A portrait

On the plane home from Spain* I sat in an aisle seat next to a young couple. Romford-based, I guessed, or possibly Dartford. She was all bronzer and false eyelashes, he was all shoulders and stubble. As I stowed my bag they were arguing, possibly over her insistence on reading the Bistro section of easyJet’s Boutique and Bistro magazine as though she were perusing the menu at the Fat Duck.

I’ll ‘ave a cup a’tea, a Milka, and a Pepsi. Will I ‘ave a Pepsi? Yeah, I’ll have a Pepsi. And a Milka. A cup a’tea. Yeah. Or – ? Yeah, a Milka.

He snapped at her, then did something that I missed, but that might have been licking her cheek. She threw a fit: “I try and look nice for yer, and yer ruining moi make-up!” More bickering and sniping which suddenly, at a point I again missed, turned into activity more suited to the hotel they presumably vacated a few hours earlier. I determinedly buried myself in my book (Sarah Winman’s When God Was a Rabbit, if anyone’s interested, very good) but could still detect nuzzling, licking, stroking and – oh, hell – her hand was very definitely in his crotch. He shifted, had almost certainly got at least a semi, thank Christ for loose shorts.

She caught me looking up from my book with an expression half-alarmed, half-suppressed laughter, and did I hear her say, at him, “That’s enough, Ginger**”? I considered asking if they’d like some privacy and moving to the empty seat in front, but that was next to some of their mates and I feared being made to suffer in some unfathomable way. She reminded me of the girls who bullied me at school – terribly concerned about their nails and hair and not at all bothered by the thought of inflicting minor cruelty. I stayed put. My book really was very good.

We hadn’t even taken off yet.

Then the picture gets a little bleaker. He has, she said to friends behind, told her he doesn’t want to be married again. I stole a glance across. He was 23, 24. And then I looked at her. Properly, for the first time, and I gasped. She couldn’t be more than 17. Underneath the immaculate topknot hair and lashings of mascara, she is incredibly young. And vulnerable. Later, she went to sleep in his lap. I wondered whether all the dry humping is an attempt to cling on to a man who’s already got half a foot out the door.

* I’ve been in Spain for a few days
**I am now ginger.

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