Inflight Adventure of a Little Brown Girl
Somewhere between NY and LA.
“Welcome aboard United Airlines Flight 128 with nonstop service from New York to Los Angeles.” Click pause… “It is our pleasure to have you on board with us today.” Click pause… “If there’s anything we can do to make your flight more comfortable, please do not hesitate to call on us.” Click pause… “At this time, in preparation for takeoff, we ask that all seat-back and tray-tables are brought to their full upright and locked positions.” Click pause… “Now we invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.” Click.
Six hours on the plane. It was too hot, and I wondered desperately when they would turn on the air conditioning. Of course, as soon as they did that, my contacts and nasal passages would dry out. Then I’d be very very thirsty and drink the whole bottle of water that the flight attendant had so grudgingly given me. Then, I’d have to go to the bathroom every half hour, unfastening my seatbelt, stepping across the large, snoring man on my right, taking care not to step on the grubby child playing with his yellow train in the aisle. Yes, I thought sadly, I really hate to fly.
I mentally prepared myself for a tortuous few hours, remembered just as the engines started going to chew up and swallow a Dramamine, and prayed that the ride wouldn’t be too bumpy. Say your prayers, Shivani, it can’t hurt. If there is a God, he or she or it will hear you, and if there isn’t, well hell, you’re really in trouble.
Right. Where’s my book, oh yes, here we go, chapter one…
“Hello honey.” This from the gold jump-suit clad lady on my left. Apart from the gold jump-suit with the word VEGAS in large, shiny black letters across her chest, she had a profusion of gold chains about her neck, gold earrings, a large gold watch. Her lips were a shiny red, to match her scarlet fingertips. Even her hair was a bright, brassy blonde. And she was wearing sunglasses?
“Hi,” I replied with a smile in her direction, then turned back to my book. A few seconds of silence, before:
“Whatcha readin’, honey?” She asked, no, demanded, of me. Sighing, I stuck my finger in the book to hold my page.
“Just a book.” I replied noncommittally.
“Oh yea,” she said, “What’s it called? What’s it about? Is it a romance?” She asked expectantly.
“No, it’s a book by Sandra Day O’Connor,” I replied. This was met by a politely blank stare.
“Who’s she?” asked my self-appointed travel companion. I smiled incredulously.
“She’s one of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Another blank stare.
“You know,” I tried again, “the Supreme Court? Um…she’s a judge?”
“Ooooh,” was the response, like why didn’t I say so in the first place, as her brow unfurrowed.
“Oh yea, sure, sure. I once judged a wet T-shirt contest at this bar that I used to go to.”
I blinked at her in dismay, this shiny gold goddess who seemed intent on holding me captive for the length of the flight, and who didn’t know that Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Oh yes?” I said, coldly with eyebrows raised, “that’s great.” Dismissing her, I turned back to my book and opened it, and started reading. Chapter One…
“So are you from LA, honey?” she was chewing bubble gum now, making loud smacking noises as she chewed, her mouth opening and closing widely. Some of her bright red lipstick had smeared over her two front teeth. Oh no, I thought. Not that question again. I’m absolutely just not in the mood.
“Er, I’m just visiting, actually.” I didn’t look up as I said this, but continued to stare at my page. Please, oh please, just make her stop.
“Oh yea? You have family there? Are you from New York, honey? I’m from Kentucky,” she offered proudly.
“That’s nice,” I said.
“So, where ya from, honey?” She was undaunted. I guess where she came from, not making eye-contact and answering almost mono-syllabically weren’t hints to leave one alone. All right, well, she asked for it…
“I’m from Singapore, actually,” I replied, bracing myself for the inevitable string of questions which I knew would follow.
“Oh yea? I’ve been there,” came the reply. My turn to be surprised.
“Really?” I asked, letting my book close and turning my head to look at her properly. “You’ve been to Singapore?” This conversation may turn out OK after all, I thought. Maybe flashy gold woman really liked to travel and was more sophisticated than she looked. Maybe flashy gold woman was really sophisticated, successful woman who traveled the world in her leisure time.
“Oh yea,” she responded. “St. Paul, Minnesota. Nice place. I was there for a wedding just last year.” She smiled, letting me know that my hometown had her stamp of approval. And just like that, she was back to being flashy gold woman again.
“Ah,” I said, nodding my head. Right, I thought…And I’ve gone and lost my page. Flashy gold woman seemed content now, now that she had learned I was from St. Paul, Minnesota. This could have been the end of the conversation. I might have spent the next five hours and 45 minutes in perfect peace and quiet, lost in the musings and insights of Justice O’Connor. Don’t do it Shivani, don’t do it…just let it go.
“Well, actually,” I said, turning to flashy gold woman, “I’m from Singapore, not St. Paul. You know, Singapore, as in the country.” I smiled at her.
“Oh, Siiiiiiiiingapore,” she said, “Oh, I thought you said St. Paul. Ohhh…” She was looking at me, nodding her head in that puzzled way that one nods when one doesn’t understand, but it feels quite inappropriate to say that one doesn’t understand. She looked at me expectantly, studying my face, my brown skin and dark hair. Five seconds, I thought…four…three…two…
“Well honey, isn’t that something! I thought to myself as soon as I saw you that you look soooo exotic.” She flashed me a bright smile. It was clear she was very pleased with herself at having paid me such a very great compliment. And still she gazed at me, waiting, perhaps for me to suddenly sprout wings or an extra pair of arms now that she knew I was from Singapore and not St. Paul.
“So honey,” she continued hopefully when I said nothing, “Singapore is in China, right?”
“Actually…” I began, preparing to say that no, Singapore is at the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsula, about 2 degrees off the Equator and quite, quite outside of China. But I didn’t say that, because it occured to me that this could be quite an entertaining flight, after all. “Actually,” I said, leaning a bit closer to her, “Singapore used to be part of the former Soviet Union.”
Even as I spoke these words, large snoring man on my right twitched suddenly and his breathing skipped a beat. I looked over at him in alarm. Don’t wake up now, I pleaded silently, just as I’m beginning to enjoy myself! Thankfully, he slept, and snored, on.
“Soviet Union,” flashy gold woman was saying. “Wow…so, what’s your name honey?” Ah, yes, I thought, my second favorite question.
“Shivani,” I said, slowly, pronouncing each syllable carefully for her.
“Oh, Sheee-vaaa-neee,” she said, smiling at me, and nodding quite in a friendly way, determined to be kind to this exotic girl from the exotic land.
Just then the flight attendant stopped in the aisle right next to our row, looking down at us. “Something to drink?” she drawled at flashy gold woman. “I’d like a bud light, please honey,” she said, “thank you.” The flight attendant nodded and looked at me next. “Something to drink?” she asked me. “Water, please” I answered. “Can I get the bottle?” I flashed her a smile in thanks. The flight attendant looked at me distastefully. Water guzzler, I heard her thinking. Flashy gold woman and I went back to our interrupted conversation. My book now lay closed on my lap.
“So….wow, Siiiiiingapore.” She breathed, still fascinated. Then, enunciating carefully and speaking loudly, “DO THEY SPEAK ENGLISH THERE?” she asked me. And then, before I could answer, “I would never guess that you didn’t grow up here, your English is sooo perfect.”
“Thank you,” I replied gratefully, “yours isn’t bad either.” I smiled at her facetiously. “And no, they don’t speak English in Singapore, they speak ..erm…Russian.”
“Oh Russian,” she said, clearly impressed. “So honey, are you Chinese or Russian?” she asked me. I thought about this quickly, and was about to reply when she said,
“Oh lemme guess, honey, you’re Chinese, right?”
“No, actually, I’m Russian.” I replied. “In fact,” I continued, inspired now, and lowering my voice conspiratorially, “I’m a direct descendant of Alexander the Great.” I said this with a straight face, for which I was very proud of myself.
“Oh Alexander, sure, sure. He was the guy who found the new world, right?” She asked, and I giggled, unable to help myself, thoroughly delighted with this game.
“Yes, that’s right,” I affirmed.
“Oh honey, that’s so exciting,” she told me. “Wait til I tell my husband, Bill…”
But I was not to know what she would tell her husband Bill, for at that moment our fragile craft encountered a pocket of turbulence. The plane lurched so that my stomach dropped into my feet and then bounced into my mouth where it stayed a few minutes, as if in retribution for my bald-faced lies to this poor, innocent woman from Kentucky.