Birthday Baggage

It wasn’t that she didn’t like to travel, she loved to travel. She loved to see new things, try new food, watch new people, eavesdrop on new conversations…the thing, is she loved to travel, but hated not being home. If she had a home with a comfortable bed, good books, plants, and a dog at every possible place in the world, she’d be much happier. As it was, hoping from hotel to hotel, nondescript and with that smell, that stale perfumed, no-really-it’s-just-been -cleaned smell. Yuk.

At any rate, she’d decided that for her birthday this year she would give herself the gift of travel. It didn’t matter where as long as it was somewhere new. So she chose India. It was one of those places she’d read about often enough in books by people she wished she was, it wasn’t at all difficult to procure the proper inoculations, nor the flights. It was almost happening to her, for her, with how little effort was required from her.

It was only as they were completely airborne, as she was trying desperately to read the book she brought with her which was proving to be not quite as good as expected, that she realized the man sitting beside her had been talking to for some time. She’d assumed it was engine noise, but a quick glance to her left proved it was him. His lips were moving ever so slightly and a sound was coming from him, not talking as she’d originally thought but almost singing? Humming?

Ah, he was repeating a mantra of some kind, she realized. Huh. She’d never actually seen or heard anyone doing that in person. Again something she was entirely familiar with in books and movies but in person came as a bit of a shock. Or more of a wonderous oddity. Looking around a bit more she realized he wasn’t the only one. No wonder she’d thought it was engine noise. The majority of the people she could see from her seat were doing the same thing. Some lips actively moving and other still, all faces calm and composed, all chests rising and falling with their breath.

She realized no one was paying the least attention to her, that most if not all, eyes were closed. She very quietly undid the latch of her seatbelt, held her book in her right hand, her index finger marking her place, not that it’d be hard to find, she’d been reading the first two pages over and over again without really reading them, and stood. Her right knee popped and she glanced quickly to the man at her left. He continued his chanting uninterrupted.

She’d love to do that. She’d love to go so deep within herself that she didn’t notice the sounds around her. Swim within her own quiet soul. It would just require quieting her soul, and she wasn’t ready to that yet, or maybe she just didn’t know how.

She took a moment to look, really look, around the plane and just as she’d suspected, the majority of the passengers were chanting quietly. Even though each person seemed to be making their own sounds, the sounds together were lovely and she felt a bit like she was at an orchestra. There were some deeper sounds coming from the back of the plane, some higher notes coming from the far left, someone not quite in sync with the others but not entirely out of place coming from the front.

There were only a very few people asleep or trying to read, as she’d been trying. No one seemed to notice her head floating above her seat back as she made a last sweeping look around and slowly sank back into her seat. She had just taken a deep breath and was about to sigh it out when she realized her seatmate wasn’t chanting anymore.

She almost screamed as she realized he was looking at her, she was so shocked, his eyes so unexpected. She swallowed the scream and realized he wasn’t smiling exactly but his eyes were certainly turned up a bit at the edges and his mouth was soft, the way lips would look in their sleep or upon waking up, before the doings of the day had quite caught up, causing the tightening, the clamping, the frowning.

She wasn’t sure if talking was allowed when people were chanting. Would saying something right now break this feeling they’d all created, this energy that seemed to be holding the plane up. She was sure of it now, the more she thought about it, the more sure she became. The people chanting were keeping the plane up, moving, she mustn’t interrupt. And then he spoke.

“Is it good?”

“The chanting?” she asked, thoroughly confused.

“The book. The book in your hand. You haven’t put it down.”

She looked at the book in her hand, had forgotten it was there, she looked back at the crinkled eyes, “no, I wouldn’t say so. Can’t seem to get into it.”

He made a sort of hm noise, a sort of ah, which she realized he couldn’t have done, the two sounds so different from one another. But he did. Make those sounds.

“Have you read this?” he asked as he pulled a book from the bag at his feet.

It took a moment to tear her eyes from his and focus on the book in his hand. It was a meditation book, a chanting book. One she’d actually been meaning to bring on the trip and read, hoping to fully immerse herself in India. “I haven’t yet. It’s on my list.”

“I’d be happy to swap,” he said, turning the book up in his palm, an offering.

“Thank you,” she felt like an automoton, accepting his book, handing him hers. Checking to see if she’d left a book mark in it, realizing her finger had been the bookmark, looking back at the cover of the book now in her hand before returning her eyes to his.

“It’s signed,” he said.

She cocked her head slightly trying to make sense of this. Before realizing he meant the book he’d given her. She opened the cover and turned the first page, and there, sure enough, was a scrawled name. “Thank you,” she said again.

Her words sounded too loud and she realized the chanting had stopped. She glanced past her seatmate and saw some of the passengers had fallen asleep, or taken out books. The sound of the engines now taking over were nothing at all like the chanting and she wondered how she could have confused the two.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

4 Replies to “Birthday Baggage”

  1. That’s a cool read. When you said the man might have been doing a mantra. It reminded me of a person on a train saying a mantra for something he needed or wanted . Very interesting. :))))))))))))


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