Tadpole trotted ahead of me down the aisle, as I scanned the seat numbers for row number 20. We passed a motley assortment of pensioners, children in full Disney regalia, couples returning from a romantic weekend in Paris – although some looked as though they had fallen out, possibly over the amount of time Madame wanted to spend shopping – and a couple of pin-striped suits with laptops.
After much stopping and starting, whilst fellow passengers grappled clumsily with hand luggage and coats, seemingly in slow motion, we finally reached our destination. Tadpole clambered across to the window seat and started fiddling with her “strap-on”, while I removed my coat.
I turned and saw an attractive man standing behind me, patiently waiting. He must have been allocated the aisle seat, beside mine. Smiling good naturedly, he offered to stow our coats in the overhead locker, before taking his seat. I contemplated him surreptitiously through my eyelashes. He was roughly my age, at a guess, and dressed in well-cut jeans and casual clothes. Hair a little too carefully gelled for my taste. Carrying a laptop, but also a notepad and pencil.
I rarely strike up a conversation with fellow travellers, but today, maybe I would. At any rate, I was thankful to be seated with the only vaguely civilised person I had spied on the flight.
But as I located the Tadpole entertainment kit, consisting of crayons, drawing book, Dora sticker book and story books, I became aware of a certain restlessness in my travel companion. I sensed him casting around as the plane filled up, gauging whether there were likely to be any free seats left, poised to seize his chance as soon as the doors closed.
And sure enough, he suddenly stood, muttering “I’m just going to move and give you some space. No offence intended.”
“None taken,” I replied, head still bowed, rummaging through my rucksack for a wet wipe.
But I did feel a vague pang of disappointment. Try as I might to shrug it off, I couldn’t help seeing this inconsequential little exchange as portentious; the shape of things to come.
Not simply a woman in my own right, but a mother. Part of a package. This little person – the sum total of what is most precious, most valuable in my life – grounds for rejection.