I ran for the airport terminal shuttle bus; the doors shut behind me as I skipped on. I sank into a seat beside a young chap who was turned sideways and chatting with the fellow behind him, who was leaning forward. They were speaking in English, quietly, about Melania Trump.
The chap beside me was French; the one behind us, Turkish. They were agreeing on how good for her age she looked. She hadn’t had any ‘aesthetic’ surgery either, as far as he could tell, which was a brave choice, thought the Turk. She was Czech, wasn’t she? ‘Slovenian,’ said the French guy authoritatively. ‘Yes, they look after themselves those eastern European women,’ said the Turk. ‘I was in Budapest one time and even the middle-aged women were thin. Everywhere you go in Europe the women are getting fatter. Even in Italy. Everywhere I go, I study this new fatness of the women. It was incredible to see even the Italian women are getting fat.’ ‘It’s all those heavy meals they eat,’ said the Frenchman, himself something of an expert, perhaps.
‘But when I was in Holland recently,’ the Turk went on, ‘the Dutch women were not half so fat as I expected. Not as fat as the Italian women, for example. They were thin. Why is this, I wondered to myself?’ ‘It’s all that bicycling they do,’ stated the Frenchman. ‘Dutch women spend half their lives on their bikes. It keeps the weight low.’
They were both in full agreement about eastern European women, though. And Melania Trump was a classic example of how well they look after themselves, even into middle age. ‘She’s lovely,’ said the Turk wistfully. ‘How old is she now?’ ‘Forty-six,’ said the Frenchman.
‘Spanish women are so beautiful,’ said the Frenchman. ‘And then they get to 30 or 35 and they suddenly get fat, like a balloon. It’s the same with German women. It’s a tragedy.’ ‘I had a Jewish girlfriend,’ reminisced the Turk. ‘She was 20 and already a little heavy around the middle. You could tell she was going to get fat quickly, like her mother, who was huge. To be honest she was already too heavy for my taste, but she was the only girlfriend I had at the time, so I stayed with her until I found someone thinner.’
A loudspeaker announcement in three languages said we were now approaching car park B. The perky female English voice was the same one that tells me on the phone she is now connecting me to Torbay oncology department, ‘Unless you say otherwise!’ Three young women alighted, chattering away in French. They decided to stand for the short distance to the terminal. They were très chic, rightly delighted with themselves, and done to a turn by the Provençal sun. Two were slender bordering on anorexic. The third was what I would have said was an athletic build. The Frenchman gave several judicious, approving, possibly patriotic nods to the Turk. The Turk indicated with small, surreptitious hand movements that the borderline anorexics, yes, no problem; the athletic one maybe, maybe not. The two were silent on the way to car park A, as they studied the swaying, jiggling, laughing female forms. The Frenchman’s eye was the steady, dispassionate eye of an experienced connoisseur. The Turk eventually shaded his eyes with his hand and muttered imprecations to himself. I looked straight ahead, unmoved, inscrutable, saying nothing.
At the last stop before the terminal, car park A, a documentary fat woman, with gothic lettering tattooed up the side of her white leg and a dotted line across her neck above the words ‘tear here’, clambered aboard wheezing heavily. She could only be of the English working class and proved it immediately by saying ‘Christ almighty’ in a beautiful Lancashire accent as the bus lurched away from the stop and she had to put a hand on my shoulder to stop herself from falling. ‘Are you alright, dear?’ I said, standing smartly so she could sit next to the Frenchman. She accepted gratefully and fell backwards into the seat, partially obscuring the Frenchman with a bare arm as thick as my thigh.
I looked at the Turk. He was wrestling to accommodate this new order of magnitude into his researches, like a palaeontologist coming across a fossilised human footprint twice as old as any discovered before. I looked at the Frenchman. He had disencumbered himself from the massive, pasty arm and now sat with his eyes closed, as if it were possibly all a dream. ‘Are you coming or going?’ I said, affably, when she got her breath back finally. ‘I wish I knew,’ shesaid. She laughed and looked at the Frenchman. Seeing his eyes were closed, she respectfully reined herself in and whispered, ‘Asleep. Bless!’