Days after Malaysian flight MH17 exploded in Ukraine, I board a KLM flight at Schiphol. I read during the long meander on the runway and snooze after take-off. I awake to the sound of a flight attendant asking, “What would you like to drink?” My mouth is dry. I spy my options; coffee, tea, or fruit juice, before he turns my way. When he does, his eyes widen, “Ma’am you’re reading that,” he gestures at my book, “here . . . in this airplane?”
“In this plane?”
“Um . . . yes?”
“The Last Flight?”
I cringe, as I comprehend the irony. While he serves me tea without milk, I explain that it is a book about the civil war in Nigeria, which took place a long time ago.
“Would you like a sweet or salty snack?”
He rolls his service cart up the aisle. Three rows up, I overhear him say to his colleague, “Zij leest het boek, The Last Flight, in dit vliegtuig!”
He motions with his chin. I tuck the book in the seat pocket. The chair cannot swallow me although I shrink my shoulders and slide lower in my seat.
Seat belts clack, clack, clack, and feet shuffle as soon as the plane taxies to a stop. At the door, he and the captain greet passengers goodbye. A huge Manfield bag, my laptop, and a suitcase that I struggled to fit in the overhead luggage compartment, I am Nigerian after all, are not agents of my discomfiture. I recite in my mind, how I will tell him that I do not have a death wish, that the book was a coincidence in poor taste, maybe joke about it. My fellow travellers’ impatience is contained by the queue in the narrow aisle. Will they forgive my small talk? Blond hair and blue eyes is already looking past me to the passenger behind. Does what a stranger think of me matter? I test the steps with my six-inch wedge. I wobble and steady myself. No more drama, I pray.
On my return trip, although I have not finished reading, The Last Flight, I read a Neil Gaiman novel. I crane in all directions searching for blond hair and blue eyes, as if his approval is penance that secures my redemption. He is not on this flight. I read Neil Gaiman’s title again, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I notice how a ‘P’ could have changed things and think about how one decision can alter events. Nevertheless, I still hide the book in the seat pocket just in case I am missing another irony.
P.s. remembering those who lost someone in a plane crash: Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. – George Eliot –
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
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