The not knowing was the worst, you will tell yourself later. But of course you knew all the time. Not as if an airliner can go missing; walk out without telling anyone, then turn up at the police station or pop back home after a name check on the radio.

Beijing International Airport: the Chinese woman in the white padded jacket; looks like Julia Roberts. Right now there’s an airline official on the phone to her – the phone painted with pink flowers (of course she knows it’s silly).

Like wind across a wheat field, her face widens into panic, grief, collapse – call it what you will, and anyway it looks strangely like a smile.

As she hears of the disappearance of flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing (239 people on board), what I’ve just done to her – looking, making notes and comparing – is just what padded-white-lady can’t do. She cannot see herself doing what she’s doing. She’s not now going to notice the something that doesn’t square with something else you’d expect it to match. News of loved-one-missing-feared-dead has rendered her existence incomparable, at least for the time being.

Being beyond compare – how exceptional it is, even for a moment.

Until this very moment, padded-white-lady-in-waiting had been hanging around theairport lounge, window-shopping, people-gazing; killing time comparing this with that, him versus her……and look, there he is again.

At KL airport, back where the ill-starred started from, a chic geeky boy wears an Oasis T-shirt featuring a cartoon face-off between Noel and Liam Gallagher. Choosing to wear this T-shirt when he got dressed this morning, geeky boy was sort of saying: they’re a bit like me; I’m a little like them. It’s what he said, metaphorically speaking, outof the corner of his mouth. But now the news fixates him: straight ahead, full face; no scope for anything sideways-on.

Padded-white-lady is condemned to come back to this moment, over and over again. On one such occasion, recalling how she first heard about her lost love, she may also recall the Everly Brothers’ ‘Ebony Eyes’. Thinking about the 24 Chinese artists returning from an exhibition in Malaysia, who are also feared dead, geeky boy may liken this crash to The Day The Music Died. Or perhaps by then there will be a new K-pop song about Flight MH370. And in 12 months’ time surely a sociologist will have analysed the weekly flight paths of Far Eastern professionals, comparing them to early-sixties East Coast suburbanites and their daily commute ‘up state’.

Over time, with increased use of metaphor, even raw grief will metamorphose. Comparative study shows that human nature abhors the incomparable.