“Your mother passed away this morning.”
“What? Mom, are you—?”
“No, my mother. I’m sorry. She didn’t get to see you before she died. When will you be here?”
“I’m getting on the plane now.”
I enjoy flying quite a lot. I enjoy the parts of it that most people hate. The scuttling, the shuffling—print boarding pass, go to security, shoes off, purse in one tray, backpack in another, x-ray on, thanks ma’am you can go through, x-ray off, backpack on, purse on, shoes on, go to the gate, wait, board. I’ve loved it since I was a little girl, the ritual of travel, the anticipation of change.
This is always better when leaving. Going somewhere new. Returning home has never lifted my heart in the same way.
That night, my backpack felt heavy, my back ached, my purse didn’t sit right. I smoked before going in the terminal, and immediately kicked myself—I wouldn’t have a way to shower before seeing my mother. The residue seemed to cling to everything, my hair, my skin, my lungs, the terminal walls. It was choking—in my mind, it smelled of sandalwood.
The ritual felt like a funeral procession. I suppose it was.
I love taking off, tearing away from the earth.
I like landing, returning to the ground someplace new.
The parts in-between, I could do without.
Whatever your level of excitement, at some point it becomes evident that you are in a metal tube with five hundred other people, and you will be in this tube, hearing every cough, every sneeze, every god-help-you baby’s cry, for the next several hours. Eleven, in this case.
I usually try to sleep, forgetting whatever sleep schedule I had and forcing my body to shut down. I can’t usually read, and for the same reason, I can’t usually write. On a more recent flight, I actually talked to my seatmate. We groused about the movie and talked about our respective significant others. She was in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend—they had sex maybe once a month. I had just been away from my girlfriend for all of a week, and that by itself was difficult. Then we sneaked into the lavatory and I went down on her as she tried not to scream into a regulation blue airline pillow, until the Fasten Seat Belt sign pinged on and an elderly flight attendant tapped on the door and politely asked us to return to our seats, where we groused further about the movie.
On this flight, though, I didn’t feel like talking, and even thoughts of the previous night were tinged with an ineffable grief. For eleven hours, my night, I tried to sleep, and could not.
I arrive in Bangalore. The airport is dirty, though there are a few people cleaning it somewhat forlornly. I wonder how much they are paid. I wonder if they are paid, and if they will ever in their lives be able to take for granted the experience I just did.
Thanks to the miracle and horror of time zones, it’s now nearing mid-day. Through the windows, the sun is obscenely bright. The sky looks perpetually over-exposed.
My family will be waiting for me outside the security area. The security area, in this instance, feels safe. Secure. It feels like the last such place that will ever be.
I contemplate, seriously, finding another flight and getting on it, possibly without a ticket. I contemplate begging, pleading. I contemplate stealing a boarding pass. I contemplate spending the last of my own money. I don’t.
I go into the bathroom and begin to change.
I enter a stall and pull off my t-shirt, smudging some makeup onto it in the process. I take off my bra. From my backpack, from the very bottom, I pull out an ace bandage and some small clips (sometimes, they won’t let you through security with safety pins). The bandage does not match my skin. I wrap the bandage slowly, tightly, starting mid-way up my ribs. It’s uncomfortable. I pull it tighter, until my tits are jammed tight, nearly flat against my ribcage. It’s tight, tight enough, tight enough to hurt, but not tight enough to account for the tears streaking down my face. I clip it securely.
I find another shirt, looser and less revealing than the previous, and I go out to the mirrors. I brush my teeth, getting rid of as much of the smoke taste as I can. I brush dry shampoo into my hair. I carefully reapply my makeup, wiping away smudges and tapping on concealer and finishing powder until my skin is smooth again. I wipe off all the makeup around my eyes. My reflection looks nearly dead. I chide myself for thinking so, then add a bit of lightening concealer beneath my eyes. I don’t wear lipstick, but I wipe off the remnants of my slightly tinted, slightly shiny chap stick, and resolve to buy a new, clear tube.
Thus changed, I go to meet my family.