This will be one of those interminable flights, I think as I look around at a full plane. With no in-flight entertainment, I resort to spying on my hapless seatmates.
The man in front of me in 37J, has his laptop open, he is going through work emails. From my spy’s vantage point, I could see his screen so clearly as to read each word as he scrolls past them. The ones in Chinese I see as a picture, as one might view a postcard. The ones in English, I scroll through as he pages down on them, outpacing the owner as only those that are uninvested in their contents can. From what I surreptitiously perused, I learn this man is grappling with organizational changes, an incident involving lost cargo, a petulant superior.
After a single pass through all the unread emails, he opens a blank page and begins to tap tap tap slowly, filling the screen with words. I read along, wishing he would type faster. He begins with an apology, a deliberate set of taps, the words formal and phrased with care. Apologies for my absence, he writes, sorry for having run out of time. I read, unable to stifle the desire to edit. You could be more concise, I think. A lengthy apology consumes time you say you don’t have.
He finishes the email, signing off with a habitually typed “Kind regards,” then he reviews the content line by line, careful to edit for typos. He revises a line or two, but on the whole, seems satisfied with what he wrote — a meticulous and polite man. I appreciate all this from my secret vantage point. He hits send, waits for the email to fly off, and then shuts the laptop, plunging us both into darkness.
Sometimes our dark side shows up in in public dressed like an ordinary thing, able to blend into the crowd, absolutely unmemorable.
I much prefer evil to reveal itself. The bland, expressionless version of it often obfuscates one’s vision, and the fight tilts to the other’s favor.
In an airport lounge in Colombo, I remember being woken up unceremoniously by a blond guy, late 30s, herding two toddlers. In a gray haze, I heard him saying loudly at me, “There are people that need these seats, you know.”
Half-awake, I scramble to sit up, thereby freeing two seats for this irascible man and his toddlers. I vaguely register people sitting near me look on, startled by his loud voice. I see his wife sitting on the floor, cradling a baby. A moment passes, and the pair begin to argue. I tune them out, thinking what bad luck to wake up to such negativity.
When my wits have fully returned, I look around and notice that three feet or so away there were maybe thirty, no, probably 40+ empty seats all around us. I didn’t need to be summarily jolted out of my sleep.
I stand up, walk over to the man with the toddlers and say to him, “Look over there. Look. Look real hard. Those are empty seats, all what, 40 of them. You didn’t have to wake me up. You’re an asshole.”
I walked away from the sight of his gaping mouth. The lounge was quiet. The wife didn’t say a word.
Touchdown: 3 July in Sri Lanka. I arrive near midnight in Colombo, and get into a Kangaroo taxi to go to my hotel. Not even 5 minutes on the road, the driver looks back at me and says:
Driver: Madam, ah… what are you?
Me: (goes into immediate existentialist crisis) Uh, um… what am I?
Driver: (smiling indulgently) I mean, you are Japanese? Malaysian? Chinese? What are you?
Me: (relieved, whew!) Oh no no no to all that. I’m Filipino.
Driver: I see, from Philippines.
Me: Yes. Don’t I look Filipino?
Driver: Look Japanese.
what does it matter who we sleep with
the tangle of limbs do not discriminate
arms elbows thighs neck back spine
skin on skin is always so sublime
what does it matter
the membrane doesn’t even remember
the blood that escapes the cut
memory is at best, temporary
at worst, untrustworthy
the fragment i choose is the imprint
of your hand on my skin
the bits of hair freckles nails scars
more real than anything by far
that day you drove five hours
so that I could see the Atlantic
grit of sand in every pore
the water cold the sun low the ocean’s roar
what does it matter if we slept together
what matters probably is that we do not do that
(I told you so)
stop flitting about like a stupid moth
blind despite the etched eye open and
unblinking on its downy wing
(What did I say)
choose a year or two — even ten –
to inhabit, unravel the silk of it, weave
sense into story as you sit.
(What did you do)
you flew. you flew! you cut through countries,
histories, whole decades like it was legal
to navigate between worlds.
(I warned you)
And now everywhere the air is foul
replete with turmoil. you turn hostile
a ghost trapped in the portal
(What did I say)
your dark velvet mouth spewing out
curdled black bile meant to hurt,
but inutile as strange fruit
(I warned you)
you’ve become a thing whose only threat is
the flesh that promises sourness
the pit filled with the intent to choke.
(I told you so)
Yesterday evening, I shared a hotel limo with a Palestinian woman and her 7 year old son, Omar. There were no taxis available at the hotel that night because it was Iftar, when the Muslims break the day long fast, and everyone was busy feasting.
The lady said she and her son were passing thru Dubai from a trip to Palestine, on their way back home to California. She was dressed in an abaya, but her face was not covered, only her hair. Her son was dressed in western clothes, and spoke only English, as far as I could tell. We got to talking in the hotel lobby after she asked me if it was my first time to come to Dubai. I told her I was passing thru as well, and that Dubai is my hub for travel coming from Afghanistan. She couldn’t quite believe that I worked there.
She and her son had an easy, loving banter — Omar was very well behaved, not once did she have to scold or raise her voice at him. He shook my hand graciously when I introduced myself to him and asked his name. He had very beautiful brown eyes, with long, sooty lashes.
I asked them to share the limo with me as we were all going to the mall anyway. The lady was glad to have company and readily accepted. They wanted to see the Aquarium, so I decided to go to Dubai Mall as well. On the drive over the lady would point out landmarks and buildings to her son. At night, the Burj Khalifa was lit up, a silver sword rising from the vast, twinkling desert. Omar said, “It looks awesome, mom!”
As we sped by the traffic-less streets, Omar looked out the window, mouth open at the sights. It gave me a new appreciation for this city that I would pass by so often, seeing it now through this boy’s eyes. It made me miss my sons, made me instantly fond of this dark eyed little boy.
Passing by yet another skyscraper, Omar pointed to it and said, “Mom, I wanna go up there, can I go up there?
His mom laughed and said, “Oh sweetie, you can go wherever you want.” She turned to me and gave me a smile, her dark eyes sparkling. I knew exactly what she meant, and I smiled back.