land, all their drink was finished and the stewardess had to ask them to put the armrest down between their seats. She straightened up, and smiled at me, and offered chewing gum to both of us. Then the fear gripped her again, and by the time the plane came to a halt at the terminal, she had been comforted so much that the poor man could hardly stand to pull his luggage down from the rack.
I was rather slower off the train, so they were about twenty metres ahead of me as we hurried down the long corridors to the main terminal but at the foot of an escalator, I saw them again. He was just entering a disabled lavatory. "Come on" he urged her. "Oh no!" The escalator bore me away while she was still trying to persuade him that he had entirely mistaken her character, but she must have failed, because the two of them appeared ten minutes later in the passport queue and both greeted me like an old friend. They had quite overcome their nervousness.