She’s six and she’s flying.
She’s never been on a plane, she’s never left the country. She sees them above while she’s playing in the sandbox in the playground and she nnneeaoowwws along with them, jumping up with joy. She tears down the road and back up again, her arms flap behind her and her face shines.When her teacher asks her class what they want to be when they grow up, she jumps up, waving her paint-covered hand above her head frantically,’choose me Ma’am me me me.’
She looks around the classroom, pointedly avoiding looking at her. ‘Ma’am me me me me me please Ma’am.’
Finally she points at her.’Yes? What do you want to do, sweetheart?‘
She puffs out her small chest proudly. ‘Ma’am, I’m gonna be an airplane when I grow up.’
That girl she plays tag with is boasting about how she’s been on a plane and how it feels like magic. She wants to go on a plane and she just doesn’t understand why she can’t! Her mood drops as the day progresses and when her dad comes to pick her up, she doesn’t greet him with her usual hug and kiss.
‘Are you okay, bacha?‘
She nods and climbs into the back of the truck grumpily, her eyes downcast. Her dad frowns but gets in the driver’s seat.
Once they reach their building, she runs up the stairs to the third floor, leaving him behind and bangs on the door. Her mom swings it open, a scowl etched on her face. She’s unsteady, her eyes unfocused and she looks down at her, confused. Her dad comes to a stop behind her, huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf.
She runs to her room (her closet), pushing the door closed as much as she can, wanting to avoid a big blowout just this one time, please. She pulls out paper and crayons from her small ripped backpack, sits down on the cold tiled floor and begins to draw a plane. It’s big and blue and her.
She hears a knock on her door and turns around to see her dad’s long nose sticking through the gap between the door and the doorframe. He sticks his tongue out and she giggles.
‘Can I come in?’
She shyly nods and he pushes the door open, squeezing through. He collapses on the floor next to her, all knees and elbows. ‘What’s up, love?’
He needs to go back to work, they both know it, but there he is. ‘Why haven’t I ever flied?’
‘You wanna fly, babi?’
She nods a little, looking down, her chin pressing into her collarbones. ‘Well, you should have said so before!’
He stands up, his Target shirt a little dusty. He pulls her up and they walk out, holding hands, past her mom passed out on the torn faux leather couch. He takes her downstairs and soon they’re standing on the cracked road. ‘You sure you want to fly?’
She’s getting kind of excited and she nods energetically. He bends down, places his hands under her armpits and easily lifts up her tiny body. She grins, looking down at him and he smiles back. ‘Hold on!’
He starts spinning her around and oh my God, she’s flying. Everything around her’s a blur, all she can see is his face. There’re butterflies in her stomach, it’s tickling. She’s finally flying.
He’s slowing down and lowering her to the ground. Her eyes are shining with unshed tears, her cheeks are flushed, her nose is red and she finally looks truely happy. He kneels down, blue eyes meet blue eyes. ‘Good enough?’
In lieu of an answer, she jumps into his arms, he almost falls back due to the the sudden weight. He buries his face into her hair and she smiles into his neck. ‘Love you, daddy.’
‘Love you too, cutie.’
She’s twelve and she’s flying.
She’s finally in middle school, she’s finally a big girl.
She doesn’t really talk to anyone other than her teachers, she doesn’t have any friends. She sits alone at lunch and in class, but it’s okay, she doesn’t care. She’s okay.
She sticks cutouts of new airplane models on her desk, ignoring the guffaws of the kids around her. They always laugh at her, it’s nothing new.
She carries a small replica of an airplane in her pocket, her dad got it for her as an apology gift when she was stuck at home alone with her mother floating around in a drug-induced haze. She’d spent that whole evening in her closet, eyes on the door, a hammer in hand, fearing her mother would shove her way in and hurt her.
Her school takes her grade for a field trip to a fair a few miles south of their town. She’s barely able to go, her mum’s spent so much money on her bottles and powder. Her father hands her some money one night, when he finally returns from his third job and she’s not sure she should take it, they’ve barely been able to have two square meals in a day. But he’s smiling and reassuring her, ‘it’s okay, we’ll survive, you deserve to have some fun, sunshine.’
And so she climbs onto the bus, her classmates laughing and screaming, clutching the model in her hand. Sitting alone, looking out the window, a huge roller coaster comes into her sights and she’s gobsmacked as she watches the car, entranced. She wonders how it feels to be speeding down the slope, it must be like flying. She moves away from the group of excited pre-pubescent kids and pushes her way through the crowd towards the screams. She cranes her neck upwards to see the car full of people with their arms up, and she really really wants to go. She checks her height to make sure she’s allowed and she pulls out 50 rupees to pay the bored teenaged attendant. After five minutes, she climbs into the car, her heartbeat quickening. The car moves forward and she tightens her grip on the bar. Suddenly, the speed increases and she’s pushed back into her seat. They’re climbing up and the height’s dizzying. Suddenly they’re zooming down and she screams as the amount of butterflies in her stomch increases. This must be how flying feels. Her hands in the air, her throat hoarse and she’s never felt this carefree or happy before.
She’s sixteen and she’s flying.
Her father’s (only) friend asks her what she wants to be when she grows up and with a big smile, she replies, ‘I want to be a pilot.’
Her father smiles at her, a proud expression on his wrinkling face.
She returns from school one day, to find their apartment door unlocked. Pulling out the pocket knife she always keeps in her pocket just in case, she pushes the door open and looks inside. Nothing’s out of place, it all seems normal. But something still seems off, so she checks her room (closet) and her parents’ room. Everything’s fine but something’s still bugging her. She brushes it off as nothing and proceeds to lock the front door and start her homework.
Doing her Physics homework, it hits her. Her mother had tried cleaning up her act repeatedly over the past decade as was the case currently. She had taken a job at the local McDonalds and she hadn’t snorted cocaine once in the past two months. Once when she was thirteen, her father’d been working late and her mother’d pulled out a bottle. Her breath stinking, she called her daughter and whispered to her where she kept her drugs. She runs to the kitchen and opens the third drawer from the left to find it empty. Her heart breaks and she runs out, searching for her mother. She visits McDonalds to find out that her mother had left hours ago. She rushes around town, shouting for her mom. Passing an alley, she hears a groan. Stopping and looking in, she sees her mother lying on the ground, facedown. She runs to her, shaking her, screaming, ‘Mom, mom, mumma, are you okay?‘
She turns her around to see her mother’s face, bruised, bloody and her clothes torn.’Mom, mom, mom, oh my God, fuck, mom mommommom.‘
She shakily pulls out her phone and dials 103 and then 100.
‘It’s okay, ma, they’re coming, you’ll be okay.‘
‘I just wanted to feel something. But they came and touched me, baby. It hurts so much.‘
She’s crying, she’s crying so hard, her heart, it’s so heavy. The sound of sirens becomes louder and she’s hugging her, muttering, ‘It’ll be okay, you’re okay, you’re safe, I love you.‘
Ambulance. Stretcher. Crying. Doctor. Her dad. Questions. Not enough answers. Surgery. No sleep. Coffee. Death. Gone. Broken hearts. Nightmares. Okay? Far from it.
She can’t. Her dad has been in a trance, going through the motions. They can’t cry, it’d make it too real. There’s an absence. She hasn’t gone to school for the past one week and she’s sure it’s gonna be a bitch to catch up but she couldn’t care less. She’s so sad. So. Sad. She wants to feel.
She breaks the one promise she swore she never would. Dime bag in hand, she heads out of the park. She walks towards the alley where she’d found her mom. She slides down the wall of one of the buildings and takes out the marijuana. Rolling joint using the paper she’d gotten, her heartbeat quickens with anticipation. Lifting it to her lips, she breathes in. And out. And in and in and in. Unfocused, she’s flying. She laughs out loud. Her father’s going to be so disappointed in her.
She’s twenty five and she’s flying.
Her new neighbour asks her what she does and with a smile, she replies, ‘I’m a pilot.‘
She flies for one of the big companies, it’s a dream come true. She sends a picture of herself in her new uniform to her dad, and he sends back ‘))))))))),‘ which she takes to be a whole bunch of smiles.
The night before she flies to London, she calls her dad. ‘Hi, papa.‘
‘How are you, chotu?Ready for London?‘
‘Yeah, I just finished packing my suitcase.‘
‘Chalo, good. Excited?‘
‘Of course, papa, it’s London.‘
‘Your first officer’s going to be that guy we met at the mall that day, no? The smiley guy?‘
‘It’s ten hours in an enclosed area, I’m just saying.‘
‘We’ll be flying a plane. With a couple hundred passengers.’
‘You’re going to London. It’s the city of love.‘
‘That’s Paris, papa.’
‘Potato, potahto. You get what I’m trying to say na? Bas, enough hai.‘
‘You aren’t allowed to speak to me like this, you know.‘
‘Hush. Go to sleep, chandi, it’s late.‘
‘Yeah, yeah, I needed to ask you something.‘
‘D’ya think ma’d be proud of me?‘
‘Good,‘ she says mid-yawn. ‘I think I’ll go to sleep.‘
‘You do that. Good night, I love you.‘
‘Love you too, dad, night.‘
Sitting in the captain’s seat, she looks over to her first officer and smiles. Turning on her mic, she looks out of the cockpit.
‘Good afternoon, everybody. This is your captain speaking.’
And she’s finally flying.