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When the plane starts rolling on the runway I know things are about to go downhill. I can feel it. In my bones. In my head. The safety announcements are said in a quick, foreign jumble of words, and I realize at some point that it’s all futile. The pain, the memories, realization all over again. It’s futile.
When the flight attendant stops the bar cart at my seat I ask for scotch on the rocks and watch as she pours the golden liquid into a rectangular thick glass. Her fingers brush against mine when she hands me the drink. This might be the last of human touch I’ll ever feel. It probably is. The cart rattles when she starts pushing it further down the aisle and my attention shifts to the drink in my hand.
I close my eyes and take a long sip, letting the liquor burn my insides.
The man besides me, sixty something at most, is looking at me when I finally lower the glass from my lips and inspect the lipstick stain imprinted on the side, blood red against clear crystal. The man raises his eyebrows. “Interesting choice of drink.” He says.
He’s trying to make conversation. I don’t want to talk to him, this is my last flight.
My last flight. Last.
I flick my gaze to the other side, away from him, and answer curtly. “It’s random. Every time I get something different.”
The statement is halfway true. Different? Yes. But, random? No. I read it in a book. Well, kind of. A show’s adaptation of a book, but then I was really interested and actually read the whole thing. I sometimes like to mimic other people. Real or fictional alike.
“Different, huh?” The man nods, straightening in his seat. “Well, I consider myself pretty different, too…” I can see where this is going. I don’t like it. I’m not interested.
“I’m not interested, excuse me.” I say shortly. His mouth is a thin line, and I can’t say if he’s angry or disappointed. Either way, I don’t care. This is supposed to be my journey. My ‘self-discovery’, a friend told me. She said that just before I left – we were eating dinner at a local restaurant when I mentioned the trip to her, and she sounded pleased. Happy for me. Relieved.
I lied to her, though. In a way. I nodded then, but it wasn’t true. It still isn’t. This isn’t a journey of self-discovery. If anything, it’s me confirming the thought. I doubt she’ll be relieved when the journey ends. I don’t want to think about it. I try blocking out the echoes of our last– of the last time we talked. Her voice, her smile. I’ll miss that. I am missing it.
The plane gently tilts to the side. Few people turn their heads. It’s just turbulence. Nothing to worry about. Not yet.
I have time. I have time.
I would hate for something to happen now. All these people, and I still need a few hours. I’m finally going home.
Everything is so normal it hurts my head and I close my eyes again. Another bump. The glass in my hand slips a little and I tighten my grip around it. I can’t make a scene here, not yet. No drama yet. If they pay attention to me now, figure out my intentions then I won’t be able to do it.
I won’t make it in time. It’s just chance, really. All of it. All of us. Just chance. How we are, how we’ll be, how we were before. Why our parents met, what we ate today and all those other things. Chance.
The man on the right looks at me again. He seems irritated. There’s a golden watch on his left wrist – a Rolex. He must be rich. I wonder if anyone has ever turned him down before.
Another hour passes.
I keep my eyes closed most of the time. Not too much, though. I’ll have time to look at all the dark when I get home. It’s not the same though. The dark when you close your eyes and the dark at home. It’s so different. I don’t think anyone can confirm it though. I don’t know anyone who’s experienced both.
The flight attendant is back with the cart two hours into the flight. The same one, and she stops at my seat again.
“Anything to drink?” She asks.
The man beside me leans forward, right in front of me. I push my head further back into the seat. “I’ll have a gin.” He says. “And the lovely lady here–” I interrupt him.
“Nothing for me. Thank you.”
The flight attendant frowns a little, but doesn’t say anything. She’s looking at the man and almost misses the cup, ends up pouring half the gin into an empty mug. She doesn’t open a new bottle to properly fill the glass, but instead hands him the half-empty one and leaves.
The man scrunches his nose. “You’re a pretty interesting person. Come on, what do you want?” His hand, the one with the watch, rubs against mine when he goes to take a sip of the gin. I sigh in annoyance. Now I’ll have to bump into someone later. I can’t have him be the last person I feel.
“I’m going home.” I say. “I don’t want anything else.”
He seems dissatisfied with my answer, and even though I couldn’t care less, I reply again. “And even if I did, we can’t have everything in life. No one can.” I don’t know if that’s true, but it shuts him up for now and I start thinking about the future.
I mustn’t forget.
I’ve planned this. Over and over in my head, knowingly rehearsed the scenario. Plane. Hotel. Unpack. Outside. Home.
Hopefully I’ll make it this year. It’s starting to feel like there really is something out there. Some bigger, stronger force, preventing me from going home. Last year I couldn’t. The year before that, the same. And so on. Chance. I remind myself. It’s not force, it’s chance. Doesn’t matter what I did or would have done. There’s no karma coming my way, because I know where I’m going.
Maybe this time I’ll really do it. I mentally add a mid-step onto my list. A person. Someone nice, someone kind. After the hotel. I’ll have to look around for some time, decide who it’ll be. Anyone but this man next to me is fine for now.
I wonder who that person will be. Chance decides that, too. I wonder if I’ll ruin their life by what I’m about to do. If I’ll ruin Jessica’s. She seemed so happy for me. ‘Find yourself.’ she said, ‘And call me when you do, we can talk about it then.’ They all say the same thing. All of them. All the people I’ve talked to.
Find yourself. You’ll do it eventually, I know you will. It gets better, it always does. I understand, I really do. But I don’t want ‘better.’ I already have everything set, and why can’t they just be happy for me?
If you’re happy, I’m happy. Isn’t that how it goes? Why can’t they see that?
I’m happy. I am. I have been for a long time now. I don’t need to find myself, I know myself so well already. I know me. I want to be home. I want the darkness so that I can finally sleep because all this traveling has been very tiring for me.
At some point there’s another announcement, this time by the pilot, and for a moment I think we’re going to die. All of us. The lights go out, and blink back on in dark blue. There’s no emergency, we’re only landing.
When I get up to take my things the guy from the window seat hurries to get his briefcase. He – on purpose, I think – drags his case deliberately slow from the overhead compartment, and stares at me the entire time. I continue to ignore him. It goes on for more than I’d like until a guy around my age from the opposite side seat gets up as well and intervenes.
“Sorry pal, I think she’s not interested.”
He says in what seemed a soft American accent. I look up from the buttons on my coat I’ve been slowly working at for the last two minutes. The man is obviously annoying me and I could just straight up leave, but there’s something making me stay. For a single moment, I don’t want to get off the plane.
I want to stay here, sit back down and wait for it to refuel, then fly back to where I came from and call Jessica. Invite her over for pizza at my place. My apartment. I miss my bed. I want to go to sleep and feel that darkness of closing my eyes. Maybe I don’t need home yet.
“Excuse me?” I look up at the new voice. It’s the young American, he’s standing in front of me, holding my suitcase. “Is this yours?” I nod.
“Well that guy tried to take it with him and– well. I couldn’t bear him taking someone else’s stuff. Here.” He sets the case at my feet. I stare at him. At his face.
That guy tried to take my luggage? He’s got to be lying. Why would he do that? Why would anyone do that? What do you do with a stranger’s most valuable personal belongings? You don’t even know what’s inside until you open it. Despite my thoughts, I smile at him.
A real smile, Jess would say. I already hear her voice in my head, telling me to stay. ‘There’s gotta be so much to see, there always is. Don’t go, dearie. Come on, please? For me?
You’ll meet someone amazing and–‘‘There’s no one more amazing than you.’ I’d tell her. Because it’s true. She’s the most amazing there is in a person.
“You alright, there?” When I look back it’s straight into a pair of bright blue eyes. The guy is still here, right in front of me. I look around.
There’s no one else on the plane. Did everyone else leave already? If they all left they’ll fill the bus and if I miss the bus I’ll miss the time. And if I miss the time I won’t make it home. But still I don’t reply. I don’t know what to say.
Yes? I’m okay? I know I am, and I know Jessica would disagree.
“Yeah.” I wave. “I’m good. Thanks. For the suitcase, I mean.”
“No problem.” He’s smiling slightly, too.
I check my phone. 9:48
The bus leaves at 55. My brain splits into two as one side of me wants him to keep talking, and the other is yelling at me to shake his hand and go catch the bus. The stop is at least three minutes away. Four minutes to decide then. The guy, the blue-eyed American is still here, looking at me. I think for a moment he can see me. He knows what I’m about to do.
I just want to go home.
Jess’s words fill my head again. ‘Home can be a person,’ she said. Maybe it’s true. ‘You’re mine, then.’ I replied. We laughed a lot that night. It was fun. Something deep inside me pulls at my heart when I realize that won’t happen again anytime soon. The guy is still here. And so am I.
What do I do? I’m getting scared again. This didn’t happen last time. Or the time before that. I was calm, and collected. Maybe it’s because I was alone. Now I’m not.
I check my phone. Two out of the four minutes already passed. Halfway out of the dark. Or halfway into it, I think. It depends. It’s just chance. Nothing else.
“Do you need help?” He asks me.
My eyes widen. Did Jessica send him? Does he know where I’m going? Does he?
“I– sorry?” I stammer, unsure of myself. “With the case, I mean.”
He gestures at my suitcase, still on the floor between us. I breathe a sigh of relief, fiddling with my collar.
“Sure. Thanks. You can— yeah.”
I inhale a lungful of fresh air as we step outside. It’s a welcome distraction from my racing heart.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“My number.” He murmurs.
I stare at the scribbled note. I don’t want to lead him on, he seems nice, but I won’t be around here for much longer. I have a bus to catch. I have to go. Go home while I still can.
I planned this perfectly. Timed it again and again. This is my last chance. No– I remember now, the list. The list of countries, places to see… This was the last one. This was it. My ending. My story, read and being returned to the shelf. I’m going home.
“You don’t have to— um,” To go? I think I do. I don’t know anymore. I just don’t.
“I mean. Call. It’s just, if you’re still here tonight.”
“Here?” Does he mean…?
“In the city.”
“Right.” I hear the bus engine start. If I shout I can still make it. I know I can.
It’s an important decision. A big question. One I need to answer, now. Right now. Answer.
This place. The last on my list. I thought it meant finally going home. If miss this year, I won’t have another shot, I know I won’t. I won’t have the shot.
If I miss the bus I miss the time and I miss going. But I can’t. I’m scared.
Scared is good, Jess would say. Scared means you aren’t ready to leave yet. You have to stay, please, just don’t go.
“I’ll… See if I am. I mean, if I am, I’ll call you. Promise.”
The bus doors are closing. Last chance.
There is no next year. There is no trying again. I’m sure of it. It’s how it is. No next time. No more years to come. Just now.
“Great.” He smiles. “That’s, uh- you have a nice day then.”
If I don’t catch the bus now I’ll call him from the hotel. We’ll have dinner. We’ll eat and laugh and joke and talk. Maybe even drink some wine.
Maybe nothing will happen between us.
We’ll just go our separate ways and never see each other again, or maybe we’ll fall madly in love and spend the rest or our lives together. Maybe I’ll introduce him to Jessica and they’ll hit it off. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
It’s all just chance.
But this now – me not going – that isn’t chance anymore. It has a limit, a finish line, a threshold- and I finally crossed it. I answered the question. I watch the bus drive away behind the kind stranger.
“I’ll call you!” I shout after him before he fully walks away.
“Great! I’ll answer when you do!” He yells back.
Behind me the plane takes off. No more going back. I text Jess a quick confirmation that I’m okay and that I’m safe. I say it all in a simple sentence.
I wasn’t going to write it, I wanted to text her ‘I’m going home.’ or ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’, but what I send instead is: Found myself.
In the form of a blue eyed American I’m going to dinner with later. And there’s always a possibility that something will go wrong, but I’m starting to think that maybe I can influence more than just my thoughts.
I really found myself, I think. I answered my question.
Home will always be waiting for me, but there’s no need to rush.
Written by Louise Bell.