War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele


a sudden gift, unexpected, a flight home to my beloved country. up to London, a night in my “club”, the building’s exterior and interior curiously unadorned, untinseled, cold for Xmas season, no twinkling fairy lights, no glass bobbles, no swags, no mistletoe… a little depressing, until I am told that the club empties at Xmas and makes room for those who will volunteer in the homeless shelter in Islington. volunteers who will come from around the country and who will give up their holidays in order to serve others, others who are cold, hungry, lonely.

and this is fitting that my “club” will be filled with these types of people in this season of acquisition, as once it was the hostel for Ambulance workers returning from the Front in the First World War. Quakers. Friends. people who didn’t take up arms for religious reasons, yet subjected themselves to unbelievable danger and trauma in order to be present for, to serve those injured at the Front. and I’ve seen the work records of these people at the Friends’ archives, and more than a few died under bombardment, and others suffered from soldier’s heart, though they weren’t soldiers. they saw, served, and returned.

the next day, I got up early and made my way to Gatwick in order to fly out. airplane late due to a massive ice storm. wind warnings in London. I spent hours in the lockup of the airport – the lockup with shopping aisles. finally, hours later, time to board, and I see a young girl in pyjamas, long hair the colour of my little pony – all pink and blue and purple – and carrying a blanket. she’s surrounded by people seeming to be cordoning her off from the rest of us. she’s maybe 27. maybe. and I’ve seen enough of life to take one look at the situation and I know she’s not going to be flying with us today. she sings. she rants. she’s out of ‘er as they’d say in the army.

the crew boards the girl and her two minders first. they settle her at the back of the plane. I’m thinking, this is not going to work. if we take off with her aboard, it is going to be a shitshow supreme. the rest of us board. get settled. the storm batters the plane, rocking it side to side, it’s the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced and we haven’t even taken off yet. meanwhile, the young girl is singing and ranting. the word demon is heard. the crew look anxious. her minders are talking to each other, to her.

a half hour passes and a man boards. he has a well-cut green tweed suit on. middle-aged. he looks like a British medical consultant. clean cut. confident. emotionless. with some running back and forth, the girl is escorted off the plane. she is singing, she is ranting. poor soul. poor soul. her escorts reboard the plane and the captain comes on air and announces that the delay has been dealt with and we’re ready to take off. the plane rocks side to side and I’m thinking, nfw is this baby going to fly today. the captain taxies us out onto the runway and I’m thinking, oh my God, he’s going to try and take this puppy into the air.

we have an extremely short takeoff. suddenly the plane is dipping, sinking, turning, dropping, rising, rocking, violently. men shout OH MY GOD, women scream, I force my body to go totally limp because I know if I tense up, with the slams being delivered to the airplane, I may be hurt or have serious muscle strain or injury. I flop my legs into the aisle, take HUGE deep breaths, I do not pray because I have prayed once before and if this is my destiny, then this is my destiny. I grab the back of my seat and suddenly, a hand from behind grabs mine and holds my hand so damned tight. the hand belongs to one of the poor soul’s escorts. we hold hands for what seems like 15 minutes, but which is probably more like 5 or 10. finally, the plane makes it above the turbulence and the hand I’m holding onto loosens its grip. I hear a bunch of sighs of relief. some tittering. the captain comes on the air again and says, ladies and gentlemen please remain seated until the seatbelt sign is off and I burst out laughing and say out loud, ya think anyone wants to get up right now? because the plane is still rocking and rolling.

a minute passes and I lean across my seat and face the seat behind me and thank the woman for holding my hand. I say, the last time I had a flight like that was in Afghanistan, and I had a special forces guy hold my hand just like you did. and like the army guy, the woman acknowledged that it was a mutual comfort, and that she was scared shitless too. we laughed and visited a bit over the 8 hr flight. then we disappeared into the Canadian night.

and I’m back to my true north strong and free. back to the snow. back to the ice. back to the sharp, cool, intakes of breath. real winter. gorgeous. cardinals in the snow. blue jays. woodpeckers. black squirrels on the bird table. a frozen pond. bull rushes. mountain ash and last year’s unpicked apples. the baubles of Canadian Xmas.

but I’m also back to my people. I just hope the poor soul with the blanket and colourful hair is back to her people too. I just hope. and the person who held my hand? bless you. I bless you.

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled flights. It was posted here on December 28, 2013.


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