Wings of Freedom

“The plane is now cruising at 30,000 feet. You are free to move about the cabin.”

As soon as the announcement came over the tannoy system, I was fumbling for my seatbelt, fingers shaking so badly that it took several attempts before I was free. I tumbled from the seat, fleeing down the aisle. A blur of faces rushed past and a hundred eyes dug into my flushed skin. I ducked into the tiny airplane bathroom, bolted the door and vomited.

My stomach lurched agonisingly, chucking up the contents of my last meal at home. I held back my hair and sobbed. The acid burned my throat, and I coughed and spat until there was nothing left.

I wiped my mouth, looking up at the mirror. The girl staring back was miserable, her skin swollen and blotchy and eyes bloodshot.

Another sob ripped from my chest, and I dissolved into fresh tears. A quiet knock at the door made me scowl, thinking that it was my brother come to drag me back.

“Go away, Ivan!” I choked out, a disgusting bitter tang in the back of my throat.

The voice that answered me was concerned and female. “Are you okay?”

Surprised, I stared at the door. “Who’s that?”

“I’m Margaret,” she tells me. “What’s your name?”

“Jamie.” I hiccuped, pushing hair away from my damp cheeks.

“Could you open the door for me, Jamie?”

I slide the bolt back and Margret smiles at me kindly. She wears the uniform of an air hostess; a short red dress and cap, with a shining name badge perched on her collarbone. Her make-up is so flawless that I feel filthy and gross in comparison.

Seeing her perfection makes my eyes brim with fresh tears. I’m nothing, I’m just scum to her. I scrub them away angrily, but Margret touches my arm. “Come with me,” she coaxes, and leads me to a small kitchen. A sign on the door states boldly that this is a staff-only area, but the lady invites me inside. My curiosity gets the better of me and I follow her inside.

Row upon row of shelves line the walls, each neatly labelled. On a countertop sits a blender and a coffee machine, and hidden into the corner is a fridge full of glass bottles and cans of drink.Taking down a glass from a high shelf, she fills it with water for me. I sip gratefully, the sour tang of vomit washing away.

When I’m done, she refills the glass with a small smile. I decide that I like Margret. She leans back against the counter, acting as though I am a fellow employee instead of a worthless economy passenger. I sip the water and relax a little.

“Thank you,” I tell her.

“You’re very welcome,” she says warmly, hand searching on one of the many shelves. “Aha!” Margret grins, pulling out two cereal bars, and offers one to me. My stomach is still shaky, but I take it and watch her as she devours hers.

“Why did you help me?” I ask, feeling even smaller than ever. Margret covers her mouth as she replies.

“When you ran down the gangway you looked so upset, I knew something was up. There’s nowhere to go on an airplane, so I thought I’d take you to my hiding hole.” She swallowed, her expression sympathetic. “There’s more room in here than one of those poky toilet cubicles.”

I nod slowly, staring down at the cereal bar in my hands. The truth comes out very haltingly. “I don’t want to be on this plane,” I mumble in a low voice. My vision swims.

“Where would you rather be?” Margret’s voice is neutral and calm.

“Home. But we’re not welcome there anymore.”

Margret doesn’t poke or pry, just comes over and takes my hand. Despite her flawless appearance, I can feel tough callouses beneath her skin.

“After the court case, Dad got full custody of us. Mum didn’t even put up a fight. She doesn’t care, she was glad to see the backs of us! Packed us onto the first flight out-” I don’t realise I’m shaking until she hugs me, her still body against my weak, trembling form. I sob into her shoulder unashamedly, her hand pressing circles into my back.

Margret stokes my hair, waiting until my crying has quietened. “You know what this is?” She whispers. I sniff, my face screwed up. “A new start. A new life. When this plane lands you don’t need to be the same person you were when it took of. Reinvent yourself.”

“How?” I breathe, a sudden vision of being the girl everyone wants to be, striding down school corridors like a queen.

“It’s about you,” Margret tells me, her hands on my shoulders. She looks directly into my eyes, her passion filling me up with fire. “It’s about how you present yourself. Stand like a giant and you’ll feel like one. Be kind but not stupid; respect but don’t follow the crowd blindly. If you have an opinion, offer it.”

I manage a watery smile and she squeezes my shoulder. “I can do that,” I whisper.

“One more thing!” Margret says. “And this is the most important.” I nod, gazing up at her in respect.

“You are the only one that can control your happiness. You decide how you feel. Don’t let other people put you down; and don’t ever put someone else down.”

I smile so widely my jaw aches, a swell of happiness bubbling in my chest. Standing on my tip-toes, a dart a kiss onto her cheek. “Thank you so much, Margret!” I say earnestly, turning to leave.

“Give them hell!” She encourages with a sweet laugh.

“I will,” I vow. Still clutching the cereal bar in my fist, I stride back up the plane with determined strides, back to my brother and to the life ahead.

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