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I’m sat in the window seat of an aeroplane looking out at the clouds and the sky; it feels meditative. Often I find myself here. Somewhere that’s nowhere. I’ve been on the go for a while now. Sometimes life tells us we need to grow up before we even know what that means. I worry whether my friends will still be my friends if I grow up too quickly? They don’t have to grow up as quick as me, but I watch them try. I listen to them chatter about boys and drinking, drugs they have tried recently, parties they’re going to on the weekend. They don’t invite me anymore because they know I’ll be away, again, far away most likely. It’s all a lot, but it’s only for now I tell myself. One day I’ll be normal just like them.
But for now, musty airports have become my first home and flights my weekly routine. I know the drill. I’m a perfect packer, almost; I say almost because my auntie says I should be rolling my clothes rather than folding, though I’m not convinced yet. I know which security queues will be the fastest. I know how often to check the information board, and where to stand to be first on the plane. I know what food to eat preflight so that I don’t get bloated. How much water to drink so that I don’t need to pee too often in the air. No one knows that I know these things. It’s all in my head.
Today my window seat is located in aisle 16, near the middle of the aeroplane. From London Heathrow to Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport. It’s going to be a long one. But the longer the better. The dim screen glued to the back of the chair in front of me runs the aircraft safety video, but I don’t watch it. Instead, I close my eyes and wait for the plane to lift me up. The guy next to me, who looks like he’s in his late 20s, twitches around his narrow upright seat – his skin matching its pale blue colour, the colour white people look before they are going to vomit. I can tell he’s a nervous flyer. Eventually we take off and the plane rattles. I wait for it to just fall to pieces, but it never does. I open my eyes, and through the fog I watch London shrink down from what usually feels like an intimidating city full of life and a little love, into a miniature grey Lego set, almost lost in the vast greenery of its birth mother – the English countryside. Not ready to let go just yet, my mind drifts to my own mother, whom I picture at the tennis club she works at tucked away in North London. She’s always there, working or not. She’s a tennis coach and a prolific tea drinker. “Earl Grey in a mug with milk and no sugar,” she’d call over to me while she was on the court wrapped up in her black puffer jacket and green woollen hat. Whenever I heard her I’d race into the club house to order her tea. But other times I’d be running through the surrounding forests, too far away to catch her voice, hoping to encounter some form of danger that would give me a gripping story to tell her on the way home. Something that would make her notice me more than she did on these cold evenings, after a long day of work.
The aeroplane, still at an incline, now gushes through the innocent clouds towards the mystery of the sky. My OCD begins to soften because in the air my life is in the hands of fate and there’s nothing I can do. This feeling – d i s c o n n e c t i n g – I like. I can smell the aeroplane food; it’s 11:22 a.m. They are bringing around bread rolls and yogurt, simple food, and I’m sure the bread will taste like the yogurt and the yogurt like the bread. But I don’t mind it. The man next to me wants to speak to me, I can tell, but I’m not acknowledging him yet. I’m still absorbing being off the ground.
“You ever been to Brazil before?” His nerves force him to speak; even if I’m not listening, he just needs to speak. He continues: “I’ve not been before, but my sister moved out there three years ago and I’m finally going to visit her.” I hold my silence a little longer.
“Oh, that’s nice, bet you’re excited to get some sun.”
“I sure am.” He smiles, happy that I’m engaging with him so he doesn’t need to think about the possibility of dying.
“I’ve not been to Brazil before, I’ve been to Paraguay though.”
“That’s cool, so what you going to be doing in Brazil then? You got family over there or something?”
“Nope, no family there. I play tennis so I’m heading there for a tournament.” Instantly I regret mentioning the tennis in case I have to elaborate, which I normally always do.
“Wow you like professional or something? Seems like a long way to go for a tournament.”
I smile and try to brush it off. “Hah no, well I’m alright I guess.”
“Are you traveling alone?”
“Yep, but my tennis coach will meet me out there, he’s in South Africa at the moment.”
“Jeez you must be pro then.”
I’m just lonely is all I can think. The familiarity of flying is the only thing I can latch onto as I move around the world. Sometimes with my coach and other times by myself. Though the unfamiliarity of the countries I go to does fill me with curiosity. As often as I can I escape from the hotel or the tennis facility and spy on the natives in their habitat. I love to watch the different ways of living, to spot the “normal kids” in their school uniform messing about on the cobbled streets. Each country I visit has its own tangible way of living. Within each society there is a way of the world. I see some happy people and I see some sad. I see poverty and I see wealth. I see groups and I see loners. I see the fruitfulness of culture and realise that there is no right or wrong way to live.
As I wander through the clean minimal streets of Japan, towards the corner shop that has a kettle in it so you can heat up your noodles, I play spot the dirt. In Morocco I hold my breath as a wriggle my way through the markets and the potent smell of leather goes beyond my nostrils and into my head. In Egypt I visit the pyramids and a native asks my coach whether he can trade his camel for me in return. I laugh but my coach, who is from Tunisia and who I have never seen smile, doesn’t find this funny. Apparently it wasn’t a joke. Portugal means parties; you can get into nightclubs when you’re underage over there and I love it. In Mexico my tennis matches last into the late evening, and each time I throw the ball up to serve I’m greeted with a swarm of mosquitos. The Czech Republic brings me no joy because it’s so cold. I cry at night in my hotel room and long for my mother. Sweden is cold, too, and I traipse through heaps of white snow with locked joints and blue lips to get to the tennis courts. But Thailand is hot – too hot! Though I fall in love with the pad thai and the markets. I can get cheap stuff that looks cool. These trips widen my once naive eyes and expose me to life outside of my home.
I take my iPod out of my bag. Listening to music on the plane while I look out the window is what I like to do. It’s where my imagination takes comfort. I visualise myself back in London, going to secondary school with my friends. I have long straight hair and two sisters. I have a father, too, and he goes to work each day so that my mother doesn’t have to worry about money. My sister and I share clothes and argue. We are a family. A Family. I can stay with them for hours on and off while I’m in the air, I have nowhere else to go, until a certain song draws me out and takes me elsewhere. Otis Redding, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” This song always gets me, it makes me think of me and I feel nostalgic. The real me, with curly hair and brown skin, with no father or sister and a mother who constantly worries about money. It plays on my iPod and I look out the window at the dark emptiness of the afternoon sky.
Sittin’ here restin’ my bones
And this loneliness won’t leave me alone, listen
Two thousand miles, I roam
Just to make this dock my home
Now I’m just gon’ sit, at the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh yeah
Sittin’ on the dock of the bay
A couple of hours go by, and I must have dozed off because the man next to me is tapping me on my shoulder and the aeroplane is shaking. Turbulence. I open my eyes and turn to look at him. He has jet black hair that flops across his face, which is still pale blue, but this time I notice his dimples and I find them cute.
“I hope everything is alright.” His voice is timid, and I can tell he’s worried about the turbulence.
“It will be,” I reassure him, “It’s just a bit of turbulence, I’m sure it will pass soon.”
“Yeah course, yeah.” He now tries to reassure himself, too.
I turn back to the window, back to the hush of the sky. I feel safe and cosy, despite the turbulence.
“What music do you listen to?” he carries on.
“All sorts really, jazz, blues, hip-hop, reggae, classical, grime. I love all music.”
“Yes, I like indie, too.”
“I’m in an indie band myself. I play the guitar.”
“Oh, that’s cool. Which band?”
“Roxy Blue. We’re not big or anything, just do a couple gigs here and there. But it’s a good time.”
“I can imagine.” Although I couldn’t imagine. I liked indie, but I always felt like I wasn’t supposed to because of my brown skin. Indie music is for white people, my Jamaican friend Melissa told me one day when she had asked to borrow my iPod. She said I was out of the loop because I was away so much.
My fingers hover over the TV screen. I want to watch the journey of the plane moving around the earth. I don’t understand the physics of how it stays up in the air without falling down, but I think if I did, I wouldn’t be as able to let go like I can now. The screen shows me we are flying over the Atlantic Ocean, in fact the entire journey is practically over the ocean, which means if the plane broke we’d most certainly all die, for the safety of the land is far gone and far to come. The screen also tells me that there are five hours left until landing. I push my pillow up against the window and rest my head on it. My eyes close and I let the motion of the plane rock me to sleep. It’s not quite the same as how my mother used to rock me when I was small, but it will do.