Right, Mike. Deep breath. Call.
‘Eliza! What the fuck is going on?’
‘I’m sorry, Mike, but I lost…’ my voice quavers, ‘I lost my grandmother.’
‘Oh!’ He sounds stunned. ‘Oh. I’m sorry. When? Why didn’t you tell us?’
‘I was in a state of shock. I got the phone call to say she was dying literally as I was about to check in. I thought, I can’t leave the group, but I had to. I thought it would sound too trivial – you know, because she was old, so it was inevitable. But she was so devoted to me. I just wanted to be there at her side, stroking her soft ears – I mean her head, you know, holding her hand when she went. I couldn’t bear for her to think I’d abandoned her in her final hour. Anyway, I’m sorry. I pretended I’d forgotten my passport because then there was nothing to be done but go back for it.’
‘Hmm, mmm,’ Mike is saying throughout this speech.
‘But I’m sure they’ll be all right,’ I add brightly. ‘I put Steve in charge. He seemed absolutely up to the job. I texted him last night with Loc’s number and where to meet him and everything.’
‘Hmm, mmm. That’s assuming they got as far as Ho Chi Minh, isn’t it, Eliza?’
‘Oh God! Didn’t they?’
‘Loc just called me. The plane’s just arrived. No group.’
‘Do you have Steve’s number?’ I ask.
‘Yes. Straight through to voicemail. You know, a lot of our punters don’t understand about roaming.’
‘Have you tried any of the others?’
‘I’m at home now, as you may appreciate, given that it’s . But I’m going to have to go into the office now to find the others’ numbers, though I expect the small minority that actually have mobile phones will also have them switched off or not set up for roaming. We’ll have to see, won’t we?’
‘Mike,' I try to sound calm and measured. 'I have to go now as they’re calling my flight. I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon, and I’m sure they’ll have contacted you or Loc by then, but anyway, I’ll sort it out as soon as I get there. I’m really, really sorry about this.’
I love this feeling of hushed suspension as the plane comes to a halt before pulling out the stops. And, foot on the pedal, off we go! The lights of Heathrow are racing by, and we’re up… up… and awaaaay. Mmmm – nice First Class-style recline before we level out. Now we’re banking steeply. I press my nose to the porthole. Below me are the twinkling orange lights of
, the red and white streamers along the roads, the black serpent of the London Thames.
Urgh. Cabin sparks to life, lights flicker on, you may now unfasten your seatbelt, click, snap, bustle in the aisle. Why do they always have to spoil it?
Right, I’m having duck red curry and pak choi and … which movie? Oh this one looks good. Kristin Scott Thomas looking tragic and ethereal and a sweet little girl from
. I’ve Loved You So Long. Vietnam
Oh God. I’m snivelling and snuffling and the man next to me is adjusting his eye mask and shifting away from me in his seat. This always happens to me. Whatever movie I choose on a plane, it always chimes with my current state. So this one, pretty grim as it turns out, is about a woman who’s just out of prison for murdering her six-year-old son. At the end we discover she killed him because he had a painful terminal disease. Euthanased or -ized him, in other words. Causing her lifelong, overwhelming pain. Done out of pure love. Waaa!
They've turned the lights down at last and I’m just drifting off when I sit up with a jolt, eyes wide open. I didn’t have Dusty killed so that I could go to
, did I? No. No. I didn’t. No. Vietnam said. The vet said. Dan said. They all said it was the right thing. It’s coming back to me, now. The vet said I’d feel anger, guilt, all the usual things, but it was The Right Thing. I slump back in my seat. Oh God. Bereavement is like an earthquake. You get the initial shock and all the emotions that go with it, and then just as you think you’re on stable ground again, you get these aftershocks that hit as viscerally as the first. Sandy