As I sit duly strapped and the pre-takeoff roar of the aircraft rises, my thought is not on the flight, nor on the chores left half-done at home or the tasks that wait at my destination. It is on you. I imagine you sitting in your sun-swept living room, taking a break from your many errands, to look at the drifting cloud flakes on an azure sky. Just as I look out of a small, round, three-layer window and watch the same white clouds sail by.
Are you also thinking of me? Of course, you know the hour and direction of my voyage. You never get those details wrong. Could you be mulling over my listless wait to be airborne, to get moving toward a new place and new experiences? You know me so well, how I hesitate to break a routine, my lingering reluctance to venture into a new, even welcome, rollout. You know the way I shrink from tourist ventures, my bent for an easygoing if restless savor of the unseen and unknown.
I know that you marvel that a person, who so recoils from travel, still manages to be on so many trains, boats and planes, often ending in unknown cities and unfamiliar lands. You don’t quite understand why, were it so contrary to my nature, I would consent to be drawn into so much travel. You may not understand, but you seldom question. You quietly accept, though you often want to know. I like it that you do. It makes me feel you care and now, at this moment, it makes me feel you are with me.
I glance at the headlines, but I realize my mind is not yet ready for the daily reality of accidents, strikes and demonstrations. You are still on my mind and I sip casually on the wine. Am I moving away from you? I am not sure, and I blame myself for not making sure of the answer. Little does it matter though, for I am forever so far away from you, in my home country or the countries I usually visit. You are always, paradoxically, a distant and near presence. I can’t touch you, for you are thousand miles away; yet you are the nearest reality of my heart.
“Excuse me,” with an uplifted hand the young woman next to me, whom I haven’t even noticed so far, draws my attention. “Do you know the time difference at our destination?”
I think back of the notes I make before every trip and say, “An hour – sixty minutes behind Washington time.”
It occurs to me then that I am really moving a little further away from you. Yet every time I lose contact with the ground, I feel closer to you. Probably because every time I leave home, I also leave behind a whole bagful of work and responsibility and feel freer to think of other things. To think of you.
There is some turbulence and the captain wants our belts on. I tighten mine, and then notice the anxious look of my neighbor and say, “It happens often. Nothing to worry about.” Her fingers nevertheless wind and unwind a rubber band.
When the turbulence subsides and the meal is served an hour later, she still eats little. I eat even less, for the pasta tastes tasteless, though I gratefully sip the mediocre wine. I turn again to the pages of El Tiempo and try to focus on the dismal stories of migrants from Venezuela streaming into Colombia and Ecuador. I close my eyes for a couple of minutes, and find my mind racing back to a pair of gentle eyes.
By the time I return in the evening, I am exhausted, partly by work but more by frustration. The detailed request I had sent in advance for chronological data of the last five years had not been compiled and would not be ready for another two days. I have to completely remap the work for the next five days. Perhaps my stay would have to be extended
A long evening of work lies ahead. I open the suitcase, take out your small, framed photograph, and place it on the desk.
You are still with me.