Takeoff

The man runs a sweaty hand through his slightly greasy, thinning hair, consciously matting it and spreading it here and there in an attempt to conceal from others the reality that he is, in fact, balding. He is tired and travel weary after sitting listlessly during a 6-hour stop over and he is now about to board his connecting flight. He is simultaneously relieved at getting on his flight home, but ambivalent about his return, like if he got off his plane and just kept walking it would be just as welcome, if not better, than pulling up into his own driveway and parking his car in the garage. It is a feeling he struggles with more and more nowadays.
As the man shuffles his feet to the snail’s pace of the line moving forward, his attention is drawn by the sound of two children rough housing near a window. He stops and stares for a moment. At the same time, he also hears the ever-present, and mounting persistence of his own watch ticking. Absent-mindedly, he slumps his head down to check it. Three minutes have passed since the last time he checked and it was five minutes before the time he checked it before that. He rubs his chin, looks over his shoulder, and nudges his suitcase-on-wheels forward with his old, worn, but properly polished brown, wingtip shoes.
Face down, the man goads his parcel along without thought. Consequently, he hits the women in front of him right below the calf, where the Achilles’ reaches just over the anklebone. “Ouch,” the woman says and spins around swiftly with the intent of yelling. The man just looks dolefully up, shrugs his shoulders and murmurs something that sounds like ” surry,” instead of sorry. The woman just lets out a “hmmph” of indignation and turns back around. In doing so, she is not able to catch the man slyly stick his tongue out at her. He then looks back at his watch.
The man looks down at his ticket which he has just slid form his pocket.. Row 16, seat 45a, he reads as he wrings the ticket in his hands. “Better be a window,” he thinks.
” All passengers for flight 463 to Boston, we will now be seating rows 1 through 6, Flight 463 to Boston seating rows 1 through 6,” a voice squawks over the intercom. An exasperated sigh is exhaled from the man’s mouth, and he wishes to swear, but he has not the energy or conviction for such an outburst of angry and emotion. His shoulders slump a little forward.
“Long wait, huh?” a soft voice says behind him. He shuffles around to face its source. A short, petit and fairly attractive blond looks up at his six-foot frame and offers a friendly smile. “Yeah,” he mutters.
“SoâÂ?¦Hong Kong I see?” she says, again every so softly as she points her suitcase laden hand to the side of the man’s own suitcase. The man turns behind him quickly, staring at where she pointed to a large red and white sticker plastered prominently to his suitcase. The sticker she points out portrays two sumos facing off at either end of some Asian caricatures. ” Uh, yeah,” replies the man.
The blonde gives an approving nod and slight downward turn of her mouth. “AhhâÂ?¦well was it business or pleasure?” she asks.
“Uh pleasureâÂ?¦ I really wanted to get some good Chinese, and it’s the only place that has good noodles.”
She lets out tiny laugh and smiles, ” I bet they do, well, you, uh, must really like your Chinese.”
“I do, I doâÂ?¦,” he clears his throat, thinking what to say next,”but, no, it was business, I’m a computer sales rep with a big software company, this Chinese company over there, they’ve got a new processor line they’re marketing, suppose to be bigger than Intel, so I went to check it out, that sort of thing, ya knowâÂ?¦ “
“Ahh, I see. SoâÂ?¦” she asks again pointing to the suitcase, “What does that mean, the writing there, I only guessed it was Chinese?”
“Good guess,” the man looks down and smiles, ” Uh, it says no fat chicks.”
At this the blonde lets out a much louder and hearty laugh. “That’s funny, that’s really funny, with the sumos there and everythingâÂ?¦” she puts her hand up to cover her mouth.
“Yeah, yeah it is,” the man replies.
“Well, seeing as how we probably won’t be seated for a little while, would you like to go get a drink?”
As quickly as she says it, “I married,” he blurts out.
She gives him another small laugh shaking her head a litttle. ” Well, that’s okay, it’s just a drink, I won’t bite.”
“Well you might,” he says a bit sternly and nervous, looking down and jabbing the toe of his right shoe into the airport floor, ” and besides, I’m a happily married man and I just don’t think its okay. Okay?”
The blonde looks confused and chagrinned and says, ” Well, I don’t know what the big deal is, it’s just a little drinkâÂ?¦I mean I’m a nice girl, don’t you think?”
“Maybe a little too nice.”
At that the woman’s eyes become slits, and she levels a cold as ice stare at the man. He knows he’s said something wrong, something that she doesn’t like, but he tries hard not to show it. The petit blonde grabs at her suitcase and jacket in a huff and turns abruptly to leave. “Jerk,” she mutters at him.
Just as she made about three steps away the man replies, ” Oh yeah, well you’re ugly,” louder than he had intends; he wanted it to be under his breath or even just thought in his head.
The man looks quickly around to see if anyone witnessed the exchange, maybe looking for some support. It’s obvious that a few bystanders heard, but no one makes eye contact.
” I’m a married manâÂ?¦you all know what kinda women that was, oh sure she’s nice, but, you knowâÂ?¦besides what would be the point. Just a drinkâÂ?¦we’re getting on the plane in twenty minutes,” he thinks hard to himself, making a convincing argument. As he gazes around, his eyes plead for some encouragement. None comes, the only one who meets his wandering stare is an elderly woman who just cranes her neck upward and smiles at him, a big, denture filled smile. She obviously had not heard the discussion, or didn’t care, or was just the stereotypical old, grandmotherly women who smiles a lot at nothing. “Oh, who cares,” the man mutters with another sigh and grabs his suitcase and throws his folded jacket over his bended left arm. As he does so he hears the jiggling of keys in his pocket.
For a moment it gives him pause, as it briefly reminds him of something, something distant. For a second he squints his eyes shut, trying to draw the memory out.
Sleigh bells. That’s it. Sleigh bells at Christmas, the decorative kind his mother would hang on the doorknob during Christmas Eve parties. Though without fail, those bells would always, somehow by the end of the night, find their way around his mother’s waist courtesy of some sly lassoing done by his father. A short smile creases the man’s face and he shakes his head as he shuffles over towards the window.
Since there’s a ledge, most of the window space is filled by those who are sitting and leaning, but the man is somehow able to slide into a spot just outside the actual seating area, while managing to stay within the superficial nylon retractable rope boundary. He feels it is a small victory for some reason.
The man sets his suitcase down and positions himself up against the ledge so that his shins butt against the lip of it. Slowly he leans forward until his forehead presses on the glass. The glass is cool, the man thinks, possibly cooler than the rest of the glass since he is occupying the only shaded area. As if in response to this thought, the man gradually raises his right hand so that it reaches into the lighted area, as if the man was trying to literally grasp the warmth from the rays of sun. A peculiar sight the man did make at the moment, but it is of no concern to him as he is lost in his thought of his own nothingness. Just a few seconds of nothing. Nothing.
“Hey mister, whatcha doin’?”
The question from the tiny voice startles the man from his delusion so abruptly that he nearly falls. Two sisters nearby do happen to notice this, and the man catches them as they try, unsuccessfully, to stifle their giggles at his expense. “Humph, uh, uhâÂ?¦wha-what?” the man eventually asks the young boy after he composes himself.
“I wanted to know what you were doing?”
“OhâÂ?¦well, IâÂ?¦I was just thinking, you know, cold glass, cools off the brainâÂ?¦it gets too hot from thinking,” the man manages a small, forced laugh and grin, trying to joke with the child. The little boy just stares at him, bewildered, almost as if he had just been told that the square root of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of both adjacent angles, or told how babies were made, or told that someday he’d grow up to be just like this man, outwardly successful in life, and yet nervously feigning laughter in attempts to feel comfortable around a child.
“Oh,” the child replies, ” I thought you were just playing airplane.”
“Airplane? Well what’s that?” the man responded with genuine interest, kneeling down so that he was eye to eye with the boy. A huge smile crossed the child’ face, revealing a gaping void where his front teeth, presumably, once stood not too long ago.
“Here, I’ll show you,” says the boy as he spins around, jumps up on the ledge, spreads his arms wide, and plants his forehead against the window. Then he starts swaying and rocking, making sounds, like rooooom! and neeeyearnewww!, mimicking a plane. The man stares, blank faced at first. Then he places his head firmly on the glass and follows suit.
” See, ” the boy says, ” it’s like you’re flying, isn’t it?”
” Yeah it is,” they both stay like that a few seconds, just swaying. Then the boy jumps down from the ledge with a thud.
” Thanks for playing mister, I’m going now.”
” Ok big guyâÂ?¦wait there sport, hold on,” the man says as he touches the boy lightly on the shoulder just as he is turning away. ” I got something for you,” and he reaches into his pocket. ” For teaching me to flyâÂ?¦here, here’s a nice lollipop for ya, champ.” The man offers it to him, smiling. The boy looks at him with a with a mix of fear and desire.
“No, mom said, mom said not tooâÂ?¦no, ” and the boy inches back slowly and then runs off.
“But its notâÂ?¦” the man stands up, realizing with every inch up how stiff his knees had gotten just from the few moments of kneeling over to talk to the boy. He bends over at the waist and rubs his knees. For a moment he watches after the boy as he runs into the expanse of the airport, until he finally fades and melts into the rest of the crowd. The man makes to the nearest garbage, ready to throw his treat away in disgust. Then, he stares at the red lollipop in his grasp, forbidden fruit as it were, twists it in his hands, and shoves it back in his pocket. He turns back to the window and places his forearm up against the it, throwing his leg out, to lean, posturing, unintentionally, like a cowboy of old westerns.
Just then, the man reaches down for something vibrating in his pocket. It is his cell phone. He pulls it out and stares at it for a few seconds before answering; it flashes and shakes, the word HOME lighting up with each ring. He clicks the answer key.
“Hello?”
“Dad.”
” Oh, hey honey, how is everything, I’m just waitingâÂ?¦”
” Waiting?! You’re not on the plane yet?”
” Well no, I mean I couldn’t be talking to you ifâÂ?¦”
” Dad, you know I need the car for tonight, God, why do you always ruin things for me, Dad you remember I need the car right?”
” Yeah, yeah, I remember, I’ll get home as soon as possible, IâÂ?¦”
” Alright, fineâÂ?¦here mom wants to ask you somethingâÂ?¦”
“Okay hun, byeâÂ?¦”
” Sweety?”
” Yeah, hey baby, what’s up?”
” Remember to pick up some lettuce okay?”
” Oh, okay”
“PromiseâÂ?¦ we’re having the Johnson’s over for dinner, remember?”
” Oh yeahâÂ?¦I thought we weren’t doing that sweety, you know, IâÂ?¦I just don’t want toâÂ?¦”
” Well I can’t cancel now, dear, that’d be incredibly rude don’t you think. Now c’mon, honey, I know youâÂ?¦you’re just cranky now, long flight, boring business meeting, I know. But this’ll do you good, you’ll see, seeing some friends will liven you up, I know it will. And, I mean think of what the Johnson’s would say about us, I mean just what would they tell other people. You know they talk to everyone important, besides this will be good for us, so remember the lettuce, okay, can you do that one little thing?”
” Yes I can, but I just don’t feel like it, I’m tired andâÂ?¦”
” Just nothing, okay, just bring the lettuce and hurry home, okay?”
” Okay, but I âÂ?¦”
Click.
The man leaves the phone at his ear for a moment, thinking maybe that the phone is just briefly disconnected or maybe it is call waiting. But it isn’t. He let’s his hand drop and looks down at the blank screen which only reads CINGULAR now. Odd, the man thinks, as he just realizes the word is spelled wrong. He quickly reached in his pocket and produces a fine, silver Montblanc pen, perfectly balanced and weighted. It’s weightless in his hand, feels like nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. On the side of it is engraved: ” For ten years dedication. Thanks.”
The man then proceeds to jab and knife his hands through his other pockets, searching for something to write on. He looks up and scanning around realizes that there is also nothing suitable in the vicinity around him. Nothing at all. He scribbles on his hand instead.
First, “singular” on the top of his palm. He stares for a moment thinking how it would look in a sentence, closing his eyes to imagine it. Then, he flips his hand over and writes, “cingular” on the back of his palm. And like some strange and boring flip-book animation, the man swiftly tosses his hand back and forth, over and over, until he’s satisfied that, yes, “cingular” is in fact the incorrect spelling. Though he’s not really satisfied.
” Now seating rows 10 through 16 flight 463 to Boston, rows 10 through 16 flight 463 to Boston.” The man sighs, switches his phone off in advance for the flight, grabs his heavy suitcase and worn jacket, and makes his way to the entrance.
“Ticket please,” a perky flight attendant says as the man reaches the front of the line. He rifles through his coat pockets, fumbling his suitcase as he does so, and produces his ticket though it is a little worse for wear.
” Nervous about the flight, sir?” the attendant says with a comforting smile.
“Huh?”
” Your ticket, it’s twisted, I see it a lotâÂ?¦it’s the nerves,” she smiles and hands the ticket back, right after carefully pressing it and smoothing it out on the edge of her little podium, like you would for a stubborn dollar bill that just refuses to go into the candy machine. “There’s nothing to worry about, statistically it is he safest form of travel.”
” It’s not the flying I’m worried about,”the man says. He makes a few steps toward the entrance and then turns and quickly adds, ” but thanks for caring.”
The attendant smiles again and nods.
On the way to his seat, the man seems to knock, ever so gently, into everybody that crosses his path. It is like he is intentionly brushing these people, like he has a magnetism toward them, but never really colliding; at the last second, he just glances them, and offers a courteous, “Oh, excuse me,” with his hand raised and a small smirk. No one really pays attention. A few offer cursory nods or grunts of “m’kay.”
The man finally finds his seat, a lone window near the emergency exit, and drops down and sinks in, not bothering to stow his suitcase securely in the overhead compartment. He jams his head between the seat and window and tilts it so that he can see both the people trying to get in their seats and the baggage handlers riding by in there overloaded carts outside. The man attempts to think about the business meeting he is coming back from, how the new deal could mean some moderate success for his company if it goes through as it should. No doubt, it would mean some praise for his efforts, possibly a raise. But the man doesn’t really care. He just keeps his head wedged and watches as the people and world glide by, wondering if they are thinking about anything more important than he is. He stays like this, in this sort of haze, until the flight attendants go through the safety procedures.
Since he is the only seat near the exit, one of the flight attendants is situated directly in front of him as they run through the precautionary speech.
“So, I guess this kind of makes me like the bouncer for the exit, huh?” the man says to the attendant in front of him as the crew finishes the instructions. She gives him a halfhearted smile.
“So, do I get any special, uh, rewards or privileges for this responsibility?”
The flight attendant just rolls her eyes slightly and replies, ” No sir, you get the same treatment as everyone else who sits here and says the same thing. Enjoy the flight.’
The man just leans back hard in his chair and stares back out the window at the open world that somehow didn’t seem as magnificent as most people describe it when seen from a view such as he has, high and lofty, looking on the world as if it could stretch forever and was limitless. But it isn’t.
” Excuse meâÂ?¦excuse me sir?” a rough voice says from behind the man.
“Huh?”
” Excuse me, would you mind if I put one of my bags in that empty spot near you ?”
The man looks down at the spot that normally would’ve held a chair. He looks back up and the older looking gentleman behind him who looks a bit too comfortably wrapped in a brown knit sweater vest with a matching brown plaid button-down shirt underneath, ” Uh , no that’s okay, go right ahead.”
” Thank you very much, ‘preciate it,” the old man says.
“Sure,” the man replies and turns back around.
“SayâÂ?¦you just come back from Tokyo or some place like that?” asks the older man.
” Uh yeah, yeah I did.”
” Interesting place, been there myself beforeâÂ?¦but that was just after the war, Korean War, went there for a little R’n’ R before shipping off back home. Figured, might as well see a new part of the world, I mean when the hell else was I gonna be there, right?”
” Yeah, right.”
” So what brought you there, business or pleasure?”
“Pleasure, you know I heard those Asians hookers, woo-boy, they are just fan-tas-tic,” the man laughs unconvincingly at his own joke, “no, but seriously, business, I work for a computer company, a majorâÂ?¦ well I won’t bore you with the details, it’s not exciting, trust me, but I guess it was a good trip, I guess.” The man looks back up to see a slightly agitated older man.
” What did you say there, sonny?” the older man asks sternly.
” Wha- about what?”
” You know whatâÂ?¦this is a public plane, and there are young people aboard.”
The man looks around in the immediate vicinity and doesn’t notice a face below that of a twenty year old.
” Oh well , I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you âÂ?¦I âÂ?¦ it was just a joke. I have kids of my own.”
” Well, you should know better then, or maybe you need help with you parenting skills.”
” Maybe I do, I try though”
” Well this is a lesson, know your place, sonnyâÂ?¦and it could help with your social manners as well.”
” Been working on those my whole lifeâÂ?¦still am.”
“Well keep trying.” And with that the old man grabs his bag he just placed nearby, turns his attention away and sits back in his chair.
The man turns back forward and slumps himself back into his original position, hoping no one had heard, and at the same time slightly glad he had offended the man. At least the argument, it was engaging.

The man now sets himself to the task, it seems, of trying to burn, with his stare, everything that he could view from outside his window. His gaze is that focused. Even as the last few people brush by him finding and adjusting themselves until they finally rest in their seats, he doesn’t make a move. One person even nearly falls into the man’s lap, after slipping on a hanging luggage strape. Yet nothing, no response. The man can no longer be bothered by the world on the plan, this world of bustling people and fidgety children, and ever serene and reprimanding elders, and men actually anxious to get home. So out the window he stares.
The only movement he makes from then on is prompted by plane itself. When it shakes, he shakes a little; when it turns, he shifts in response, ever so slightly. In this way, the man finds a rhythm with the cold hard steel that encapsulates him and he and the plane become synchronized; the cushions and seats merely provide a buffer, but he can still maneuver with the plane’s each jut and jar, however imperceptible. And with the comfort of the plane’s pattern and gentle nurture, the man starts to relax, and his stare becomes less focused until the world starts to blur, like a Monet, and all the colors start to bleed together. His gaze lessens, and becomes less likely to burn and destroy all that he sees. The man’s shoes are off, he places his feet firm and flat on the floor, letting the cold iron below seep through his socks, slowly numbing his toes. The plane starts to turn and make its approach for takeoff; he knows because he feels it sway. And then something catches his attention.
The plane starts to lurch forward, gaining speed, faster and faster as it speeds up for takeoff. But, the man’s eyes are now rapt with concentration at what he sees outside. The plane lifts, and the man’s stomach lurches a bit, out of synch, but still his head does not move, and his body is tense. He grip the edges of the armrests, making visible creases. The vinyl under his fingertips crunches. As the plane gains altitude he can still see the scene unfolding.
A mere hundreds of feet below, a man and a woman are standing outside their car. Another man , it looks like he is dressed in black�
“Or was the man black, oh no, was the man white or black , I’m not sure,” the man inside the plane thinks.
That man in black, that man that is now hundreds of feet below and drifting further away, he has a gun held up to the man and the women near the car.
What could he do, the man thinks, what can possibly be done? The people below now had become a blur, but the car is still visible. Oh no, what did that man in black want, did he hurt them? Was he robbing them? Was he going to pull the trigger? The man can’t think, he reaches out in front of him to grab something, anything, the back of a chair, a suitcase, but he clutches nothing but air. He looks around wildly, looking for someone else who saw, some recognition, yes I saw it too, I saw it too, but nothing, no one makes a movement or hint that they witnessed the scene as well. It becomes too much for the man.
” HE”S GOT A GUN!!!”
Shock and panic smacks the faces of the other passengers.
“HE”S GOT A GUN!! Turn around!!” the man shouts. A stewardess comes rushing to the scene.
“Sir, please calm down, who , who has a gun, where is it??”
” Back there, we have to go back, we have to get back down, he has a gun!!!”
“Sir, please calm down, I don’t understand,” the words come speeding out of her, trying to get a handle on the situation, ” Who?! who as a gun?! Where is it?”
” Down there,” the man sputters and points, but then starts to relax and make like he is going to sit down. ” I saw it, I’m the only one, he has a gun, and the man and the womanâÂ?¦we have to go, I saw it, I did, he could kill them, it’s back there!!”
“Sir, we can’t go back right now, if there’s something you need back at the airport we’ll be happy to get it for you, but we can’t have you screaming, you’re going to have to calm down.”
As she is saying this, the man notices that more of the crew, one a male attendant, are making there way over to assist. The male attendant is flexing his knuckles. The man can swear he hears them crack. His eyes fly frantically around from person to person, searching for help.
” You don’t understand, down on the ground, I saw a man holding people up with a gun, I can help them, turn the plane back!! There’s still time!! I can do something! Please listen!!” He stands up again, and the attendants are closing in on him. The male one is less than two steps away.
The man’s pleading eyes still find no assistance, no one else makes like they know, they only just sit, horror stricken, parents clutching there children, couples grasping hands, women gasping their breathe with hands held to their chests. The man’s wild eyes rove and rest on the emergency exit. He lunges for it.
All five attendants nearby, including the male, pounce on him. Though the man has a firm grip mated to the metal rod of the emergency door handle, the attendants combined force backwards keeps him from opening the door. Beads of sweat begin to form on the man’s brow as he pulls against the mass of hands. He barely feels the needle prick before darkness envelopes him.
The man awakes later in a holding cell on the Boston airport facility. After much questioning and an over night stay at the Boston precinct, the man is finally cleared. Though, the charges are eventually dropped, the writing on his hand, “singular” and “cingular,” is, at first, the hardest for the cops to explain away. The man insists he was just unsure of the spelling, but they propose, at first, that it is some sort of code to network and communicate with other terrorists.
But, the police do, from a few phone calls, learn that a car jacking did if fact happen at the time and place in question. The man’s story eventually checks out and he is allowed to leave at 7 a.m. the following morning. When collecting his personal belongs, the man from the plane asks a nearby cop who questioned him just what did happen to the other man who was car jacked.
“Eh, the guy was shot once in the chest during the incident. He’s in intensive, but I guess it looks like he’ll pull through, lucky bastard. The wife suffered only minor bruises and I guess some ’emotional trauma’. But, they couldn’t i.d. the perp, so he’ll probably get off. Got a Benz S-class what I hear, sweet ride.” The cop answers while staring at a stack of papers he’s sifting through. ” You have a good night, no more screaming on planes, there, Johnny hero, alright?”
“No one else even bothered to stop,” the man mutters, but the cop doesn’t hear.
The man’s wife arrives to pick him up an hour after he is released. Though he is free from all serious charges, she is, nonetheless, still furious, especially since he must pay a fine of $500 for causing a public disturbance aboard a plane.
“I am so angry with you, you have no idea!! What the hell were you thinking, are you crazy or something?!?!” his wife hisses as soon as the door is slammed shut in their grey, Acura SUV.
“I’m not crazy.”
” Oh really, cuz screaming about a gun on an airplane full of people seems pretty damn crazy to me!”
The man turns his head and looks out the car window, ” At least I did something, at least I tried,” he mutters.
” What? What did you say?!”
“OhâÂ?¦nothing.”

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