Taking Flight by Lydia Penn

As time passed, her feeling of uneasiness grew in intensity with every passing minute until it developed into sheer panic. The announcement of a delayed take off somehow clinched the matter for her. She looked around the departure lounge, then back at the three flatmates who had come to see her off.

She finally made her decision. She stood up. “I’m not going”, she announced, much to the consternation of the other three girls.

Martha had always loved airports and flying; London airport (later known as Heathrow) was familiar territory to her; She had worked there as part of a team of survey interviewers for several months, even prior to the opening of Terminal One, when airport buildings had been only small shack-like constructions, and arrivals had to walk across the tarmac from the aircraft. Martha had seen many celebrities enter the country that way.

It was 1962, in the era later described as “The Golden Age of flying”,—– an era of glamorous hostesses, gourmet meals and plenty of leg room. Terrorism had not yet made airport security a priority, and travel an ordeal of thorough checks and increasing restrictions. There was freedom of movement around the airport too.

Martha had always worked on the evening shift when the last flight out was at 10:30 pm. After passengers had embarked, the airport closed down for the night and everyone went home. Tonight Martha herself was to be a passenger on that flight – a flight which had always departed on time.

The girls had been sitting for a while in the pleasant departure lounge of Terminal One, and it was almost boarding time when the announcement came across the tannoy. There was to be a delay of thirty minutes before departure.

This was certainly a very unexpected development, which Martha had not anticipated. Why tonight? It’s never happened before, she thought. How strange!

She sat silently in a panic a few moments longer, oblivious to the chatter around her, But now she had the impetus she needed. To wait another thirty minutes was unbearable. Driven by some inner force she did not comprehend, courage came to her to make that decision.

Curious behaviour indeed for a girl flying out to marry the man she had been dating for so long!

It had all begun almost two years earlier when she had met him at a friend’s dinner party. He was the classic, “Tall, dark and handsome”, and she had been immediately attracted, and thrilled when he asked her out.

Their first date, a week later, had been to a movie which had been under discussion at the dinner party. Neither had previously seen it and afterwards, they discussed it over a cup of coffee.

They began to see each other regularly, and although his work as a journalist often took him away for short assignments, invariably, as soon as he was back in town, he would ring her and make a date for their next meeting.

They went to theatres, nightclubs, played tennis in the summer, or went for drives into the country and lunched at some small quaint pub that they came across. Although she was not a bit interested in football, she even went to a match with him, just so they could be together.

Their friendship grew, and her flatmates, who had told her when she joined them as the fourth girl, “No one ever gets married from this flat,” were beginning to think she was going to prove them wrong!

Yet for all their times together, they seemed to be drifting. She had to admit that there seemed to be a lack of romance. In spite of all his attentiveness, he never sent flower, unexpected little gifts or wrote ardent love letters. Nor did she introduce him to her family, knowing instinctively that her somewhat strict father would strongly disapprove of a journalist, considering them unstable and unreliable.

So they enjoyed being together, making no future plans, until the day he broke the news over dinner. It had been an especially good meal at a smart restaurant that they frequently patronised. “I have something to tell you,” he began as he stirred his coffee. “I’m off on an overseas assignment for at least six months

He was obviously delighted at the prospect, but Martha was devastated, although she did her best to hide her dismay. But his next words were even more surprising.

“Why don’t you come with me.” he continued. “Once I get some accommodation settled, you can follow me out there. We can get married, have a good life together, Will you come?”

Martha was stunned. It wasn’t exactly the sort of marriage proposal she had envisaged, but she was afraid if she refused, she would lose him altogether. Although there was no mention of having a formal engagement, she accepted, and as soon as he left, she began making her own plans for following him.

She quit her job at the airport and excitedly booked her flight as soon as she heard from him. There was so much preparation, so many things to do, she became totally absorbed in the practicalities.

But when everything was ready, and with only a few days to go, Martha suddenly began to feel strangely uneasy.She pushed such thoughts aside, “Everything is going to be fine,” she told herself. He is honest, reliable and he really wants me with him. After so long we are finally going to be committed to each other. “We’re in love”.

But the doubts did not go away; in fact, they intensified until Martha felt caught in a trap from which she did not know how to extricate herself. She packed – but her packing was chaotic. She couldn’t think straight and left half her possessions behind to be sent on – how, she had no idea!

If her flatmates noticed anything odd, they said nothing. They gave her a farewell dinner and one, who had a car, drove them all across London to the airport where they all joined her in the departure lounge. They weren’t concerned about the thirty-minute delay, and were flabbergasted at Martha’s sudden announcement that she was not going.

Had she taken leave of her senses?
Or had she just come to them?

Her friends remonstrated with her and did their best to reassure her that it was only a delay – all would be well. But Martha was adamant. She had known for some time that something was wrong and to get on the plane would be an irretrievable mistake, she had found the courage to make the right decision, and her relief was overwhelming – the delay giving her time had been just what she needed.

When the others realise she was determined they followed her down to the airline desk where she explained to the astonished airline staff that she was not travelling and requested her suitcase be taken off the aircraft.

They tried to reassure her that the aircraft was quite safe, the delay was only temporary and she had no need to be anxious, and so forth.

It was difficult for Martha to explain her decision had nothing to do with the plain; she simply did not want to travel. She didn’t really understand it herself. All she knew was she wanted to get out of the airport and back to the flat as soon as possible.

Finally, her suitcase was brought off the plane, and Martha was free to go. The whole episode was of course highly irregular, but Martha was totally oblivious to the reactions of those around her, and she certainly didn’t care what they thought.

The girls all piled back into the car and in stony silence drove back to the flat, where Martha tumbled quickly into bed. Tomorrow she would see about getting a refund on her airline ticket. For tonight she was just happy to be free!


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