A cool breeze billowed around us as we stepped out onto the tarmac, grabbing at the hem of Venus’s cotton skirt and casting it above her bare knees. She pushed it back down with her free hand, the other clutching a buff clipboard with a scribbled list of uplifting prompts she could reel off to me should I lose my nerve.
Not a hundred yards from the airport building, our plane waited, the propeller churning the air in front of its nose. A stewardess in a blue skirt suit stood to attention alongside the steel stairway parked beside the open door next to the wing, ready to welcome us on board. We knew exactly what was about to happen. Supine on the relaxation chairs, we’d mentally rehearsed every detail.
As the facilitator signalled us to move forward, a number of the delegates blanched. Others mumbled sotto voce the can-do mantras we’d generated in the class.
“Okay?” said Venus.
I nodded. It wouldn’t do to appear too gung-ho about it, but I was excited. As a teenager I’d loved everything about the flight: the sudden thrust at take-off; the lofty perspective on motorways and mountains and patchwork fields; the meal trays with the doll-sized cups and the cubes of cheese in cellophane packets, all the bits laid out like the provisions in a child’s toy shop. I knew today’s experience would be on a smaller scale, but it still seemed an excellent way to spend my birthday. Venus knew me better than I thought.
The leader had almost reached the stairway when a sudden cramp sliced through my stomach, stopping me in my tracks. Prickly heat broke out on my forehead and a snake of sweat trickled down my spine. Venus looked alarmed as she ran her finger down the list clamped to her clipboard.
The facilitator thrust a brown paper bag into my hands. “Breathe into this. It’s only a panic attack. You’ll be fine in a couple of minutes.”
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