Sheila Bastable normally hated airports because they were so impersonal, but this time she hated the airport because - well, because everyone seemed to pay attention to her.
‘Flying to Rome, Miss Bastable ?’ said the girl at the check-in desk of G String Air. ‘That's fine. We'll put you in Row 16. That's our nicest row. Would you like aisle or window?’
‘Aisle, please,’ said Sheila, who had a horror of being trapped by the window. But then she had a horror of lots of things.
‘Very good, Miss Bastable. Do enjoy your flight. I am sure you will.’
How on earth does she know that? Thought Sheila. She has no idea whether I will or not.
‘May I see your boarding pass?’ said the girl at the check-out desk of the duty free, after Sheila had bought a box of chocolates which might or might not be a present for her sister, and might or might not be consumed by Sheila personally.
She held it out. The girl took it.
‘Miss Bastable? Going to Rome?’
‘Have a very nice flight. It's such a nice time of year to go to Rome.’
It was rather unnerving, people being so polite to her. It was even more unnerving when she heard her name being mentioned on the public address system.
‘Will Miss Sheila Bastable, passenger to Rome on G String Air, please contact the main information office in Concourse A. Miss Bastable ...Thank you...’
It was all very creepy. She went off to the information office, dreading some awful development, such as that she had suddenly been found to be suffering from some contagious disease and wouldn't be able to fly, but to her relief they told her they were just doing spot checks on passengers to make sure they all knew what gate to board at.
‘It's Gate 57, isn't it?’
‘It certainly is, Miss Bastable. We recommend you go along there as soon as possible, as it's quite a full plane today, and boarding may take a little longer. In any case, have a very good flight. I am sure you will.’
Everyone seemed to be convinced she was going to have a very good flight. It really was rather creepy. But nevertheless she took their advice and went along to Gate 57 sooner rather than later, showed her boarding pass (Ah, Miss Bastable! In Row 16! Welcome!’) and got herself comfortable in a seat in the corner.
‘Could I have your attention please?’ said the stewardess through her hand-held mike. This was one of the very few times, thought Sheila, that you could actually see who was making an announcement at an airport. ‘G String Air is pleased to announce that Flight VDU 8765 to Rome will shortly be departing. May we have any families with small children first, please?'
There were two families with small children. They showed their cards and vanished down the corridor.
‘Now may we have everyone in rows 1-15, please.’
Sheila glanced at her card to remind her of her number.
Row 16. Just her luck.
‘And now rows 30-45, please.’
Another small wave of humanity ebbed out of the room.
‘May we now have rows number 17 to 29.’
How extraordinary. How very extraordinary. They had called all rows except hers. There must be some mistake. She looked up. The last passengers were going through. The officials looked as if they were packing up. Sheila was the only passenger left in the room. She raced forward.
‘Hey!’ she shouted, and it was just then she realised that the airline officials all had masks on. Not bank robber masks, but surgical masks. And one of the women was carrying a hypodermic syringe. And they were coming at her with sinister smiles on their faces ! No, no, no... !
It was at that moment she woke up. Oh, thank God it had all been a dream. She was still in the little lounge but now it was full up and people were already boarding. She asked the woman next door to her what seats had been called, and she said it was Numbers 1 to 15.
‘Thank you,’ said Sheila.
How odd. Just like in the dream.
‘Now could we have rows 30-45.’
It was horrible. The dream was happening all over again. And then rows 17 to 29 were called, and just like in her dream she was the last remaining passenger, all alone, and the airline officials advanced on her again, smiling in a rather horrid sort of way, and there was a man in a suit who was holding out something, and Sheila suddenly freaked out and she started screaming and hitting the man, and then she fainted before he could say anything.
Which was a pity, really, because what he was going to say was: ‘Congratulations, Miss Bastable! You are the millionth passenger to use G String Air and we are going to give you free air flights for life.’