Unpacking, Vol. 1, Notes from the flight back


The note I wanted to pass to the man sitting next to me:

When occupying a window seat on a sixteen-hour flight, it is your moral obligation to lean toward the window and not on the armrest toward your flying companion, who can only lean into the aisle so much before getting pummeled by the drink carts and people heading for the bathrooms. Unless the person has indicated she’d like to snuggle, which she didn’t, you should angle yourself toward the window, taking advantage of all that extra space you have on that side. (Also, it would be great if you’d close your window shade and turn off your light if you’re intending to sleep—which the pillow over your face indicates you were.)

Eventually, I gave up the struggle to maintain space between me and the man in seat 23A. I figured, what the heck, this is a sixteen-hour flight. I can continue this contortion game or just curl up in my chair and lean my back into his right arm and go to sleep. Which I did.

Congo changes, or at least challenges, your sense of personal space. There, they’ll cram sixteen grown people into a bus the size of a small minivan. Seats are just suggestions, and no one buckles up. When people speak to you, it’s not uncommon for them to hold your wrist or hand while doing so, or to sit so close their hip touches yours.

On our last morning in Bukavu, Bishop, Rachael, Rebecca, Clay, and I crammed into a taxi the size of a Honda, Bishop up front and the four of us in back. I sat half on Rachael and half on Clay and remarked, “Clay and I have never been so close. Literally.” Just before we got back to Bishop’s house, the taxi got a flat tire and we literally tumbled out of the back seat when the doors were opened, falling into the open space of the road and walking the rest of the way back, the sun warm and the air busy with dust and the sounds of cars and crows and a church’s choir practicing.

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