First international trip since Before
You have the middle seat in the last row of the airplane. The one that can’t recline.
A very tall, thin man who nods and smiles behind a bushy mustache is seated next to the window. The “fluffy” woman, who has just requested a seat belt extender, is wedged into the aisle seat. She struggles out to accommodate you. You heave your backpack-style roll-along into the small space left in the overhead bin. You smash it in.
Across the aisle from you is a mother with a six-month-old, who is already whimpering. Both will wail uncontrollably for the remainder of the trip.
Your row is adjacent to the restroom waiting line.
You will be entombed in this torture chamber for hours.
The bland off-white and gray of the airplane cabin reflects the Limbo of the could-be-anywhere international airport you have just left. The waiting room was contemporary and anonymous. The ceiling was plastic suspended tiles in irregular shapes, reminiscent of old asbestos ceilings. Random tiles were inset with recessed lights or HVAC vents.
The floor was polished beige and cream, the color of a Starbucks latte.
Airport franchise restaurants alternated with shops for last-minute souvenir or convenience purchases. You paid $14.99 for a small cocktail to blur the take-off. The automated credit card screen added a 20% tip for the waitstaff to hand you a canned cocktail.
The airplane taxis out on-time and then sits, in-line, for thirty minutes on the tarmac. The flight attendants drone on about the intricate physics of seat belt fastening.
When you landed at this international airport, where you boarded the plane for your last leg home, you learned that Concourse Z is a two-mile walk from Concourse B. The line to go through Customs took only forty-five minutes, so you could still make the next flight while walking at a brisk pace through a well-signed running track of corridors linked to other corridors.
Even though you stop at a mid-point rest room, there is a line. Only one soap dispenser works.
You are in boarding group 6. People not yet called to board jump up to jostle in line. You ponder their lunacy. You have never understood why people are compelled to hurry up and wait. Not everybody has been through basic training. Although maybe basic training to hurry up and wait is everywhere.
Once settled into your seat in the last row, you see the tall thin man is snacking on something crunchy out of a rumpled baggie. He spies you looking at him and offers you one. You recognize, from the vendors on the street, that these are fried grasshoppers coated in chili powder. You decline.
The woman on your other side keeps fidgeting to get comfortable. Getting comfortable in a row of seats that should accommodate two people but has three seats is impossible. Your knees lean against the magazine holder of the seat in front of you.
The pilot welcomes you in two languages, garbling both.
You always pray before take-off, even though you are an atheist.
You will pray again upon landing, when the wheels bounce incredibly hard, after a descent through a turbulent rain storm that was like a careening tour bus down a washboard road. The engines roar incredibly loudly, which you remember is normal, even though your hands are planted against the seat in front of you, braced to crash.
You think longingly of your own bed, your own recliner, and wonder if travel is worth it.