“Are you scared of flying?” the young man seated next to asked, a knowing smile on his face.
“Well, not flying generally. Just takeoffs, and landings and the moments in between.”
“So, the whole thing?”
“The whole damn thing.” I responded with a nod, gripping the hand rest tighter as the plane took off gently. I hoped he wouldn’t see me holding on for dear life, but as the thought formed in my head, his eyes zeroed in on my white knuckles.
Dammit, universe, I have to hide my thoughts from you now?
He smiled again, his eyes alight with amusement. I tried to mimic his expression, but the plane hit a slight bump and I probably ended up looking constipated, so I let the smile drop.
“Do you fly a lot?” he asked, almost as if we were having tea in a nice coffee shop by a quiet roadside.
“A little too much.” I responded, almost breathless.
What was taking the damn plane so long?
He raised a brow in question, so I bit down on my rising panic and I continued.
“I like to travel, a lot. I might even suffer from wanderlust; so it is ironic that flying terrifies the absolute shit out of me.”
He threw his head back and laughed like I just told the best joke in the world. Confused, I asked what was funny.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t mocking you in any way. It’s just that, watching you speak about your love for travelling, and then your hatred for flying, it just made me think of Jekyll and Hyde. One minute, your face had a dreamy expression and the next you looked like you wanted to stab somebody. Hilarious, really!”
When I got the gist, I also laughed. It really was a good one.
“I don’t understand it myself! Every time I’m going somewhere new, after the initial excitement, I sometimes cry and ask myself why I like to put myself through the trauma of flying, when I have to fly that is.”
“But you still do it.” He mused quietly.
“Yeah.” I shrugged, “Travelling is my first love. There’s no fear that’s strong enough to hold me back. I’ve regretted saying that on several occasions, I’ll have you know, but every chance I get, I’ll still pack up my suit case and go meet my love.”
“Not a lot of people are able to conquer their fears like that.” He said, his face the image of respect. From someone dressed as he was, it made me feel a little uncomfortable. It’s not every day you see a man in the military look at you like you’re the bravest person around, especially after you’ve seen what that military has been doing in recent times.
“I guess they’ve not found a strong enough reason to.”
For a few seconds, he didn’t say anything, then he looked out the window near him, looked back at me and said, “You’ve successfully conquered that fear one more time.” He said, complete with a proper salute.
Sure enough, we were already in the air and I didn’t even notice! He successfully distracted me, and for the life of me, I wanted to keep it that way for the rest of our three-hour journey.
“Thank you.” And I meant every word of it. He smiled in acknowledgement and looked out the window wistfully.
Alright, Dawn, how do you keep a conversation alive? Ha! I know!
“So, you’re in the military?”
Oh God. No shit, Sherlock. The man is fully dressed in a military ensemble. He’s wearing the friggin’ cap too, and you just have to point out the obvious!
“Are you okay? He asked quizzically, peering at me strangely. Realising that I had zoned out to have a quiet battle with myself, I blinked myself back to the present.
“Of course, sorry. You were saying?” In the face of all stupid questions, one powers on with bravado.
“Yes, I am in the military. The gear must have given me away.” He said exasperatedly, and I I realised then just how really really, super-duper cool he is.
“I’ve been away for two years; I’ll be seeing my family for the first time in two years. I don’t know how to feel.”
“That’s a really long time?” My best relationship with my family is over the phone, and I like it that way, I think my parents, for all their complaints like it that way as well.
“Too long.” That wistful look crossed his face again, and for a few seconds, I wondered what it would feel like to think about missing a family and looking the way he was looking.
Turns out I didn’t have to worry about keeping the conversation going, my companion made for excellent company and he’s easy to talk to. We were talking like old friends in no time. I told him about my weird family, and he told me about his weird family life.
“You left home two weeks after your wedding?” I squealed, probably a little too loudly, if the looks I got were any indication. To compensate, I repeated what I just said…in a whisper.
“Yeah, I had to. Duty calls. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“How did your wife take it? Did she throw a tantrum? If I ever get married and my husband pulls that crap, oh, he’s going to get it.”
“You see, I didn’t pull the crap, my service to the nation did, and she understood. Honestly, she took it better than I did.”
I found that strange. In my experience, when people are in ‘love’ with someone, they want to clamp on to them and never let them go anywhere they can’t follow.
“Leila is the absolute best thing that’s ever happened to me. I know they say nobody is perfect and you can’t really say that someone loves you completely, that you can only speak for yourself. But she is perfect and I can say that she loves me with every atom of her being. With every breath she takes, every word she says, the way she moves, every damn thing tells me just how much she loves me, and dammit I love that woman.”
“Wow. I feel like you have been waiting a while to say those words.”
He flashed me one of his many easy smiles, “I’m sorry. It’s been two years. I’m actually a little nervous. I’ll also be seeing our daughter for the first time, so it’s just crazy in my head.”
“You have a child?”
“Yes, she found out she was pregnant a few months after I left. Staying away was the second hardest thing I have ever done.”
“What’s the first?”
He looked so sad that I asked him to tell me about his wife, and his face lit up like the light of ten thousand suns, and his face only got brighter and brighter as he talked about her. At some point, I stopped hearing what he was saying, not because I was tired of hearing him say such words about another human being, but because for the first time in my adult years, I thought about what it would feel like to talk about someone else like that. Like…like…my very existence is because of them and everything else will be meaningless without them. Man could find the solution to global warming, end world hunger and bring about world peace, but none of it would have any meaning without them. It brought goosebumps to my flesh and I shivered a little.
An object dancing in my face brought me back to the present.
“Here, her picture.” He had been waving a picture in my face, so I took it. I really wanted to see what this person he was talking about looked like. I found myself staring at a petite woman smiling so hard into the camera it looked like her face was going to break from the sheer force of it, and in her eyes was such untamed wildness that one could get lost just looking in them. Oh wow.
“She’s gorgeous.” I breathed, and I meant it. The woman really is gorgeous.
“I know, right! God, I can’t wait to see her.” He grinned affably, his warm chocolate brown eyes melting like the very chocolate they took their colour from. I don’t know why, but I found myself grinning back at him- it must the joy in those eyes. It was oh, so contagious.
He asked me about my journey, where I was going and the places I hoped to see. I said more to him about my trip than I told my family, and I didn’t feel weird about it at all, and when he offered to open his home up to me and offered to be my tour guide as well, I didn’t find it strange either. But I couldn’t take the offer.
“Are you sure? You need privacy to reunite with your family. I can’t possibly intrude on such a moment.” I said, shaking my head. A friendly face in a strange city is the dream, but I couldn’t accept what he was offering.
“I insist, please. My wife lives to help people; I don’t understand it myself. When I tell her about this encounter, she’d ask why I didn’t ask you to come with us. You don’t want her to send me out in the middle of the night to look for the poor tourist lady, do you?” his face was dead straight as he said it, but I couldn’t help but laugh still.
“No, I wouldn’t want that.” I said, still laughing.
“Awesome. We would love to have you in our home.”
The rest of the flight went on like that, the both of us trading stories like long separated old friends. I guess there are some people you meet like that. It’s like you meet a bunch of people and they are either too ordinary to keep your attention for long, or you wish you never left your house on the day you met them. And then there are the ones that come like an apology and compensation for those other people.
I see what you are doing, universe, and I like it. I really like it.
Somehow, the pilot was asking us to fasten out belt for the plane’s landing, and I looked around, expecting someone to call Aprils fool, except, dammit, it wasn’t April.
“It’s over. We made it home.” He said wistfully, mocking me with his eyes. I wanted to hug him so terribly as we sat facing each other, waiting for the final moments before we are let out of this monstrous tin box.
“Thank you.” I said, hoping those words conveyed the extent of my feelings.
“It’s nothing.” He said with a shrug.
Soon, we were out of the air plane and through checkout.
“Do you see them anywhere?” I asked, craning my neck to see all the way to arrivals, which was a daunting task, considering how tiny I am. God, there were just so many people at the airport. I could hear cries of family parting and reuniting, and while I would usually distract myself with those people on my own arrival as I make my way alone out of the airport, I had another task at hand.
“No, I don’t.” he said in a distracted voice as he looked around as well. I really hoped he was making better progress than I was.
“Oh my God, there they are!” he said suddenly, and then he was walking really fast away from me, and it was an effort to keep up with him. Soon, he was rearing across the airport to meet someone I still could not see, but I continued following him as best as I could.
His urgency was a power that parted the sea of people, and sure enough I saw where it was leading him- a petite woman with an unbound afro, red lips, wild eyes and a general aura of mystery, holding the most beautiful baby girl I have ever seen. Just like in the picture. Even better than in the picture.
Soon, he was standing in front of her and I held my breath. I don’t know what I was expecting really- after all I’ve heard, I expected something…something explosive! But he just touched his forehead to hers, then went on his knees to face the little girl. I didn’t hear what he said to her, but she gave him a toothy smile and he scooped her off her feet.
He beckoned for me to come over, made the introductions, and sure enough, she hugged me warmly and welcomed me to the city. When she stepped away, I couldn’t help but wonder that she had given me a much warmer hug than she had given her husband. Is it true that we remember people better in our memories? That they look better there and the reality never really matches up?
The ride back to their home was a very awkward one, with me looking back and forth between them, and his voice ringing in my ears; a memory. “We touch every moment we get. It was physically impossible for us to be in the same space and not a simple part of our body is touching.”
But they weren’t touching. It was almost as if they were seating as far away from each other as they could possibly be seated in the small car with her driving and him riding shotgun.
“Is everything alright?”
After one hour of my arrival, I was in comfortable clothes in an absolute stranger’s house and I felt quite at home, except that I wasn’t entirely comfortable. I had that same feeling I get after reading an incomplete series.
“No. Nothing is alright, nothing will ever be.” He said, and his eyes were flat and dead.
Cold fear licked its way down my spine, and for the first time since meeting him, it occurred to me that I should probably be scared. My dawning horror must have been apparent on my face, as his face crumbled and that flatness disappeared long enough for him to say, “No, please, don’t be afraid. You’re safe here. Excuse me, there is something I have to do.” He didn’t move fast enough; I saw the first teardrop make its way down his cheek.
Confused, I made to follow him, but a gentle hand stopped me.
“Not yet, he needs to do this alone.” His wife said, and when I whirled around to face her, a demand for an explanation at the tip of my tongue, I saw that she was crying.
“Did something happen?” I asked her as I searched my head for something he must have told me that could serve as a clue, but I came up empty.
“Come with me, you must be famished.” She was right, I was,
She led me to a very spacious kitchen and made me sit down while she fixed me a sandwich.
I looked on as she efficiently went about cutting the crust off the bread and filling it up.
“A few months ago, his wife fell terribly ill, she had cancer and it wasn’t detected on time, by then, it was already too late.” She said conversationally, and because she wasn’t looking at me, she didn’t see my jaw drop.
“Excuse me?” I asked, getting off the stool so fast my eyes started spinning. What the actual fuck was going on? How’s the woman in front of me telling me she had cancer a few months ago.
“Oh, he didn’t tell you?” she asked innocently, peering up at me.
“Tell me what?” I asked, breathless.
“Oh. I’m her twin sister.” She said her voice sounding like a bomb in the quiet room. Slowly, oh, so slowly, the pieces of the puzzle started falling in place before my eyes, and I shook my head hard as if to dislodge them; I didn’t want it to be true.
“Where is he?”
“At the back. They both decided they’d be buried at the back when they…” she didn’t finish the sentence before she broke down.
I was out of the house as fast my short legs could carry me, and when I found him, kneeling over a grave, my heart broke into tiny pieces. He must have heard me arrive because he started talking, as if we were continuing a conversation after a short pause.
“She had her twin sister pretend to be her these past few months so that I would not know. All the letters, everything, they were from her. I don’t know why she did it, probably out of some misguided attempt to protect me or something. When I saw her at the airport, I just knew it wasn’t her. I just knew.”
He turned around to face me, and his sorrow was a living thing that filled the space around us, consuming him into a black hole of unfathomable darkness.
“Where do I go from here?” he asked, his face swollen and his eyes red; and in that moment, face to face with his live-wire sorrow, all I could think about is the fact that I would rather go home alone from the airport after every journey, if it means I don’t ever have to feel a fraction of what I saw in those eyes.
Image Credit: gointothestory.bicklist