A man in a fluorescent orange waistcoat emerges from the cockpit with a clipboard. Seconds later the cabin crew perform a routine cross-check.
The doors are sealed.
I swallow deliberately to unclog my head as the cabin pressurises.
My teenaged neighbour worships her phone, head bowed, nimble thumbs dart and stab, indifferent to a sombre announcement from the captain.
Three hundred kilometres away, a dense fog has swallowed Gatwick Airport. So we’re grounded in Barcelona until our destination clears. Air traffic control have issued us a "slot", which means we're not going anywhere for God knows how long.
That's what the adolescent to my left doesn't realise.
The cabin is seething with highly flammable Spanish teenagers. They must be on a school trip to “English-land”. Boys giggle at exposed bra straps, while girls pout for selfies.
A woman waddles down the aisle. I'd describe her as: "fat", if it wasn't for the badge that reads "BABY ON BOARD", so I guess she's pregnant but fat enough to fly.
The conductor of our youth. She waves her arms and the teenagers quieten. With grammar-school English, she repeats the captain's news. Silence. Then again, in broken Spanish. The cabin erupts with a chorus of profanities. The chaperone waddles off.
Teenagers offline are basically crack-heads in withdrawal. Deprived of social media the itchy addicts spool out of their seats and wander the aisle, loitering to solicit approval. Designated seating gets shuffled so that friends and lovers can collude.
The volume has suddenly increased by two decibels.
The air tastes recycled and its temperature reminds me of a public swimming pool. Nice and warm, in a beige kind of way. I remove my tunic, and check my phone. Lucky me. The airport's public WiFi is in reach.
I grab onto it and check the easyJet website.
The captain was right. London: -3°C, heavy fog. Severe weather warning.
I look past my neighbours and out, over the tip of the wing. It's a beautiful day outside. I hate London. I hate queuing. I hate cigarettes and I’m craving a smoke.
My neighbour flicks a glance at me, then preens her hair. I smile. I remember that phase.
She's pretty. Her T-shirt is creased by her bra, one of those stiff moulded bras, one cup size larger than its actual contents. She's not fishing for male attention just yet, she’s defending herself … from the cruel scrutiny of her peers. I remember that phase too. If only she knew hundreds - perhaps millions - of men adore small breasts.
I look up to see her competition. Two aisles down. A murder of crows.
Another announcement extends our delay.
The air hostess follows up, with apologies and a peace offering, broadcasting that refreshments are now available for purchase; excluding alcohol.
OK that's it. I march to the toilet and locked inside I pull out my trusty e-vape, loaded with delicious oily nicotine syrup. Old-school rebel. I push the barrel in my mouth and suck a lung full of synthetic smoke. It curls out seductively. I check the mirror. A mid-life crisis looks back at me through lecherous foggy glasses. Where did I go?
I swallow another lung full of smoke, then another. Then knock, knock, knock. Shit. I wave the air frantically and pocket my nicotine gun and flush the toilet. KNOCK, KNOCK.
I'm caught. I unlock the door, ready to fight. There’s no way in hell I’m paying a fine.
But it just another passenger. Not what I was expecting. I recognise her. It’s Miss "BABY ON BOARD". The chaperone. She's twitchy with a handbag clutched under arm. She smiles and apologises. The English live to apologise. An inexplicable cultural obsession. I call her bluff with a double apology, but she trumps me with a false smile. I fold.
The catering cart arrives.
"Anything for you sir?"
"Yes, um, a cuppa tea and a Kit-Kat."
I unfold the table and relax into the internet. After a couple of emails I swap over to BBC news, and as the page struggles to load I notice the group of girls, the ravens, whispering and giggling. I pretend to read.
Two tightly shrinkwrapped girls stand in the aisle beside a friend’s seat. Wanton eyes hunting, they’re not innocent. One girl notices me watching. A lipgloss whisper directs all their eyes towards me. I drop my eyes, betrayed by carnal curiosity.
My neighbour bows her head and gasps. Her knees snap together.
She looks up at me in absolute shame.
Her turquoise leggings blacken with blood, like a surgeon's gown. Her eyes are frantic. My heart breaks on her behalf, so I lean down and hand her my black tunic and nod. She looks up at the button, to call for assistance, and then at me.
I know what happens next, because it happened to me once, a lifetime ago. A trial by laughter. Teenaged cruelty.
I have a plan. The catering cart is approximately three metres down the aisle, and the crew are all women. I press the attention button. The hostess notices and approaches, when she's about two meters away I whisper to my neighbour in pidgeon Spanish.
"I need you to trust me"
I bump my lukewarm cup of tea into her lap, and leap up apologising frantically. She bursts into tears. Her trousers are drenched and dark, down to the knee. Her humiliation is in disguise. The air hostess arrives and in the commotion I manage to whisper.
"I think she's having her period, please ... get a blanket"
I continue to serenade with melodramatic apologies, and open the overhead locker, so we have access to her suitcase. Her peers will remember this incident for the wrong reason, in the future they will laugh at her, but mostly they will laugh at me, and I'm proud of that.
The hostess returns with a blanket. I follow them with her suitcase.
The toilet is occupied. The hostess knocks with authority. No answer.
She knocks again and demands a response. Silence.
Bang, bang, bang. The ultimatum. Nothing.
She folds aside an aluminium flap, adjacent to the handle, which conceals a manual override.
She slides the bolt over.
The door swings open and the teenager screams.
The human ear is hard-wired to certain frequencies of sound. We can't ignore a crying baby, for example. These sounds penetrate the fabric of existence, and we respond by reflex. It's a pure sound. It cannot lie or deceive in the way language does. Its pitch describes the very essence of being, the nature of suffering, the extent of pain or the violence of rage.
Her pure scream described Armageddon.
A few female passengers suddenly began to weep, while others jumped up in terror. All 236 heads on flight EZ8527 were turned on us. I needed to vomit, but first I must stop her scream.
I guess it must have looked bad when I snatched the girl and gagged her gaping mouth. It must have looked really bad, like I was violating her. I just didn't want anyone to hear what we had seen in that fucking cubicle.
The hostess slammed the door, and took the hysterical girl into the rear reception area of the plane, and sat her down to console her. A massive man in the front row unbuckled himself. My judge, jury and executioner started to marched toward me. I pressed myself against the toilet door and lifted my nicotine gun into my mouth.
"Good news ladies and gentlemen! We’ve been cleared for takeoff. Cabin crew, please prepare the cabin for departure."
The pilot’s oblivious optimism was grotesque.
The air hostess unhooked the intercom, dialled a code on the keypad. I didn't hear what she said. Behind me, inside the cubicle a woman sat limp, on her chest a badge "BABY ON BOARD", her skirt hitched up, her panties around her ankles, mascara rivers running down her face. The toilet seat, basin, floor and walls were haemorrhaging blood.
When the door first opened, she was shivering. A torrent of blood ran down her inner thighs, meandered around her calves, over her ankles to reach the glossy red lake below. She wore sticky crimson evening gloves that stretched from finger to elbow, and cupped in her hands ... oh god ... in her hands ... forgive me, I can't describe what she cradled in her bloody hands.
She looked up at us, then down at the absurd landscape.
"I, I, I ..." her lips quivered, "I am so sorry"
Slowly she lifted her hands to her mouth, a lumpy purple umbilical cord dangled down between her legs and she kissed her aborted passenger goodbye.
She's still in there now. I'm against the door ventilating on nicotine. Judge Dread is almost upon me. My neighbour is wailing in the corner, with blood throbbing out of her groin and the air hostess is in the other corner, vomiting.
As the avenging stranger passes the lipgloss sex kitten in the aisle, she also expels that terrified gasp, folding forward as her ovaries collapse and blood floods into her crotch.
The alpha male arrives along with his verdict.
Crack! A punch in the head and I smash down next to the hostess. My face is bleeding, the teenager is gushing, and he steps in for strike two, but the air hostess raises a manicured hand in my defence.
He-man pauses confused. The penny drops.
He retreats and opens the toilet door, crosses himself like an altar-boy, then weeps like a child as he tries to heave open the rear door to the aircraft.
The air hostess leaps up on high heels, trained to disarm, she grabs his massive shoulder.
"Excuse me sir, you can NOT do that."
But he's on autopilot.
"Sir, return to you seat immediate..."
Her unpronounced syllable made me look up. I watched her step back and look down at the floor where she was. A drop of blood, the size of a five pence coin, had stopped her. The next drop, fifty pence in diameter, opened her up.
Blood snaked down her leg, clotting in her stockings.
"Oh God no!!!!! What's happening to me?!"
The rear door popped open, an emergency slide exploded outward and inflated with a hiss.
A murmur from a woman, adjacent to the open toilet, cascaded down the aisles, infecting each row with panic, which erupted like a tidal wave.
I crawled over to shield my neighbour from the hysterical stampede.
Outside the sky was dense, with a sinister mist.
A month has passed since then.
“The bonus ball is … eighteen. That’s: one and eight, eighteeeeee...”
Click. I change channel.
A handsome woman presents the news. Unemployment is soaring, and nobody gives a fuck. She smiles, the handover smile, she holds for two seconds before the weatherman appears, and if you look at her smile closely you can see the crack in the whole of humanity.
It’s all gone wrong.
The ingredients are there: shiny eyes, bleached teeth, lips in a crescent moon. But it's sterile. Her smile is sterile. All woman have that same smile. It’s the smile of infertility.
This lady hemorrhaged, just like all woman hemorrhaged, except hers happened on prime time television, as she broke the story of her career. "GLOBAL PANDEMIC" which featured footage of passengers, quarantined on a runway, in Barcelona.
The weather followed.
Fog. Low visibility. 94% humidity and a hay fever alert: "extremely high" levels of pollen.
Armageddon was neither nuclear nor biological warfare. It was ecological.
Mother Nature’s last resort.
By the time we figured it out, it was too late. An airborne spawn covered the globe, carrying with it a pollen based protein, designed to sterilise women. The abortion of the human race only took about three weeks, and nobody died.
Click. I change channel.
The world’s youngest person is weeks old, today.
Click. I change channel.
Click. I’m killing time.