We walked out of the building, toward the jet bridge. I saw airplanes of different sizes and colors, waiting for the passengers to step into them. The sun of the new day was already up, and I realized I hadn’t slept yet. I wasn’t sleepy, anyway. Everybody stood there as if waiting for something. I did the same, copying what they did, and assuming I was doing the right thing.
A bus came. It was a weird bus, actually. I’d never seen anything like it before. It looked like a big accordion, with the middle part moving as if it was about to come apart. I frowned, whereas the rest of the people seemed relieved as if they’d been waiting for this moment.
Now I didn’t want to copy or assume that what they were doing was right.
The bus stopped in front of the group of people. White stripes adorned its red finished. The man behind the wheel opened the door and summoned everyone inside. The woman, my new friend from La Paz, walked in. I followed her, hoping I wasn’t like the tiny mouse, walking into a trap.
The woman saw the look on my face. “What’s wrong?” She asked with motherly concern.
The confused look on my face was too distinct. “I was under the impression that planes were bigger and had wings. Like those over there,” I said, pointing at the airplanes scattered all over the jet bridge.
The woman had to restrain herself from laughing. She hoped this naïve comment was a joke to lighten up the day but then realized I was serious. “You are not joking, are you?”
I shook my head. “I’ve never been on a plane before,” I said, and my eyes were still lost on the horizon, where the real airplanes were.
She smiled, looking at me with patience and a bit of sympathy. “Look,” she said, “this bus is going to take us toward the plane. It might look like the planes are at a walking distance, but they are not.”
“I see,” I said, squinting, trying to look smart. When you are nineteen years old, pretending to be smart it’s the only thing you can do.
We finally stopped next to a big, white airplane with yellow and brown stripes. As we started to walk out of the bus, the woman looked at me, with that same dazzled and confused look I had earlier. “Wait a minute,” she said, “are you taking this plane?”
Before I could answer her question, the driver said, “Everyone on this bus is taking that plane.” His tone of voice was weary, as if he either hated his job, had been working all night long, or a combination of both.
“I guess I am,” I said.
She looked around, “I thought we were taking different planes,” she said, as we were stepping out of the bus.
“Me too, because I am going to Sonora.”
Another woman who was walking right next to us said, “This plane will go from La Paz to Sonora and then Los Angeles.”
“Thank you,” the woman from La Paz said. Then, she looked at me.
“Guess you’re carrying my luggage for a little while longer.”
I smiled. “But of course.”
Once inside the airplane, I looked for the seat 16F, and she looked for 24E. I sat on the right, next to the window. Nobody was sitting next to me. I grabbed a pamphlet that was inside a holder, in front of my seat. It had information on what to do in case of an emergency. While browsing the brochure, a young stewardess paraphrased it in a few words and gestures. I was glad she saved me from reading it.
The plane took off. I was afraid, looking for something to do to appear calm. I started to gaze around. To my left, two young men looked and dressed like me. I even wondered if I had seen them before or if I would see them in the future.
I did. But that is a story for another day.
I looked at the seat in front of me. A man and a woman were hugging and kissing each other while the plane was still taking off. Who knows, everyone has a different way to cope with the fear of flying.
A man sitting behind me asked, “Is it your first time on a plane? You’re looking around like you want to escape before this thing starts flying.”
The man was right.
I looked at him, guessing he was somewhere in his mid-forties. His wife sat next to him (she looked a hell of a lot younger) and their young daughter sat on her mother’s lap. We started talking, getting to know each other. That short conversation helped me relax and forget I was on a plane. Yet, I had to remember when I looked at my right and saw the plane was no longer on the ground.
After that, I heard a laugh, but nobody was laughing. The laughter came from inside my head, making fun of me and my irrational fear of flying.
To tell you the truth, I had to laugh at myself, too.
I fell asleep for a while. Somewhere during the first hour flying over the Pacific Ocean, the plane began to shudder. I woke up abruptly, and for one palpable moment, I thought that was the end of whatever dreams I had for the future.
But then again, the man sitting behind me said it was normal, and I did what I could to believe. And that laugh inside my head came back again, a little louder than the first time.
It was 9:05 a.m. when the plane landed on La Paz. The laughter inside my head ceased for a while, but I was sure it wouldn’t leave me alone. The woman I had befriended came back, grabbed her suitcase and said, “God bless you.” Then she went, and that was the last time I saw her.
I smiled but didn’t know what to say. I had always been uninterested in matters of ‘The Lord.’ But it felt good, anyway.
Five minutes later, the same stewardess stood in front of us to remind us what to do in case of an emergency. I felt like an idiot, unsure why she was doing that again. I looked around, trying to see if anyone else had the same what-the-fuck expression in their faces. Didn’t she think we got it the first time? Then, I stopped being an idiot when I realized she was doing that for the new residents of the plane. The stewardess looked at me for two seconds, and I had the sudden feeling that she was flirting with me.
The plane took off again, and I no longer feared anything. Somehow in the last hour, I had built an invisible shed of bravery and confidence I had never had before. I started talking to the man behind me again, trying to make the next hour go as fast as possible.
Somewhere in the middle of the conversation, the man said they were taking a family vacation in California.
“Where in California?”
“We are going to Disneyland!” the girl said, eager to let the world know how happy she was about it.
“That’s right, baby,” her mother said, smiling and caressing her hair.
I felt jealous, looking at the happy childhood this girl had. Ever since I was a kid, I always lacked something. I was so poor my daily breakfast was coffee and beans and sometimes eggs; drinking milk was a luxury for me. Also, the few toys I had, were hand-me-downs from my wealthy cousins. They gave them to me when they were either fed up with them, or they were getting new ones.
And for breakfast? They always had pancakes or cereal.
In fact, this little girl looked a lot like one of my cousins; and she had also gone to Disneyland.
“Great!” I said, unsure how I mastered that fake smile. I had to understand that it wasn’t this family’s fault that I came from a poor working-class family. “So, what do you do for a living?” I asked the man, trying to shift the conversation onto another less, hurtful direction.
“I work for the S.S.”
“Social Security?” I asked.
“Then you must know the country from top to bottom,” I assumed, knowing that S.S. employees traveled a lot.
The man chuckled. “Just a couple of places. So, where are you from?”
“I know Michoacán pretty well,” the man said. “That’s the state I visit the most.”
Then, I said where I was born, and the man said he’d gone there a couple of times, as well as other cities in the vicinity. As we kept talking, I glanced to my left and noticed the two young men sitting there. They were paying close attention to the conversation.
Later, I knew why.
When the plane landed, and I was ready to leave, I had a sudden (and stupid idea). I was about to go to the restroom and hide there, so the plane could take me straight to Los Angeles. I decided against it.
“You guys have a nice trip,” I told the man and his family.
“We wish you the best,” the man said, and then added. “God bless you.”
Briefly, I thought about the woman from La Paz, and how I never got her name, only her blessing and best of wishes. I wanted to know this man’s name at least but decided not to ask. What would the point be, anyway? I am never going to see him or his family again.
I smiled, nodded, and walked towards the exit door, where more people were already getting out. The light of the new day was too bright, and everyone walked toward it with ease. I didn’t feel the same way. At first, I was afraid of flying, and now I didn’t want to leave the plane. But I had to.
The most challenging part of my journey was waiting for me.