Monday, March 7

Brown, Grey & Gold

THE FEAR OF flying is relatively new to me and was born, I think, on a trip back from Netherlands, when, on my own, the plane swung violently from side to side as it came down to land. Everybody was nervous and upon touchdown there was a collective sigh of relief from all. The idea of dying alone! No-one to hold my hand or say—‘Well, it was rotten knowing you!’ Since then I have not enjoyed flying at all. It is the take-off that gets me most of all; the alignment on the runway, the anticipation, the revving of the engines, the wobbles of elevation, the incline. Once we are in the air, I order a couple of beers and a bag of nuts and calm down, cursing myself for being so fearful. (On the journey out this time, a man two seats away stared at me constantly; only when I got up to use the toilets did he strike up a comment to my brother—‘Is your mate all right? His shakes!’ ‘O yeah, he shakes all the time. But he doesn’t like flying anyway.’ The man continued to find my tremors a most interesting spectacle for the rest of the flight.)
Her girlfriend wiped her tears away. She did not like flying either. The same seat had been occupied by her on the way out and then I thought—O, she is pretty! but now, as luck would have it, I was closer to her, one row behind and one to the right. To the right. Diagonally I had a view of the side of her face. She was crying and chuckling as her tears were wiped away by someone else’s tissue. Chuckling at the ridiculousness of the fear of flying! Her girlfriend brushed the tears and the shine thinned, shone and disappeared; gloss into matte. The human eye from the side; her eye from the side. I watched it, carefully considering whether or not she could see me in her periphery. I could see into her pupil through the convex lens and beneath the cover of her long lashes. Her lashes bounced. Beauty and how it passes the time.
The conveyor belt slowly revolved our luggage into tired arms. The family gradually dispersed: first my father to collect and warm up the cars, then my brother, his partner and my niece, then I left my mother. As we said good-by, I began to cry; turning before she could notice, I hurried down the corridor below a sign that read—Nothing to declare.
A cigarette before the train ride home. I went outside, still in my t-shirt, and the cold knocked the wind out of me. There it was, though: that smell of England. Just the temper of that scent after such an absence sets my heart a-flutter. The crowds were quieter, almost non-existent. Perhaps it was my tiredness, I could not be sure, but it was a challenge not to let tears overcome me. A long corridor led back into the airport and then away and down to the train station. Motion once more; a French couple, a young woman, and I. In darkness the country sped past me in shades of brown, grey and gold. The flickers of Croydon, Balham, Clapham rattled on by. Victoria was already littered with early drunks sat on the floor, eating fast food from paper bags and staring up hopefully at the departure boards.
The taxi driver was halfway through a phone call. He would take me to the other side of London. Behind glass he spoke in a language I did not understand, heavy on the horn. We floated on. I was back in the place I loved. We rode parallel to the Thames and I looked out at the lights sparkling along it. I saw from west to east. My flat smelled good. I opened the window and there was the view for me; no different; loyal, smoky and black. Where was my family? Where was my niece? How I missed them! There would be no card game and nightcap with my parents, no late night chats with my brother. It was just me, stood there in the middle of the room surrounded by a whole lot of silence. I curled up on my bed and fell to sleep.

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