In the steamy airport building it felt like an old kitchen that had been used all morning. The smells, the moisture, the tastes of wood and breathe and herbs hanging in the air, suspended on labyrinths of silky cobwebs, invisible but nevertheless choking everything.
He felt very tired. He felt sleepy, but it soothed him, this sleep deprived oblivion. It provided him with a reprieve from his cynicism. And it allowed him a small window of life to move through time, unscathed by his sensitivity to painful disappointments.
He bought muffins, felt their strange reptilian surface for a moment, before pressing first lips, then teeth, then tongue against the warm sponge. He also ordered a steaming coffee, to help him have the computational ability to remember things like gates, seat numbers and departure times. Suddenly an impulse flashed in his mind to run, to spring. Was the flight due to leave at 10 to nine (now), or was it 10 to eight (an hour ago). He'd put it in the back of his mind to confirm this, had meant to do so in the taxi but had enjoyed his conversation with the driver too much. Feeling suddenly too tired to eat, he began to search for the ticket.
Need to go now.
He noticed a Filipino sitting by himself on a chair, a blanket over his shoulder, and a little girl sitting on his bag. He placed the tray in front of the old man, noticed his nose and the long lids of his eyes, but not the liquid balls, and then walked away. Only once he reached the light blue door to the terminal did he turn around. The little girl was sitting on his lap, eating the half eaten muffin. They didn't look at him. He stepped into the terminal corridor and as he did he heard his name.
For some reason the woman's voice, an Indian sounding voice, with very accurate enunciation, reminded him of something out of the movie Aliens.
He was hot, snakes of sweat spreading over his body, he had a sudden desperate urge to gnaw at damp, irritated skin under his wet underwear. He swallowed hard, felt cramp in his stomach, pushed against the throngs, knocked over a child but caught the little girl by the arm before she hit the ground. He held the arm aloft…it was not a girl but a cherub, a small boy with impossible red cheeks, and golden locks, a doll of a boy…and an elegant white hand moved to take the little hand in hers, and pull the whole body up to a vivid red dress and the burnish of brown hair. When he made contact with her eyes he felt a sting inside him that made him feel sick. Drunk, or drugged, or simply overwrought and overtired, he stepped out of this emotional web, and managed to throw his feet into a small free space beyond the mall of legs. He ran faster, but struggled against the harder bodies of a basketball team, and once he'd pressed through them there was another team.
'Last call…van Lewen…'
"I'm Van Lewen," he said, but his words fell into the web and hung there, the letters suspended like washing, while his lips moved, and others swam with and against him in this churning dream that was the airport building.
The blades, the fins, the tubes of missile shaped aeroplanes - jets - drifted beyond the windows like sharks, or mere buses of the sky, that roared and shook the the grasses under their metal stomachs.
Finally through the vast flocks of perspiring people. The strain of getting through all the checks, the X-Ray, the security, the ticketing, the personal body search, and finally the umbilical to the blue Boeing yielded to a sense of inner bouyancy. But when he looked inside the cylinder he saw it too was full of people, some of them holding open newspapers, others handling small dark objects that were either cameras or headphones or communication tools. He walked down the aisle, noticed a young filippino girl with a bald white man. She was smiling and feminine, and his land was on her leg.
Hugh strapped in his seatbelt, and right then the doors to the airframe were sealed. Hugh blinked as a voice and the aircraft began to vibrate against his head. His eyes were closed. The seat represented sleep.
A hand on his shoulder. A white hand. He followed the long feminine arm to the air hostess, who was offering him a small white towel. It took him a moment to register he was perspiring profusely. And another to notice that every seat around him was taken, even though they were flying to remote Puerto Princesa.
Hugh thought to himself: today every faroff place is easily reached by just about everyone.
He closed his eyes and when he opened them again they were starting the slow arc of a downwards spiral towards Palawan; the big Boeing was being buffeted by powerful cumulonimbus. He leaned over, a chemical dream still tinting his consciousness slightly, and he could see the wings shaking. He had never seen Boeing wings shake this much, and wondered how much they had been engineered to stand, surely not much more. White sheets of tropical rain pelted the windows, then the sun flashed the rain-silvered wings at him, and under them he saw huge brown scars, chocolaty smears raked into the green and yellow jungle of the island under them.
The lagoon was milky blue and filled with sailboats. They descended even further, his ears popping, so that he could see the buildings were all made of wood, all single storied. Then they dropped all the way out of the sky, bouncing softly at the nexus of a long narrow island chain. They were not far from Sabah in Malaysia, and even Indonesia was nearby now. Their craft stood on a strip overlooking the Sulu Sea, and when he emerged from the cylinder into the sun, his arms, neck and nose burned painfully in the tropical heat.