Sequence


Dear Readers,

I am sitting in a European airline lounge. It is ten o’clock on the dot, and the small breakfast buffet offers a full bar. I don’t see anyone drinking yet, though. I wonder why they provide alcohol so early in the morning. Perhaps it is for those who have been up all night, or maybe it helps some people who are afraid of flying. If the latter, then I wonder why they do not also provide a selection of motion-sickness tablets, earplugs, neck pillows, and aspirin.

I am surrounded by men, middle-aged men in lint-free suits with creases straight from the dry cleaner’s. They try to lounge in the roomy armchairs while they balance small plates of food with miniature cups of coffee fitted to matching saucers. They try to lounge, but somehow, they seem displaced, like they’ve been lifted out of official work photos and pasted onto an architect’s computer-realistic background. In my favorite grey sweater, I probably also look like part of a composite, but from a different original image. Some of them are on calls that look important. Their phones are barely visible, cupped protectively between their ears and their palms. Yet I can hear every word. I’m glad to be here, typing. Most of my phone calls happen in hotel rooms, and that means that I can go to a lounge purely for the food and the wall outlet, sit in the first comfortable armchair I see, and write if I feel like it.

Now I’m at the gate. I located another outlet (I ought to buy a new battery for my computer) and am sitting on the very hard floor, propped against a flexible, perforated metal wall. My boots stick out in front of me, soles facing everyone in the area. No one is interested in looking, but if they were, they would see the part of the heels that have been ground down to their structures, where there is no more sole really, just a rough, curved hard bit with holes in it. I have to get those repaired. The last place I went, I was told it would take three days, but I only had two. I try to cross my legs to hide the heels, but that forces the power cable out of the computer.

This area feels privileged, like a library or a bookstore to which you might need a membership. This is the only second-story gate in the terminal. The people are quiet, the colors are muted and pleasant, and a café services us and only us, since it is too far off the beaten path for the standard passerby to notice. My computer finally kicks into Word (I should replace the hard drive). Boarding is called. There’s no time to turn the thing off, not if I want a prime spot in line, with first access to the luggage bin above my assigned seat. I shut it and try to zip my bag quickly, which is difficult with the big sketchbook inside catching at the zipper pull that disintegrated last week (another thing to fix).

But we’re not going straight to the plane, as it turns out. We take a jaunt down two flights of steps to a bus with no power. We sit for a long time. I unzip my bag again and open the computer on my lap, on one leg because a support pole makes it tricky to do otherwise. Two younger men stand nearby. The one facing me is outgoing and self-assured but is dressed in a strange looking suit with no tie. His pink pinstripes are too wide. The pants hang on him like synthetic athletic gear. He looks like he has played a lot of soccer. He’s a little unkempt, with two alarmingly long black whiskers extending from his left nostril. His companion stands less than a foot from me, gripping the handhold above my head. I feel like I’m in a human archway. That is a little weird, but the man doesn’t even seem to notice me until I’ve put away my computer and stood up to exit the bus. Then, he looks surprised. When he shifts his weight, he moves as if he has a water wing clamped around each thigh and a weight belt strapped to his hips.

We stand expectantly, facing our plane from behind hinged doors, waiting for the driver to finish gazing pensively at the luggage handler chattering at him so that we can step out. I crane my head to see into the plane, where a flight attendant’s dark-stockinged knees can be seen jutting sideways as she wrenches the handle of the opposite-side cabin door closed. When our side of the bus finally tilts down and the doors buckle open, suddenly, there is a swarm of people. Where did they come from? I elbow my way to the stairs. The plane is tiny – will the violin fit? – but its idling noise sounds like an underwater storm. I could use some earplugs right about now. But alas, all four in my traveling collection are in my other pants in a suitcase underneath the airplane. I have a box of 30 at home, where I never need them.

I sidle up the steps. The ceiling is so low that a pale man in a powder-blue shirt has to duck his buzzed head to find his seat. His is one row ahead of mine. Our shared overhead compartment is open. I hope that he doesn’t fill it before I can get there. When I reach my row, the space is blissfully empty, and once I’ve removed some items from an outer pocket on the violin case, everything fits. Squeezing into my row, and then settling in my seat, I manage to bang my head on three different surfaces. That’s all right. I hit my head on things rather frequently, as I simply forget to think about where I actually am as opposed to where I’m going.

Some battery still remains in the computer. There is no place to plug it in, though, so I write quickly. My power cord broke a couple of days ago. I have a new one now, with a set of outlet attachments. I’ve taken to running my errands on the road. That means that so far, I have collected a chinrest from Germany, a phone from England, an external hard drive from Hungary, and a small cooking device from Holland. Once I get back to the States, it will be strange to use two kinds of wall socket adaptors in my own country, but on the other hand, it could lend me a cosmopolitan air.

The plane takes off. I close my eyes. For a minute at least, I feel like I am in suspension; there is no sensation of motion. The floor is stiller than solid ground. A bell dings, wakes me up. I can pull out the computer again. It still contains a tiny amount of power. I turn my head to the window as I reach under the seat in front of me to open my bag. A mess of white clouds blocks the view.

Yours from the road,
Hilary