Wednesday, August 1, 2012
It wasn’t the kind that covered the entire face. He had until recently only seen those on television, but after spending the last few days in what he could only describe as a smattering of oversized shopping malls and indulgent luxury hotels hastily scattered across unending desert, he was surprisingly no longer taken aback at, if still bemused by, those hanging cloaks of draperied observance, which somehow provided only as much anonymity as conspicuity, and from which light could neither enter nor escape except for merciful slits enabling if not requiring the eyes to peer out ominously, watchfully, giving them an inevitably beady quality, he thought but felt bad about thinking. That wasn’t what she was wearing, though. This was merely a scarf that delicately, purposefully wrapped around her head like a portrait’s border, cradling her hair tightly so not even the remote possibility of a single strand dreaming of escaping existed, and framing her strong-featured, rounded face, as if not only not obstructing the arguably divinely placed structures within but actually accentuating the soft, russet skin, full, flush lips, jet-black, wide eyes, and perfectly manicured eyebrows whose shape and form had obviously been labored over. It was not exactly clear if the scarf seamlessly blended into her body’s similarly textured and colored covering, or if they were one and the same.
He could barely hear her soft whispering to the hyper-friendly and -attentive stewardess with the motherly disposition, a disposition he believed was in no small part absolutely genuine but which was also, he had to assume, a dutifully if not strictly enforced job requirement. Something about some sort of seat change that would promptly be looked into, but what really struck him was not the genteelness of the seemingly unnecessary request – with separate little pods constituting the business class seats, each fitted with foot rest, shoe cubby, private entertainment viewing system, seat that reclined all the way back, as in to a 180-degrees position as in parallel to the plane’s floor, and a kind of encapsulating barrier around the non-aisle adjacent area that created a sort of basic perimeter for the pod, not to mention her seemingly travelling by herself, he couldn’t understand how any of the seats/pods were in any way distinguishable from another, though since he had never before travelled with this level of excess he couldn’t be sure he wasn’t missing some important detail – but the exquisiteness of how she spoke English, lightly touched with a vaguely stirring combination of Arabic and British accents, the type of vocalization and articulation likely obtained in the finest of international private schools where the daughters of oil-fueled sheiks and less-than-democratically-instituted heads of state mix freely with the correspondingly privileged children of European archdukes and lords to variously, if not vicariously, cement and subvert their families’ statuses. Her such status was particularly confirmed by an array of extremely pricey and equally fashionable accessories: black leather stilettos with over-sized, golden bow, black leather hand-bag of unidentifiable, to him at least, but obviously expensive, designer brand, large, incongruously unhip pearl earrings, flashy gold watch on one wrist, and on the other a beautifully understated, thin bracelet featuring a simple design of what appeared to be a dolphin jumping through a wave. There were no rings on any of her fingers.
His growing mesmerization by the girl at whom he curiously stared left him fully unaware that the plane had by this point left the ground. The subtly increasing force with which his body was pushed into the seat did ultimately alert him to the ascent, which he noted was accompanied by familiar passenger adjustments, readjustments, and general, personal and possessory retrofitting in anticipation of the barrel of the long ride they all stared down. He was not particularly interested in them all, however. She stretched her legs out into the space across from her seat and onto the foot-rest doubling as the top of the shoe cubby, which remained unused, not only exposing her blue jeans, which though he had no independent basis to confirm he could only assume were an expensive, designer brand, but even surprisingly, as if in an impossibly abstruse act of coquetry, exposing a few precious inches of ankle, which he thought appeared thin but not otherwise especially remarkable. She next took to the task of wrapping the airline-provided yet nevertheless outrageously soft blanket around her legs and waist, making sure to tightly tuck the corners in between her hips and the seat’s arm rests so as to affix herself in this makeshift bower while retaining sufficient upper body mobility. These preparations aimed at maximizing relaxation and squeezing whatever relative pleasures could be had in such an inherently unpleasurable environment no matter how many relative frills could be provided took on an air of businesslike stolidity. The methodical placement of her large, decidedly unhip pearl earrings inside her black leather hand-bag of unknown but surely designer origin was succeeded by an equally prim, proper, and effective tactile verification that her head-scarf, or -covering or -what-have-you, never revealed more than just a suggestion of her neck as she carefully placed the specialized in-flight headphones in her ears. She eased the seat back to an angle upright enough to look straight ahead while reclined enough to simulate comfort, and with a no-nonsense fluff of the pillow and its reflexive placement in the small of her back, she plunged into the clunky morass of divertissements that is the Etihad Airways in-flight entertainment viewing system.
Having had a few if not carefree then at least unobsessed moments to himself before she entered the frame, he was already familiar with the bloated, spoiling cornucopia of multimedia audio-visual hydrogenation harbored by the small screen across his seat, providing the kind of ocular gorging and auditory filling useful if not necessary to completely shutt oneself off from one’s surroundings, allowing the time to destination to pass less than unbearably painfully, from classical Carnatic kritis to the Euro Club dance mix; broad and terrible American television comedies to hyper and bizarre (and probably terrible) Chinese serials; whimsical and sentimental British films to lavishly stereotypical Bollywood musicals; a documentary on Moscow’s choking traffic disaster to an infomercial on the different services offered in the Etihad airport lounges, etc. It was a world of blinking lights and pulsing diodes existing largely to remove us from the crushing burdens of absolute boredom. Also available was an audio recording of prayers from the Quran. As she scrolled through these various options and many, many more, he knew he couldn't even begin to guess where her roulette wheel of distraction-as-amusement would stop but felt her selection would reveal something telling about her, a mostly shrouded enigma he couldn't yet hope to crack, something important, perhaps even something epic. His bated breath fluttered tentatively as she clicked past movie after movie with a metronomic rhythm that finally began to slow and ultimately stopped entirely. Time inside flight EY055 stood still for a brief, conversely unending moment as she pressed the “SELECT” button and a title screen slowly came into focus to his spying, bleary eyes: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1.
As the timeless story of vampire love began to play, he wondered if he was really going watch her watch this whole movie while continuing to read into every single twitch and tic for larger meaning or mere justification for further study, to find new ways to avoid dealing with the personal questions that had hounded him since long before the desert: why was he here, where was he going, what the hell happened back there, and whatever other existential folderol he didn’t want to bother with yet couldn’t seem to shake. Why can't I seem to figure out what to do, and when is it too late? Suddenly, she abruptly paused the film, removed the in-flight headphones from her ears, and turned around. She looked directly at him and appeared to say something. He was stunned. He could not make out the words she seemed to only be mouthing.
“Excuse me, what’s that?”
“I said, do you mind not speaking so loudly?”
 The friendliness and attentiveness themselves being, without any doubt and requiring no beliefs nor assumptions nor anything else that could be considered as less than total certainty, jointly and severally genuine as well as professionally enforced.
 But absent some kind of horrific swelling or, even more impossibly surreal, a tattoo of a butterfly or something, how could they be, he thought.