Now I'm in the departures lounge at Mauritius airport. Beth has just left on her shining Emirates jet to Dubai to catch her connecting flight, leaving us lesser mortals at gate 2: Air Mauritius to Mumbai.
I skype father Dalton on my tiny Swiss Acer of sticky key fame to find him posed cheerfully behind the desk at Princep Pardoe accountants, very probably elbows deep in some sort of tax rebate adventure. He wishes me a good flight before reaching for the disconnect button, and then rotating with non-chalance in his swivel chair to shuffle a dossier or three. So business a correspondance.
My flight is at last called and I rush to the toilets to tap off one final layer of jitters from a troubled bowel.
Seat 10A is the resting place I am allocated on my ticket, and I throw down my bulging carry-on before sinking noisily to recline. I greet the Madam to my right - lavish red Sari, bindi, pungently spritzed in a veritable cacophony of eaux de toilettes - who instantly jumps to life in a way not dissimilar from the overly animated Emma Watson in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone: "Hello, I'm Hermoine!". Except her name isn't Hermoine and I unfortunately don't quite catch it.
"Core..." I begin. "Don't think much of this as a so called window seat..." I`m referring to the fact that the window is sandwiched in between my seat and the one behind, giving me access to a half moon sliver of The Outside through which I can see half of a 'no step' sign on the wing. Hermoine, as she will have to be known, looks blankly at me, considers the complaint, then takes a deep breath, erupts into an alarmingly sudden smile and sets off on her life story, regardless of our conversation or of her audience.
She is 37 years old and unmarried. This, she tells me, is a huge problem. A huge problem that is causing her poor old mother in Bombay (she never once refers to our destination as Mumbai) many the sleepless night and amounting to her finding herself under a substantial amount of pressure to wed. She had begun speaking to a bachelor - one of the eligible variety, or so she had hoped - who had wooed her with romantic apostrophes to his native island of Mauritius to which he had also compared her beauty (or as much as her beauty was visible via the presumably pixelated webcam link). Eventually, after an intense three months of instant messaging and emoticon filled wooing, he had proposed to her and she had decided, almost certain of her wish to marry the object of her cyber romance, to fly to Mauritius to test out there relationship in reality just one time to make sure.
"Oh brilliant! How did it go?"
"Well where do you see me now?"
"I'm sorry?" I'm not entirely sure what she wishes me to reply.
"I'm on the bloody plane aren't I! Three days it lasted... I had to bring my flights forward... All that money spent!"
I say that I'm sorry to hear this and ask what exactly what had gone wrong.
"No chemistry..." she laments. "I like to go into the water, he doesn't like to go into the water. In fact, he likes to stay quite clear of the water. I like to drink, he hates to drink. I find my poor mother tiresome, whereas he listens to every word his mother says. Thirty two years old and controlled by his old mother!"
I tell her that I agree this to be far from ideal and wish her better luck in her romantic escapades back in Mumbai. The conversation here seems to reach a point of natural punctuation; I can't quite think of any further words of encouragement that might be helpful, and the look in her eyes tells me that she is still brooding on the nerve of the man who beckoned her to the opposite side of the Indian Ocean before refusing to so much as approach a pair of swimming trunks. My fingers happen conveniently upon the inflight magazine and I pretend to flick through it, noting with some unease Hermoine's continuing to look in my direction, her initial smile still frozen across her mouth yet the vague anger in her eyes turning her visage into a Picasso of derangement.
It is indeed with pleasure that I receive the attention of an airhostess who taps me on the shoulder to ask me if I am Mr Benjamin Dalton. Having received my affirmation of this truth, she asks me if I have anything in the overhead locker and whether I would kindly remove it, produce my passport and follow her for a moment.
"Oh? Is there a problem?"
She leans in forward, concerned. "I'm afraid so, yes."
"Should I.... should I be worried?" I'm worried already. Both I know that and the people around me do; they can most probably smell the hot, foxy stink of panic pheromones now activated in my pit glands.
Leaning closer still, eyes darting side to side, like a character warning of danger in a generic danger movie. "Just a little bit. Un p'tit peu, Monsieur. You won't be traveling here tonight.."
Horror. The others won't be able to contact me, I won't be able to contact them, will Air Mauritius put me up in a wonderful hotel? Will there be a swimming pool? So is the jumbled state of my mind at this instant.
I follow the airhostess to the aircraft exit before she hands me back my passport but with a different ticket inside it.
"Only joking Monsieur, you'll actually be travelling first class."
A curtain is opened for me and I blink through it to a land of champagne, pressed trousers and Bombay royalty.
"But I don't understand... has there been a..."
"Look Sir, do you want us to do this or not?" She is strangely forceful now.
I decide there to be no further point in arguing.