September 13, 1999
I was flying:
'I was flying' - that is a casual expression, prompted by the event that is ordinary to millions of people. To millions, but not to me. With me, everything is different and ordinary expressions like this one are always overflowed with a lot of unexpected, but mostly unpleasant feelings.
So, 'I was flying' - transitioning in space by means of an Aeroflot airplane on a route from Moscow to Seattle. For all eleven hours of the flight, I was intending to pretend that I was sleeping, even if I am never able to fall asleep on a road or while visiting someone. So this flight to America promised me many hours of exhausting sleeplessness.
I was laid up in my wheelchair, firmly buckled into it by the safety belts. I kept my eyes shut, listening to the numb and steady hum of the engines, and imagining how, very soon, I will see my friends again - Pasha and Lida, whom I have not seen for seven years. I was reckoning what should I do first when I come back home. I will have to look for a job because it is very unlikely that my position will remain secure for the two-month absence that I will spend in the States. Actually, not one position but three - I managed to work in several places at once even if I did not leave my studio for years. I was trying to figure out what kind of gifts, even if very small, and to whom I need to bring from this trip across the ocean.
- Do you need anything?
The question was unexpected. I was flying alone and prepared for a complete self-isolation. I felt a little bit anxious, with no desire to communicate with anyone at all.
Even during boarding, when my friends brought my wheelchair with me on to the plane and secured it between the wall partition and the chairs, I was asked about an escort. When a senior flight attendant figured out that I was flying alone, she seemed a bit bewildered for a moment, and awarded me with a puzzled look which I could easily read: 'And what shall you do if:?'
- Please do not worry, everything will be OK. I will need nothing, and I will not disturb you, but, - I mastered a cheerful smile, - please help me when we arrive to Seattle. My friends will be meeting me at the airport. I just need to find them:
- Yes, of course, you will be helped!
The Flight attendant sounded polite and considerate, but her wide opened eyes clearly indicated that she was panicked. The young lady simply did not comprehend how I could travel without an escort? 'What if'? What to do with me then? How to approach me? How can a person in such a helpless condition travel alone? Not just travel, how can he even live in SUCH a state?
Looking into the bewildered face of the flight attendant, I, too, started to feel doubtful. Maybe Aeroflot introduced some new yet unknown rules concerning the transportation of 'non-standard' people, and in the last moment, I will be taken off the plane and not let back on without an escort, which was not accounted for by my scenario? I was trying to calm down both myself and the flight attendant by forcing my voice to sound as confident, careless and cheeky as possible. After all, I am not dangerous to the rest of the passengers. I am not an animal. I officially bought my ticket using money raised by my friends, both known and unknown, who learned about my problems through the forum of the political party 'Yabloko'. I have a right to travel on my own. After finally being settled, I closed my eyes. Let them think that I am fast asleep, and therefore, do not need anything. However, the crew had other plans.
- Is there anything I can help you with? - The question was repeated for the second time, so I decided that perhaps it's time to 'wake up'.
The girl in a blue uniform was standing next to me. She was smiling, but her eyes were displaying the same alarmed puzzlement. At different circumstances, I would not miss an opportunity to talk for while, but we were surrounded by the passengers who have been staring, staring: Some of these curious looks I could feel even through my 'very deep sleep'.
- No, thanks, everything is OK.
- Great! Please let me know if you need anything. I will be nearby.
- Thank you.
She walked away, carrying a polite scared expression on her face. Here nobody expected from me anything but troubles and problems, just like everywhere else. I did not convince the flight attendants. Actually, it was not my goal. I had no intention to explain to anyone, that in preparation for the flight I did not eat for over twenty four hours and did not drink for over eight hours. I knew that in case I needed to ease myself during the flight, there will be no one around to help me with such a delicate task. Even if I had a friend traveling with me, what would it change? Would we make a physiological show in front of all passengers? Or, say, carrying my clumsy wheelchair to the plane's restroom - that's even worse, that would put the whole cabin into action. So I had only one choice - to rely on abstention in all of its forms. I was already a bit ripe for the trip to the restroom, and I was really thirsty, but the flight is only eleven hours, plus an hour or two for a takeoff and landing. I will just have to wait and remain patient for some time. I can do both. I have had plenty of opportunities to learn it. All in all, everything was going normal.
I closed my eyes again. I wanted to spend these unavoidable hours on a plane with some sense. I could not read. First, I did not have anything suitable with me. I was flying alone so I took only the most necessary things. I did not even take packages for Pasha and Lida. Second, being in the wheelchair it was uncomfortable not only to read but even to lie. I had only one choice - to recall and reflect. This was the best moment for such things.
It is strange how my life was unfolding. According to the doctors, I should have died many years ago. But I did not. Something did not work out.
Doomed to immobility, to the eternal dependency on others, to the boredom and lonely helpless dying in some institution forgotten by people and God. I, however, was flying on an altitude of thirty thousand feet to see my friends on another continent:
Something 'did not work out' again?
And for what purpose?
There was something to think about.
And while I was transitioning in space my memory carried me back to the past.