It is a strange thing to meet yourself in a place far away from what is familiar. I am sitting thirty four thousand feet above the air – maybe more, maybe less, let us agree that it is from an inadvisably considerable height – and for the first time ever my ears and eyes and belly cannot agree.
Too busy recovering from a cold, unpacking from one trip and hand washing a few personal items before repacking them for this one, I have not pre-selected seating. I do not get a window seat.
The flight is sixteen hours long, and the Pacific feels always a little different. Today I cannot be indifferent to its push and pull. I am up and then down, eventually the staff commandeers a bathroom for a sporty looking young South African lady and myself. We are wretched but polite with it, we say thank you when the steward offers ginger ale and reassure her when she gifts us sympathy.
It is days later. I feel somewhat better but it’s like a phantom limb – pain. It can stay with you even after it has left. You look at food with suspicion, you ask what is this? when the colour does not resemble anything you have seen in nature. You are like the adventurer who thought he would not return, you have had enough of it. For now.
You wake at 5am because though you are not jetlagged, at least not entirely, you did not sleep during the flight (too busy walking the path between seat and sink) instead you stayed awake, eyes open to orient your body’s barometer of a belly. So now you are that person who is awake, watching Zorro - with Spanish subtitles – from the twentieth floor of a Mexican hotel.
Last night’s tacos from the Salon Corona are done with but it is too early for breakfast. Room service always seem such an indulgence for the daughter of government workers who came mostly from nothing.
It is a strange thing to feel yourself. To count the breaths you have taken for granted since birth, to wonder how your story will end. I am not one to contemplate my mortality, that die is cast, it will come to pass. But a steel cage floating above the clouds does not inspire nonchalant calm. You remember that you cannot fly, that the air you are breathing is some concoction designed to trick your system into believing that air is still air. You think of how Solnit’s polar bears are drowning in an unfamiliar landscape because we have made their ice come late and leave early. You think of how we like to change things and how a body falling from a great height might …change enough that a mother might be hard pressed reimagining its shape. You think of the magic that keeps the sea of you inside this fabric that takes decades to crease, that cannot stain, or nearly and at even some artist’s hand slowly spits out the tattoo’s ink. And suddenly faced with the breakfast you had hours ago you wonder if you have tried your fleshly limits, if this is its way of making the exigencies of the body’s economy felt.
You remember that clocks are a suggestion; someone else’s idea of time and the usual coincidence between them and your sense of each day has lapsed. You are awake on the plane and here because your body’s measure of light has shifted. It is always day somewhere. Courtney from New Zealand touches the malu (tribal tattoo) on her hand and says back home it is 6 hours before now, but tomorrow. Yesterday her body was in today and she has traveled back in time. It is 657am, my partner sends a message to say he is having desert for lunch in Johannesburg. Despite my morning, it is night time again and Zorro tells a story to his infant child, it has ended well, the girl has chosen him and together they have made a piece of themselves that will be here years after they are gone. Or so the story would have us believe.