There is a certain magic when flying that makes time simply interminable. That feeling of doing something important without having much of anything to do in the meantime. The knowledge of having something a little unpleasant, kind of inexplicable, occasionally unnerving done to you and with your tacit permission too, just so you can get to where you have to be. The rites of passage.
Hell is other people, which is another way of saying that’s all there is. On a plane, that’s all there is.
It is, thank god, a relative, various hell and it can surprise you in spite of itself.
Twice I was jarred out of fitful slumber by the rumblings of the plane, only to find my seatmate, Raj, humped over her seat tray, using it was a makeshift pillow, head to the side, facing me. It was disturbing and fantastic and, amazingly, not a fluke. I never realized the human body could stay bent like that for such extended period of time without experiencing total structure failure, but Raj just slept on, like she slept that way every single night of her life.
Was she showing off? It was impressive, whatever she was doing.
The first time I awoke to find her like that, with her hands tucked under her chin, her pretty pastel nails just peeking out from under her jaw line, she looked like a robot I had decided to turn off simply because I had that power. I stared at her, using all my mental powers and animal magnetism to wake her up psychically with my glare. Nothing. Perhaps that only works on my dog. Sometimes, even, Stephen.
The second time, Raj’s arms dangled and swayed, a little, from her sides, though her head remained at a perfect perpendicular angle to the tray and floor. As I hovered over her, agape, with my hair mussed in sleep and my eyes squinting themselves back into focus, it looked like I had killed her but only then realized the extra, rather nagging inconvenience involved in the body dump. The stewardess passed by and briefly observed this macabre tableau. Our eyes met and I tilted my head and pursed my lips, a little, in a look that served pretty well as confession to my crime in close quarters. Maybe I shrugged, like Atlas.
Who gives a fuck?
She handed me some pretzel sticks over Raj’s back and continued down the aisle.
Despite Raj’s superhuman abilities to sleep through pretty much everything around her (totally showing off, totally), she seemed quite nervous about our landing, and had to sit put away in a corner, earplugs engaged, as we touched down in New Delhi. She helped me with my bag, and as we shook hands as we departed at our respective gates, I took one last moment to admire her lovely nails.
I didn’t tell her about her brief stints as an automaton and as the deceased.