Today is the day and I’ve been diligent about it like my parents have always told me to be, so I am ready. I’ve packed my best clothes, functional shoes, money, a book and my most important documents, because like a space cadet on a mission, maybe there’s a chance I won’t return. That 0.001% excites me in a way that my nine to five existence or a comfortable lover could never hope to measure up, and that is precisely why I’m leaving.
Tonight is the night and you’re as excited as you were the first time the promise of adventure fell into your lap. You’ve been vibrating in your plush leather chair all day, thoughts flitting while you contemplate chicken for lunch again, counting down the seconds on a clock in your office that your secretary purchased without you asking. This gross interruption to your day-to-day life is both an affront and a delight. Because each morning you rise and look toward vermillion and fuchsia skies, and ask, is there something more.
The real stirring begins from the moment you’ve bid goodbye to your taxi driver, gathered your things at the curb and onto a trolley. Your presence is your ticket through automatic doors, the sudden hiss as air escapes, brushing your face, entering your local airport. There is nowhere more transient than here, a mantra you whisper to quell your beating heart.
‘Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan, selamat datang ke Penerbangan Malaysia pesawat MH88..’
In the next instance, I’m now shuffling on-board, before falling into a seat with my name on it. Crushed between strangers and contraptions that are meant to replicate the comforts of every day life, this is the original capsule hotel. Admittedly it still very much depends on where, the absence of a crying baby and how much my semi-contortionist body can create a sleep-able nook in the chair. But those hours of soaring in the air, of being on a plane, they are mine to take back, own and cherish. They are mine.
‘Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan, untuk keselamatan anda, kami akan menunjukkan cara-cara menggunakan peralatan keselamatan di dalam pesawat ini. Sila tumpukan perhatian kepada anak-anak kapal di hadapan kabin anda.’
At the tender suggestion of a pink-lipped flight attendant, you strap in indefinitely, while the 23-centimetre screen beckons you to flicker its white light on. Surveying the masses reveals that everyone is already hooked up and you are the only one left. You eagerly purvey the music collection but listen to none, browse the movie and TV show catalogue but watch not a single episode.
‘Penerbangan kita akan mengambil masa selama 7 jam 5 minit dan makanan malam akan dihidangkan. Sebelum berlepas..’
Onboard, food is utility, to satiate and not to delight. But there is beauty in the tray itself, I admire the way each component fits, like pieces of a jigsaw, to make up a mosaic of a complete meal. It becomes a challenge to make food palatable, when logistics and science have made these the worst conditions to be consuming for pleasure. I read somewhere that one should cut the in-flight bread roll in a 1:3 ratio such that the bottom piece is slightly thicker. I then empty a quarter of my main dish into the middle, to produce a misshapen sandwich that vastly improves cottony bread.
A dark plane hurtling through space at 900 kilometres per hour is identical to holding a seashell up to your ear. Away from the world, time has stopped and you’re completely unreachable by everyone, whether a colleague, a best friend or a social media notification about nothing. Relax your breathing, let your hands drop to their sides, allow the seatbelt to rest comfortably above your paunch. When you close your eyes, your sense of hearing heightens, but it’s not that sound gets louder. Like a surgeon manipulating the dial on an FM radio, the tone is refined to needlepoint. The hollow roar is the echo, as your heartbeat becomes the bass line, the melodic synergy between you and this mechanical bird, this soaring plane.
In the last hour or two, you can feel the nose of the plane dip, and the descent. An announcement tells you to brace for impact, for your return to reality.
‘Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan, kita akan mendarat sebentar lagi, sila tegakkan tempat duduk anda, pasangkan tali keledar dan tentukan meja anda terletak di tempat yang asal, terima kasih.’