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John was on his way to the airport. As the taxi weaved its way through the streets, John read an e-mail on his blackberry. He quickly typed out a response then put device away and stared out the window. He sighed. It had been a long day – a long year. His mind flashed to his Georgetown apartment where Lucy would be working patiently with Ben. Ben would be sitting at the dining room table, staring blankly at his work, unable to do any of it. Yet Lucy was there – Lucy whom he loved so much and who never failed to be present. Failed to be present…
“Sir, can I offer you something to drink?”
John jolted awake violently. He had dozed off during the takeoff. He graciously accepted a glass of Champagne. He turned to look out of the window of the Boeing 777, which had already leapt up to 35,000 feet. The sun was shining up in the clouds, even though it had been pouring torrentially in D.C. He inhaled deeply as he stared out at the blotches of majestic, towering clouds swimming in a sea of blue. He could think in the sky. In fact, these days, the sky was the only place he could think.
Of course, thinking wasn’t the reason why John spent so much of his life airborne. As a World Bank health specialist, John travelled to Africa to work on disease treatment in Senegal and to spread HIV/AIDS awareness in Namibia. He loved the satisfaction his work gave him, and it could be seen in his step. And Lucy never complained when he went off on his three week trips. He loved her for that. Yet at times, her silence almost paradoxically fueled his feelings of delinquency.
The server had reappeared. She asked him what he would like for his dinner. She had a very beautiful smile.
A crack of sunshine spilt through the oval window, landing right on the tip of John’s nose. Reluctantly, he brought his seat up from its reclined position. He accepted a yogurt and pain-au-chocolat from the pretty attendant.
Bienvenue a Paris, monsieur. Welcome to Paris, sir.
Paris. How very pretty.
John stood by gate E65. He stared at the nose of the plane that would take him to Africa.
“Ladies and gentleman, we will begin boarding for Air France flight 731 to Dakar in a few minutes. Please have your…”
He didn’t understand it. He’d showered, read the paper, checked his e-mail – things he usually took pleasure in doing upon arrival at an airport. Normally, he would be getting excited for his mission, normally there would be jittery waves of fear rolling through his body. He felt none of that.
He glanced at the gate to the right where a flight was boarding to the Seychelles. He wondered if the pretty flight attendant would be on that flight.
His mind left the terminal and arrived on the pristine beaches of the Seychelles. Heavy waves pounded down on the sand. He stood alone on the beach – surrounding by only ocean and vegetation…
“Ben, please try to focus and work on this problem.”
The memory was breaking up.
“Listen Ben, I know it’s hard but please just do this for Mommy. Can you do that?”
He was staring down at a blue canvas splattered with tan blotches. He wanted to go back.
“You’re a very good boy. Mommy and Daddy love you very much.”
He was at home.
He watched Lucy work with Ben. Ben wasn’t saying anything as usual, just sitting and staring. Sitting and staring.
“Look Ben, that’s a picture of Paris, the capital of France!” Paris. How very pretty.
Ben stared at it momentarily, then looked away.
It was breaking up again. He opened his eyes. A man was tapping him on the shoulder
telling him to move up in the line.
He apologized, hesitated for a moment, then walked over to E67. Heavy waves pounded
down on the sand.
All throughout the flight he panicked. He dropped the entrée that the server brought him, and when she poured his wine, he knocked that over too. Images passed through his mind – the apartment in Washington, the World Bank office in Dakar, the beach in the Seychelles.
Finally, when the airplane was crossing over the Mediterranean and the meal service had ended, John fell asleep. And if they had been looking, the passengers on his flight would have noticed that as the man in seat 3A fell asleep, he was not the same man that had walked on-board the flight.
John awoke as the plane touched down. As he walked out the airplane door, the server bid him au revoir.
She had a very pretty smile.