I wake up and I sense immediately where I am. There’s no real disorientation, despite the fact that I’m all but upright, packaged tight like last night’s dinner.
(‘Last night’? What’s that again?)
The in-flight entertainment package interface – in plain English, TV screen the minuteness of which hasn’t been seen in a conventional living room this side of the 1950s – glows, burns into my eyes. When did that come on? I probably leaned on the control again.
But I’m here, and I know where ‘here’ is. Instantly. I know because the circumstances that surround me are like nothing I’ve ever known before.
I’m still on the plane.
Where are my legs? I can feel them, there’s no doubt of that, but they can’t possibly be where they seem to be; there’s just not enough room.
(People are taller these days? Pah! Let’s keep pretending you can all pile comfortably into a Cessna.)
Then I remember. I’m right at the front. Not of the plane, you understand. Would I be this uncomfortable were that the case? I’m in economy, but at the front of economy. Not that being in the front row guarantees a hell of a lot. You’re supposed to get marginally more leg room if you cheat it, and I suppose you do. If you duck your feet under the curtain keeping you from the privacy of the cabin crew. If you’re prepared to hope desperately not to kick the flight attendants as you go.
Still feels awful, though. Still feels as though your knees have lost all flexibility – or never had any to begin with – and are cemented at a fixed angle.
The mathematician in me wants to transform the scenario into a triangle, calculate the relevant dimensions. My shins become the hypotenuse.
Except the numbers won’t add up. That hypotenuse, at that angle. Whoever sussed to trigonometric ratios in those ancient days would hate me about now. Where’s the necessary floor space to make the sums work?
In business class, I strongly suspect.
But that light – it’s worse. The ambient light has been dropped to almost nothing. My overhead lamp went off before I even made this pathetic attempt to fall asleep.
No, it’s the screen. Seven diagonal inches of electronic evil. This source of torture, like the tactics of an in-flight inquisition. The one whose remote control has been stupidly designed to sit, buttons facing upwards, in the arm rest.
I dim it, but as I drift again towards this cruel approximation of slumber that keeps me demanding a parachute and a conveniently depressurised door regardless of which ocean I’m thirty thousand feet above, my forearm comes to rest the only place it can.
And I discover experimentally the inverse proportion between my level of consciousness and the screen’s brightness.
This is not an intellectual pursuit my mathematical mind sought.
The Night of the Party
Finding solace in the queasiness of a well-lubricated all-nighter isn’t an easy thing to do. I strove instead for the measured calm of a taxi, empty but for myself and its driver. Despite his erratic driving and even more erratic grasp of English, the latter of which he was bent on confirming with every exhalation, this plan of mine worked, in its own peculiar way.
The wheels spun along the asphalt in a precise counterpoint to my head, and the hazy white noise making its way at the lowest possible volume out of the car’s speakers was, if nothing else, more constant that the doof-doof that seemed to drown out all chance of conversation at the party.
Makes me wonder why I stayed so long, actually. I tend to prefer a decent chat to the spasmodic gyrations of a forgotten generation of soporific, drug-addled types scrambling desperately to collectively recapture their youth.
We’re all getting old; I’m just man enough to admit it.
The one exchange that crawled along the carapace of my memory was indicative of the depths of intellectual sophistication to which most patrons of the event had willingly succumbed.
‘Is that marijuana?’ an inquiring mind had posited.
I had proceeded to extract the flaming wand of papered dried leaves from the caress of my drying lips and humour the man by scrutinising it intently. ‘No,’ I’d offered by way of a rejoinder, ‘it’s menthol.’
The driver rounded a bend with such vigour that it lurched my conscious mind back to the present, and a reminder of the queasiness that too much alcohol digesting in the company of careless motorised conveyance can invite. ‘Just about here?’ he enquired of me, showering the cab’s dashboard with saliva as he struggled to enunciate the haitch.
I studied the manic view out the window. ‘Yes, thankyou,’ I just about breathed.
Money changed hands and I was as near to home as my stomach bid me go in that taxi. The walk would do me good, surely, the crisp night air shrill enough to deprive me of the insistent bass line that still threatened to steal my sanity.
Next time, I quietly considered, just go down the pub.