Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thoughts From 32A

With her seat in its proper upright position, seatbelt securely fastened and table tray firmly latched as instructed, Sophie started tapping her foot as she waited for the plane to pull back and taxi. She fumbled through the seat pocket in front of her, pulling out the glossy in-flight magazine. Flipping through the pages, she noted in the entertainment section that there would be four movies, two sitcoms and a documentary shown between Toronto and Tokyo. Long flight. She fidgeted some more, stretching and unstretching her legs, already feeling cramped even though the plane hadn’t even started moving. She knew her hangover had something to do with her inability to sit still. Remnants of the nausea she felt in the taxi on her way to the airport still clung to her belly and pasty mouth, reminders of last night’s going-away party. For the moment, she didn’t want to think about that. About saying good-bye to her friends. About flying halfway around the world for a job she wasn’t even sure she wanted or was suited for. What she really wanted was to sleep.

Outside the little square of window to her left, Sophie watched as the ground crew zipped across the tarmac in luggage vans and fuel trucks. She wondered if it bothered them that they were being observed from hundreds of little squares of window just like her own. Sophie continued looking on as one baggage handler in particular heaved an oversized duffelbag onto the back of a trolley. She was curious if he ever scanned the windows above him, wishing he could take-off and away from his daily grind. Sophie stared at the back of his head, willing him to look up. She wanted to see his face. She wanted to wave. She wanted to connect, but she wasn’t sure why. Pressing her face right up against the window, her breath created a circle of mist in front of her nose. She drew a happy face in it. “Come on baggage guy, look at me…” As she whispered, even more mist grew on the window, covering up her drawing. She wiped the dampness away, watching as he hopped in his little truck and drove away.

Her attention was drawn to her seatmate on her right. He was already dozing, his head bowed, chin bobbing close to his chest. Since he was asleep, Sophie could scrutinize him more closely. He had on a starched, white button-up shirt and a navy blue tie held in place by a gold tie clip. She recognized the letter T Toyota insignia on the clip immediately. She had sold her own beat up Toyota the previous week, one of her last preparations before her move. She had cried as she watched its new owner, a flighty freshman in a tight-fitting sorority sweater, drive off in a squeal of burnt rubber. The car was ancient, rusty, ready to fall apart. Sophie couldn’t imagine that sparkly girl appreciating the dents, and the stories behind them, that the Toyota had all over its body. But, she had to sell it, just as she had sold everything else, right down to her eating utensils. She needed the money. It had bought her the seat she was sitting in right now - 32 A, Window.

She focused once again on her well-dressed seat companion. His dark suit jacket was folded neatly on his lap, the seatbelt fastened securely over it. His black hair was cut short. It was impeccable, not a strand out of place. It was hard to judge his age. A few flecks of gray mixed with jet black on his head indicated he could be in his forties, maybe early fifties. She knew what he was. Pulling her bag from under the seat in front of her, she reached in, feeling around for her pocket dictionary. Pulling it out, she flipped immediately to the glossary at the back. She glided her index finger down the page, sounding out the letters under her breath as she passed them; “P, Q, R, S,… Salaryman.” Under the word was a short definition: “Japanese white-collar office worker. Often works long hours with low prestige in office hierarchy.” Sophie looked on as he continued sleeping beside her. She wondered if he would agree with the definition in her book.

The plane moved forward with a jerk and her salaryman snorted, shifted his head to the left, and continued sleeping. The cabin crew glided up and down the aisles, eyes scanning left to right, on the lookout for in-flight violations. “Excuse me, Miss? Please put your bag under the seat for take-off.” Sophie had been so busy trying to see who was going to be scolded for not putting their seat up or for speaking on a cell phone that she had neglected to put away her own stuff. She looked up at the flight attendant to say sorry. The woman was gorgeous. Charcoal black hair pulled tightly in a perfect bun, crimson lipstick expertly applied, red and white silk scarf tied in a perfect bow around a slender neck. Even if she spent a few hours on her make-up and clothes, Sophie knew she could never pull off the natural elegance of this flight attendant.

She remembered Derek waxing nostalgic about his high school days in Shanghai. He’d only been there for a year while his Dad was doing research for a military museum, but to hear him talk, he had dated half the female population of China. He called the attraction “The Asian Mystique”. If Derek were beside her right now, he’d be trying to find a way to have a chat with the Japanese cabin crew. For him, this plane would be dripping in Asian Mystique. Sophie smiled as she thought about her friend. She was going to miss his calm presence. She put the dictionary back in the bag and stuffed it under the seat.

The beauty of the flight attendant brought Sophie’s attention to her own appearance. She realized she must look like crap. Hungover, no shower, not even a dab of concealer on her face; she knew she looked a mess. She had meant to add highlights to her blonde hair to brighten it up, trim the frizz off the ends, maybe even have her eyebrows shaped. She just didn’t have the time. The packing, the good-byes, the paperwork, all of it consumed her these past two weeks. Sitting now in her window seat was the first time in a long while that she had anytime to actually think. She’d been on autopilot for so long that the sound of that voice in her head, the one that questioned, advised and sometimes ridiculed, caught her off guard.

“After take-off, go to the restroom, wash your face, freshen up. You’ll feel better.” She was relieved to hear the voice. Today, it had a motherly tone. Something she needed right now. She looked around. The flight attendants had taken their seats, and the plane was picking up speed. She knew she was supposed to stay put for the next little while, but she needed one more thing from her backpack. She groped again under the seat in front of her and felt what she needed in the bag. She yanked out a yellow file folder. On the front was a picture of a bright red apple with a cartoon face. It had a toothy smile and oversized eyes, one winking. The big apple head came complete with a little apple body, its two arms held high, one hand giving a peace sign, the other an enthusiastic thumbs up. The apple was ecstatic. The reason was written in bold orange letters at the top of the page; “Joyful Apple Language Experience – English For You’re Fun!!!”

A wave of nausea swept over her yet again. Sophie leaned back and closed her eyes. Right now she wasn’t certain if the need to throw-up was because of last night’s excess, or for the fact that she was the newest employee at “Joyful Apple Language Experience”. The voice came back. “Time to sleep now. Think about this later.” She tucked the folder in the seat pocket, pulled down the blind on the window, and followed the wisdom of the voice. Sophie was asleep before the plane’s wheels left the ground.