It is but 6 am and it has already been a tiring day. Getting up at 3, the long taxi ride, the aimless walking around the airport in an effort to stay awake: it is all beginning to wear us out. This is the first flight out, and the airport seems just like us, sleepy. Finally in the plane, we quickly settle into our seats, and look forward to a short nap for a couple of hours. And the little boy behind us does not stop talking.
This is a small airport, with just a few planes, and yet, he is awe-struck by everything around him. I gather from the conversation that this is his first plane ride. Look, at the guy there waving a flag! Look at that airplane, where is that one going? There is so much to see. His excitement is palpable, and I wonder if he or his parents got much sleep last night.
Is that our baggage on that cart? Look, the flaps on the wings, they are going down! He keeps a constant commentary going, such that I could very well have kept my eyes closed and known exactly what was going on. Yet my eyes stay open, suddenly awake, suddenly alive. Perhaps this constant chatter should seem a nuisance, but I find myself eavesdropping shamelessly, and craning my neck to see all that he is seeing. In just a few minutes, I have been jerked out of my dream world, and yanked into the present, asked to feel every moment, see every detail. The hurtling down the runway, the noisy and somewhat jumpy take-off, the rising into the clouds, the breaking through the clouds and exploding into bright blue skies: each episode is given its due, and unexpectedly assumes a new importance to my weary eyes. Do you see this? Do you see that? He goes on and on, and his father gives encouraging if monosyllabic answers, and I can imagine him smiling and nodding, enlivened as I am, by his son’s delight. The stewardess comes around offering water, but the little boy cannot be distracted. What miracles will he miss if his eyes come off the window for even a second?
And when did I stop seeing things getting smaller and smaller on the ground as a miracle?
We pass over some hills, barren and brown as winter hills are, waiting for the monsoons. He follows a winding road, and then expresses some disappointment as it disappears from his view, but his attention is quickly diverted elsewhere. We fly above a city, and the boy mistakes it for our destination. There are tall buildings, and roads and so many cars! He wonders which of the tall buildings they will be going to. Perhaps that one, that yellow one? How about that one, way over there, that looks really tall? Could they go there? I strain to see which one he fancies. Where does his uncle live? Is it in a tall building? Which floor? Does it face that street? That long one, the one that just went by? The brief but gentle answers continue. And how will they get there from the airport? His father responds saying they will take a taxi. Taxi? The excitement in his voice is now at fever pitch; this vacation is going to hold more wonders than he had imagined.
It is also apparently the first flight for his mother. She is seated furthest away from the window, and enjoys the view vicariously, experiencing her first plane ride through the eyes of her young son. She sometimes asks him for details, and her voice sounds restrained, almost as if she is asking just to encourage her son and not because she cares to know. Yet, I can sense a tinge of excitement, even a sense of nervousness, muted underneath a veneer of calm. I wonder if she is just as awed, but feels constrained, by her own adulthood. Is it the desire to appear nonchalant in front of other more worldly travelers? Is it the need to appear mature, in front of her child or the fear that he and the others might think her too naive? Perhaps she does not want to detract from her son’s excitement, and so suppresses her own, like a good parent. Or perhaps she wants to hide her uneasiness, so that she does not agitate her already excited son. I could not help but think that the young mother would have had much to say herself, if only she had not been so restrained, trying so hard to appear as an adult.
I know that feeling. The pretense of being an adult, the weight of it all. The need to know or at least look like you know more than your children. The stifling of one’s nervousness or excitement so that one can give the impression of being professional. The desire to appear nonchalant, even blasé, so as not to be thought of as ingenuous. The need to appear unflappable when faced with something outside of one’s realm of experience or understanding: I know it well.
We go through a brief period when all we can see are clouds; we are cushioned in the white billowy clouds, until we break through and suddenly see both the city below and the blue skies around us. We are almost there. The stewardess announces that we will be landing. The plane begins to dive down, and the view of the city gets clearer and clearer with each passing second. The little boy is curiously quiet as the plane makes its descent. I find myself hoping, please, please don’t fall asleep, tell me what you see. I peer out anxiously to catch each detail, seeing my city with his eyes, wondering where his uncle lives, and which parts he will visit.
The plane lands, and we wait for the stewardess to make her announcements. I finally hear his voice again as he admits with some trepidation that he was worried that the tires would get punctured when the plane landed. I smile; it strikes me as a valid concern. We get down from the plane, and go our separate ways.
Within the hustle and bustle of this big city airport, I feel quiet and empty, and even somewhat dissatisfied. I attribute it to my familiarity with everything around me and yearn for a new experience like that little boy, to get out of the humdrum of daily life. It is time for an exhilarating trip to a strange country where I know neither language nor people. No, I need to learn a new skill, break out of my comfort zone. Or do something daring that I would never otherwise do, bungee-jumping? Just break out of the monotony. Something new.
But the voices keep playing in my head. The unrestrained excitement in seeing tall buildings, the easily expressed concern that the plane’s tires may puncture, the muted questions of the mother. And I am no longer really sure. What do I long for: is it really the excitement of a new experience, that’s out of the ordinary? Or is it simply the joyful free expression of one’s feelings, whether of excitement or of fear, unfettered by the need to pretend?