Fishing in Beirut

January 24, 2010

Part 2: Aria (scene 1)

Filed under: Character : Aria, Part 2 : Aria — fishinginbeirut @ 11:08

The airport in San Jose is called Mineta. She sits there waiting, her hand luggage on the seat beside her, the rest already checked in. She keeps bouncing her foot, cause that’s what waiting is all about. It’s a daytime flight to New York, then an overnight to Paris. There is waiting before take-off, and waiting between flights.
The humming artificiality of airports affects people unknowingly. There is stress in travel preparations, stress in morning crowds, in electric lighting when it’s clear and blue outside. In baggage, queues, insanely loud gum chewing. In theatrical personalities standing right behind you.
But there is beauty too. Aria is more excited than nervous, and she no longer falls prey to common external stressors. She has a sweet soul. When you sit near the enormous windows you can see the planes taking off and landing, and the tiny men in orange jackets somehow directing the chaos. You can see birds, sun, and the endless expanse of runway. You can see your city’s buildings, a distant glinting skyline.
You can find calm within the hum, and embrace how you feel right now, sitting on this chair. You can see yourself at five and you were splashing in the ocean, and on this airport chair feel that tingling in your legs. You can carry all your heartbreak, that time your father touched you, that man you trusted so completely, and you just didn’t know what to think or what to say.
On the plane the stewardess pointed out the exits.
“In case of emergency, inflate the lifejacket by pulling firmly on the cord.” Aria listened attentively. A big fat man two rows in front stood up too quickly and whacked his head off the air conditioner adjuster knob. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered, and the stewardess bade him be seated.
The population of San Jose is 1 million. Aria lives outside the city, near the coast. Many people speak Spanish as their native tongue, and many others learn it in school. ¿Donde esta el Ministerio de Defensa por favor? The summer nights are warm and balmy, so often children just sleep under a simple cotton sheet, wearing nothing at all. Peaches, apricots and other fruits are grown for business and pleasure.
She sleeps and wakes up in New York. Missed the aerial descent, missed the glaring absence of the Twin Towers on the Manhattan skyline. The fat man’s laboured breathing as he fished a bag out from the compartment above her head woke her upon landing. He generously got hers while he was up there, handing it to her carefully, and they all filed off together.
“I do not know what to make of this place,” he told her as they shuffled up the tunnel, emphasising the ‘what’ like a Texas cowboy rancher. Perhaps that’s what he was.
There was a five-hour wait for the Paris connection. She spent it by the window. Once she turned around and spied the cowboy, way over the other side of the terminal, sitting down eating a sandwich, until he was eclipsed by six extremely animated Asian women, all wearing matching white jumpers. It grew dusk, and then dark. There was so much talking among the throng of people in the place it almost seemed like there was silence. People swirled around, telling jokes, reporting to companions on boarding time updates, looking nervously about for toilets. Night-time now, and she felt she might be too tired to sleep on this final journey. Crestfallen momentarily, she suddenly looked up happily, and remembered she was going to Paris.
There was minor turbulence halfway through the flight. It woke her as the dawn broke. It was untroubling to most, but one woman began hyperventilating. Rapid gasping could be heard towards the front, as her body dragged in extra air not truly necessary for this experience. A paper bag and a soothing touch helped restore the oxygen imbalance.
Aria officially turned nineteen ten minutes after. February 6th. She placed her hand on her abdomen to feel the gentle rising falling, and smiled. So this was her nineteenth birthday. Clouds formed God-like formations out the left-hand window – heartpiercing endless death white, crystal heaven sun stabs. It was nearly too much to look at. The aching destined blue of the uninterrupted sky, stretching out unending till the rational explodes. The space, and the calming airplane breath hum, that sends you half to sleep.
She read the in-flight magazine, and drank some water. Time passed. Somewhere someone coughed, amidst the low scattered chatter and the intermittent toilet traffic. There was an article on Berlin, “Europe’s City Of Wild.” It said the whole city centre had been undergoing rebuilding for some time, around Potsdamer Platz. She looked at a picture of a crane filled skyline, and thought it beautiful.
Flicking through the magazine, she was hit with credit card advertisements, fold-out perfume samples, a black and white photograph of Vienna. She returned to the Berlin article. The writer mentioned an abundance of drug use in Berlin. He attempted to speak knowingly of this for a paragraph, but then returned to detailing tourist attractions. The Memorial Church, the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz, built to facilitate spying on the West over the wall. The Brandenburg Gate. She looked at little pictures of these, all backed by a sky that seemed too poetically pink streaked. Enhanced tourist-baiting mood shots. She got up and walked the length of the aircraft slowly, cause what is that blood disease airplanes give you now.
Later more drinks were brought, and she had orange juice. Her legs were restless and tired all at once. She could see the ocean down below, minute seagulls darting, sea-spray. The radio on the armrest had a station playing reggae, but only her left headphone was working. She was getting mostly bass at the expense of treble, and the system was fuzzing under the strain.
Paris was growing nearer. A snake of excitement wriggled in her back, liquid-like, momentarily. She sensed into her body on the seat. A baby started crying, but then changed its mind and laughed. It gurgled and cooed to itself for reasons unknown, and Aria couldn’t help smiling. Was this a boy or a girl she was hearing?
Someone started using a discman, and a stewardess ran frantically down the aisle in search of the culprit. Upon discovery, she issued the hapless baggy-jeaned teen a lecture on the dire effect it could have on the cockpit controls. He flicked his fringe out of his eyes and stared at her open-mouthed. Her cheeks swelled puffer fish-like as she rebuked him. His knee started jumping, and it grew harder to feign nonchalance. The stewardess noticed this, sadistically upped the tempo of her tirade, and Aria felt sorry for the guy. She tried to smile at him when the woman left, but his eyes were boring holes into the seat in front, his body rigid.
And so the flight ended. The plane touched down, all shudders bumps and hiss, and Charles de Gaulle flicked by as they taxied. Sun shining. She stayed seated till the fasten seat belt sign had been switched off, was careful when opening the overhead compartment, lest any luggage had been dislodged. She didn’t steal the headphones. A sunlight laser shot through a far window, illuminating dust rising off the seats. It occurred to her that this much dust was everywhere, whether it could be seen or not, and she tried to breathe less. Her bag strap felt slippy in her slight palm sweat. She readjusted her grip.
Queues, passports, conveyor belts of other peoples possessions, and hers somewhere in among them. How are these bags treated by the handlers? If they could talk, would you weep to hear their sorry tales? Unnerving histories of falls and dismemberment. She saw her own swinging around, and dragged it off onto one of those euro deposit trolleys. This euro was what they all used in Europe now, right? It was a strange little thing, and would grow stranger still when she later came to see how it would dictate her life in Paris. Existence with a pocketful of coinage. She felt it jangling in her jeans.

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