7. New York, New York

I woke mid-flight, my body somehow being able to tell that this was not full sleep, just an opportunity to grab some rest if I could. I had never really developed that ability that some people had to sleep properly on flights. Miriam used to tell me of her business trips to Europe where she had a full bed to sleep on and I’m sure I could sleep just fine on that, but plane seats, even where they reclined, were just not built for sleeping. Sometimes I would actually fall asleep fully, for a brief minute or two, but then my head would bomb forward and wake me up. The solution was abundant in every airport – the ’flight pillow’, with a velcro strap that you could secure around your neck. They came in velvet designs, sometimes bright pink and in recent years even stars and stripes flags. They were kind of like the see-through ‘mac in a sack’ – very practical but not compatible with my personal ‘brand’. I would just have to suffer.

And so, awake again, I turned peacefully and looked out the window in darkness to the barely discernible miles of forest below. I thought about what incredible wildernesses we were gliding above, and the animals wondering through them; trapsing in think snow, alone, cold, hungry. I thought about how privileged modern life was. Despite the snow, the flight had been relatively calm and I began looking around at the other flyers, most of whom were now also asleep or glued to an iPad or laptop. The lights were turned right down on these night flights, so all you could see was the odd head sticking out of its blanketed cocoon body, and the darkness pierced only by vivid pink and blue flashes from little screens. Many of the heads had big, black headphones wrapped around them, giving the impression of row after row of like giant, over-fed insects.

I managed to get up and step over the sleeping bug next to me, and decided to stretch my legs by walking to the back of the plane. I think I told myself it was exercise but of course my real motive was finding an excuse to bump into the Marine again. I cannot really explain why, as I had not felt immediately attracted to him before. Perhaps it was my newfound wanderlust, which was telling me to throw myself in headfirst, and just see what happened. Or perhaps it was because, even though I had made an effort to reciprocate his chattiness, he had not tried to walk with me to the Boarding Gate. As silly as it sounds, I needed to know that he wanted me, even if I did not want him.

Shortly afterwards I did find him, fast asleep in an aisle seat. A copy of the in-flight magazine on his chest. Anyone who comes on a planned trip and spends the actual flight reading the in-flight magazine, has a serious lack of creativity, I thought. But my attention soon drifted to his heavy, broad shoulders and his tightly cropped haircut. He was not at all unpleasant actually, perhaps just uninteresting. I continued walking.

On my way back up the plane the air hostess had come around with snacks. Despite her attempt only to whisper to those who were awake, if they would like pretzels or nuts, I could see it had woken the Marine.

As I approached he turned to see me, rubbing his face with a big palm and shaking his head. He continued speaking to the stewardess, “Do I have to choose, can’t I have both?” he said with a big, pretend wholesome smile.

She giggled and said “No, I’m afraid it’s one per person”.

“Well, pretzels it is then”.

As I approached, I said “Oh, sorry, I think I missed you, I’ll have then nuts please”

“Sure”. She rifled through another tray in her trolley and produced a small cardboard box of salted, mixed nuts. They had a logo of the forest on them, bright green and baked in sunshine. A far cry, I thought.

As she continued working her way up the plane, I whispered to the Marine “they’re so mean, I don’t like that”, and reached him the nuts, “I think I owed you from our bet earlier anyway”.

He laughed and said, “look hey, I’m up in Maine from time to time but Missouri is home. Maybe next time I’m in town, at the holidays, we can catch up. You know, maybe go for a few drinks”.

This was a proposition. A straightforward, bona fide, old fashioned declaration of interest. A very unusual strategy in my experience of the modern dating world, and I have to admit it caught me off guard.

“Well … that sounds …”

“Sounds?” he said, and there was that big smile again.

“ … sounds like … it could be fun”. I reached into one of the big outside pockets of my mexican-style, heavy knit cardigan and took out a little brown leather travel-purse.

“Here’s my card. My cell is on there and I use that number for personal calls too. Drop me a line, uh …. ”.

“Brett” he said. “And very nice to meet you, Kimberley” he said holding my card out and studying it as if it was in another language.

Suddenly I felt a big bump, and the plane began to rumble. Brett put his hand on my shoulder to steady me, as I heard the seatbelt sign come on.

“Well thanks Brett” I said, as I began heading for my seat. “Everyone at home calls me Kit, so you can call me Kit too.”

I would never previously give out my number to any stranger, unless in a business context. Even if I was interested in a guy, I would take their number and say that I would txt them. As these occasions almost exclusively occurred on alcohol-fuelled evenings, it was always safer to review the option in the morning, and often I had already decided I wanted to forget the discussion ever happened. But, this was 2015 and this was the new me – what’s the worst that could happen?

By the time I had landed, collected my baggage and got a taxi back to my apartment, it was already 1am and I was shattered. It didn’t help that the lift in our apartment was broken, again! It seemed to be broken more often than it was working recently, and being on the fifth floor was a real drag; even without holiday luggage. It also didn’t help that my flatmates were still on holidays, having got a few weeks off work each.   

As a result, the apartment seemed eerily still and cold, almost like someone had died there. The furniture was slightly astray from people rushing to catch holiday flights, with all the excitement of getting away, now in sharp contrast to the reluctant return. But this was the year I was going to turn every negative into a positive, and although it was 1am, I hadn’t eaten dinner. So, in my opinion, it was really like a delayed 7.30pm. I turned the lights up, took the heating off holiday mode, got the TV on in the living room and began to cook. With the laughter of the talk show in the background and the warmth and heat of the kitchen, it soon started to feel homely again. Although I had’t been to the shops, sometimes the simplest dishes were the ones I missed the most. I was blessed in that my dad had taught me how to cook simple, Italian meals in the way he was taught by his own mother. And nothing was easier or quicker than pasta in a tomato and basil sauce.

We had basil growing in the window, in one of the old terracotta pots I bought at the flea market, and there was always plenty of wholegrain pasta stored up in the cupboard, which had been a staple for me since my student days. So I set the pasta into boiling water and sprinkled a little salt. I chopped some garlic and began frying it in a pan with olive oil. Some people didn’t like the smell of garlic, but I didn’t mind it at all, and tonight I was free to use as much as I wanted. A tin of chopped tomatoes went into the garlic, along with some tomato puree from the fridge. I ground lots of black pepper into this and added half a beef stock cube, which quickly melted in. When the pasta was ready, I drained it over the sink and then put it back in the original pan, as I went over and pulled a big bunch of fresh basil leaves from the window. I pulled them into pieces in my hands and then chucked them back in the pan over the pasta, sticking my head over the pan to catch the earthy, sweet aroma of the basil released in the steam. Then I poured in the sauce, and gave it all a good stir with our old, burnt wooden spoon before labelling it into a big, white bowl. The smell was amazing as I began to walk into the living room and sat myself down on the sofa, feet up on the coffee table. In some ways, it was nice having the place to myself.

Throughout the cooking, a big, purple-looking bottle Argentine Malbec wine sat staring at me from the top of the fridge. I had received it as a gift from clients before Christmas and, although I knew very little about wine, I thought from the top-heavy, chunky bottle, and it’s natural cork cap, that it was probably a good one. It was late, too late for wine really, I had told myself. Especially on a school night. But, I had had a fairly boring day of travel and, as the Italians say, ‘Veja mais sobre Vinho, Sol e Tipografia’! (a dinner without wine is like a day without sunshine). And this way I persuaded myself to open it to just have one glass with the food. I set my food down quickly, ran back into the kitchen and cracked it open, glugging myself a big, velvety glass full. It was exactly the type of wine I loved,  deep blueberry, almost ink-coloured, with a fragrance that hit you as soon as you began pouring. It was perhaps a little too good for my rustic pasta dish, but that was;t too much of a problem as I wolfed that down in no time.

I eventually convinced myself that I should have just one more glass, ‘just to help get me to sleep’ I said. It could be the last breath of my holiday mood. I remember pouring it out, setting my bowl in the sink and sinking back into the big, soft sofa at the centre of our living room. The talk show now over, the TV hummed away with the soothing narrative of a nature documentary set in Siberia. I occasionally opened my eyes and thought it could have been filmed in Maine; the snowy forests, the wild animals. How strange it was that these places were so cold, and indeed New York was so cold, and yet here was I, warm, comfortable, with a big glass of velvety soft red wine, created by the blazing sunshine of a South American summer. Anyway, I was back. I’d made it, I was not hungry anymore and I began to feel intensely relaxed.

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