The 13th hour is the worst; the hour when I begin to call my motives into question and the nausea first rises; when the thin line between love and hate becomes a semi-permeable membrane, reasons ‘for’ become blurred and my world is the metal sky tunnel that holds me in my break for freedom. I have surrendered to the ministrations of the manicured automatons serving rubber food with metal forks and plastic knives. My everyday cage is exchanged for a seat with measured legroom in an attempted escape, an effort to experience the new and to live an alternate reality.
The international dateline takes an eternity to cross, and the Pacific seems infinite. I sneak a peek at my fellow inmates – families, students and businessmen shoehorned into economy class. My head swims and I shift in my seat, trying to find some comfort. The fat man on my left maximises use of available space, commandeering both armrests and leaning back with his laptop balanced on his tray table. On my left, a young woman curls up in the seat, asleep with a makeshift pillow jammed against the cold convex of the aeroplane wall. I feel a wave of jealousy overtake me as I observe her restfulness. My need for control obviates the use of alcohol or drugs to lull me into a false sense of security. If there is a problem I want to be fully aware of my helpless state. The woman in front of me moves her seat as far back from the upright position as she can manage. I can feel a scream welling up from deep inside me, when a sleep-deprived father walks slowly past me, rocking a baby who is in shock from a deviated routine. We exchange grimaces. The 13th hour is when the battle begins, of mind over matter. Reading is too much for me, yet my brain is too active to allow dreams to drag me into unconsciousness. I know in the very core of my being that the end justifies the means – I just have to make an escape without the roof collapsing, or falling from the sky. Only a few more hours and I will have made it out the other side.
I begin to wonder why we put ourselves though the rigours of the long haul flight. Are those water cooler moments discussing the Australian outback and the relative merits of the different beaches in Thailand so important? Is this a modern day rivalry with the Joneses, in which we have dispensed with showing off our superior curtains for boring the neighbours with photo albums of our visit to the most remote villages of Outer Mongolia? “Oh – you’ve been to Ulan Bator? It’s so touristy these days. If you ever get the chance you really must go to Kazakhstan, it’s simply to die for!”
I’m not a natural show-off and really, Scotland would be much more convenient, aside from the midges and the rain. After all, it’s not as if I can sunbathe with my skin, inherited from a long succession of Celts. I can feel the “Should have gone to Bangor, should have stayed at home” mantra, begin the beguine in the back of my head sometime around the start of hour 14. The map confirms that I seem to be hovering over a small island in the mid-Pacific. Why am I doing this?