You open your eyes with a start and peer through the dimness for the thing that woke you. Some kind of greyish, hooded creature – you felt its sleeve brush your cheek. But no-one stirs. A hush hangs over everything. You’re safe. You’re just nodding off again when the man in front begins to snore; a hideous sound – no, more like a sound-turd. And now there’s a long line of them, every stinking one the same; each grunting moistly upwards before pinching itself out in a tiny ssss.
You’re about to wrench off a shoe and give the moron a slap he’ll never forget, but then you remember why you must not make a scene. Instead, you make a note of the noise. It reminds you of somebody. Could you remember everyone you slept with, just by the way they snored? You could try to list them that way, in your head. An audio ID parade. You have to do something to kill the time before touchdown in Johannesburg or you’ll go mad.
“Michelle! You’ve woken.” The Brazilian guy on your aisle side is staring at you. “Difficult not to, with this terrible man in the front, eh.” His teeth gleam wetly.
You’ve lied to him that you are Michelle, an exchange student coming home from a Sao Paulo language school.
“You know you talk in your sleep, Michelle?”
Sandro. That’s his name. What did I say? Big, dishevelled, sweating profusely, grey hair slicked back from his temple to the nape of his neck. He said he was a doctor – well, you pity his patients. He’s been dopping back the brandies since he got on the plane, and he’s badly in need of a shave.
“Is it, eh? I just hope I didn’t disturb you too much, Sandro.”
His hands are trembling as they rest on the beige pull-out tray. He picks up his drink and sucks in a slow mouthful.
“Michelle, you were not happy. You were calling somebody some very bad names. In a tone which might, eh, marshal a Boer commando, or put down a mutiny, perhaps. Quite a fearsome performance from such a lovely young lady, especially one in the family way.”
He checks you out, his small, sharp eyes unblinking. Fokall to do with you, poes.
“Sorry, Sandro. I’m not used to flying, you know?” You summon a cheerful smile, but suspect it is coming off tight and small.
“Ah, no – remorse is not necessary, Michelle. But you sounded so sad. I thought to myself: what has this beautiful creature got to be sad about?”
What is it with this creep?
“I noticed, Michelle, that you didn’t understand our stewardess when she asked in Portuguese how you were feeling today. You asked for a translation. Interessante, I thought – but then Sao Paulo has many temptations to keep a young girl away from her language studies, eh!” And he raises his glass to you in a mock toast, the signet ring on his pinkie glittering like the eye of an alligator.
You stare at him, frozen.