I leaned back in the uncomfortable cloth seat and stretched as best as I could with the space allotted. On my way to Seattle, I had a short layover in Detroit and was now on the final stretch with just over two hours to go before landing. This would be a great trip.
“Where are you headed?” I asked the man beside me, who was gazing out the window next to him while his laptop booted up. He looked tired, with deep circles under his eyes. I wondered whether he was traveling to or from a long distance.
He didn’t respond immediately, so I awkwardly looked at the woman on the other side of me and tried to gauge whether she’d heard me attempt a conversation. She was asleep—or at least looked that way—so I determined the likelihood was very low.
Turning back towards the man, I asked again, “What’s in Seattle for you?”
“Business,” he said plainly, bringing slender fingers to his laptop’s keyboard. He tilted the screen away slightly before typing his password and logging in.
“Hopefully it’s at least a little fun,” I remarked with a friendly smile, pausing to give him the chance to open up a conversation.
He flashed a smile momentarily, keeping his eyes focused solely on the screen in front of him, and began typing as he let his smile fade away, clearly distracted from anything else happening in the plane.
I turned back in my seat and stared straight ahead, unsure of what to do to best pass the next couple hours. I could make a good dent in Snow Crash, which was snuggled deep into my carry-on; or I could do some sketching, confident that my preoccupied seat neighbors would not be watching over my shoulder; or I could get a quick nap in and be well-rested when I arrive for Jason’s Hotdog Party tonight.
Another glance at my neighbors led me to settle on sketching, so I retrieved my backpack from under the seat in front of me and dug out my notebook and pencils, balancing them in my lap as I tucked the backpack back away.
I’m no professional artist by any means, but I very much enjoy the feeling of creating scenes that live forever on paper and can be shared with others. However, as I’m sure most artists will agree with, I’d rather people wait until I’m happy with something before I share it with anyone.
I typically prefer to sketch things around me rather than trying to conjure images up from memory. Not only is it quite a bit easier—I’d say—but it also keeps you constantly exposed to and drawing new things and appreciating the things around you. Because of this, I tend to always keep an eye out for interesting people, places, or things. When I don’t have the means to draw them right away, I’ve gotten pretty good at furtively taking a photograph or two so I can draw them when I can.
Pulling out my phone, I swiped the camera roll back to a man from the airport who looked almost comically caricatured, with a gigantic, curled nose and brows that protruded out and hung heavily over his perpetually squinting eyes. His lips, much too large for his face, were cracked and broken, and on them he wore a frown that probably represented his outlook towards life.
I glanced over to the man to my left, still furiously typing away, and noticed I could see a reflection of Google Docs in the airplane window. Pretending to be intrigued by the dark sea of clouds outside, I stared at the reflection and curiosity lured me into reading a little bit:
Although it had been an exciting two weeks for the both of them, a part of Justin wanted to stay home with the lady he’d grown to love, Emily. It had only been a month since he’d moved out and got a place with her, and he couldn’t have been happier. They’d started spending every free moment together, and it was a hard adjustment when Justin left for Italy, barely able to call every other night on a calling card.
One row back, someone began to sing softly to a song on their headphones, which prompted both the writer and I to peek back simultaneously. Seeing my head already turned towards him, the man mumbled, “Please don’t look at my screen.”
A part of me was immediately worried I had offended the man, but a larger part of me (and likely, a worse part of me) knew that not only was he not being as friendly as perhaps he should, but also I would likely never see him again.
And so I pried: “Are you a writer?”
His face flushed slightly and he turned towards me and sternly said, “No,” before turning his laptop even further away.
“I don’t mean to offend you or anything,” I said quickly, nodding towards his laptop. “I just noticed you had Docs open and it looked like a story.” The man frowned.
“I didn’t look at what you were actually writing though,” I lied.
The man turned his screen brightness down and said, “Keep it that way.”
I excused myself to the bathroom, and when I returned, the man had resumed his furious writing pace and did not acknowledge me as I sat back down. The document was still in plain view in the window’s reflection, but I willed myself to at least start sketching the interesting man from the airport.
However, after sketching out the man’s wispy hair and generally odd facial structure, my gaze again turned towards the non-writer writing beside me. Surely if he was so vehement that I not see what he’s writing, then it must be something interesting, right?
I leaned forward a little to make it obvious to him that I couldn’t see his actual screen, and then gazed at the window again, reading:
Widespread panic returned to the entirety of the plane. Air masks dropped, and a flight attendant demonstrated proper usage. Justin merely listened as she stood outside his lavatory to give one of the demonstrations. From inside his pocket, Justin retrieved his cell phone. Staring back at him with an everlasting smile was a picture of Emily he’d snapped on their first date. In the midst of chaos, he smiled.
Not the kind of thing I want to be reading about while flying. And not even that good, even.
Several rows back a baby cried out, shrilly shrieking into what was previously a relatively peaceful silence. At the same time, the entire plane shook as we passed through a particularly rough patch of clouds, and the “Wear your seat belts!” sign lit up almost immediately.
I nervously glanced at the author, but he just continued writing.
No announcement came from the flight attendant about the turbulence and eventually, the sign turned back off.
But just like the turbulence, the satiation of my curiosity was also short-lived. One more glance, I thought, and I’d be done. It’s just some stupid story about a mushy couple on a plane; it’s not like it’s a secret business document or something actually interesting.
As I peered back towards the window, the man’s face was deep in thought as he frantically transcribed the story in his mind, and all I could think was bewilderment at what kind of freak would write about a plane crashing while actually flying on a plane.
People screamed as the plane noticeably lost control in the air and prepared to descend. Justin gripped his phone hard enough for his knuckles to lose color. Emily was all he could think about. He pressed her number on the speed dial and curled up on the floor of the lavatory with the phone to his ear.
Another burst of turbulence and I instinctively sat back in my seat, rigid, with eyes transfixed on the seat belts sign—which never lit up. In my mind played out scenario after scenario that ended in the plane crashing, from mechanical failures literally anywhere in the massive machine that is an airplane, to biological failures anywhere in the complex machine that is our pilot, to even the man sitting next to me being some sort of divine prophet, writing Fate before it happened, as silly as that sounds.
For the rest of the flight, these dark thoughts whirled through my head and I could not shake them. They manifested themselves in what I was drawing, guiding the creation of the deformed old man into an abominable hooded figure whose face had been forced hidden many generations ago.
As I drew the horrible scene of wreckage he was standing in front of, I began to hunch over in my seat and cover up what little of the plane fragments I could with my hand, before eventually tearing out an extra sheet in the notebook to use instead. When the debris had littered literally the entire background, I ripped up the cover sheet (which had gotten dark and dirty from pencil smudges) into several smaller pieces, which I carefully arranged around whatever I was working on.
Inspiration had struck, and I was creating a new kind of scene that I had never thought of creating before. I worked fervently, detailing the stretching shadows and lightening around the flames to represent what little light was left in this world, and sketched a scythe into the ancient man’s hands.
We hit more turbulence and I worked diligently through it, working the unexpected shakes into a deformity into the lifeless body I was sketching in the background. It lacked a name, a life, and a future: might as well lack a figure also.
What finally brought me back to the real world in which I was currently flying on a crowded plane in was a woman’s voice to my right, who had previously been asleep, suddenly asking, “Are you an artist?”
Caught off guard, I could feel my face blush slightly and I turned to her and just managed a “no” before my thoughts darkened again and I pondered what the sky would look like atop a plane crash.
“I don’t mean to offend you or anything,” the woman added quickly, nodding towards my notebook. “I just noticed you had a lot of pencils and were sketching away.”
“I didn’t look at what you were actually drawing though,” she lied.