On plane trips, scarves and feeling wistful

Sunday, March 8, 2009 | |

Cruising altitude had long passed the ten thousands, and the rain and low-lying fog of his hometown were all but forgotten as the plane sailed just high enough to let the sun shine over the wing and onto the clouds. He aimed his lens out of his window and thought to himself, “Why can I always see the wing, no matter where I sit? And why do I always take the same photo, every time?” Today the view was stunning – clouds as fluffy as whipped cream licked upwards and onwards, sun-kissed by soft rays that no one on the ground today would believe existed. He put away his camera and pulled his jacket sleeves over his hands, tugging at the cuffs. The thick blue elastane had long faded to grey, and the fibres, brittle with age, were tattered and pulling. He thought of how his trouser legs were doing the same, and how he never thought to allow himself the luxury of new clothes, but didn’t give the holiday in Wellington a second thought.

The stewardess had only just come around with the sauvignon blanc and cheese platter - two pieces of waxy cheddar and a few green grapes. He had just begun to enjoy this light pampering when the seatbelt light flicked back on and descent into the windy city began. Hearing the clink of the drinks trolley fast approaching, he slammed back the rest of the wine and held the cheese in his hand. Upon receiving an odd look from the hostess who offered to take his empty cup and plastic platter, he plucked up his best Down Country Bloke accent and chuckled, "Well I could've bloody travelled with that Branson bugger but I didn't - your free cheese is just too bloody delicious love." She smiled awkwardly and moved on. “Now she knows I’m a weirdo for sure,” he muttered, staring out once again at the wing.

It was late afternoon as the wheels extended out in anticipation of tarmac - he could already see from Lyall Bay's windsock welcoming party that the day was going to be as wily as home. He had escaped nothing, but knew by now not to count on the capital's weather. He thought of how bitterly cold windy days could be in this city, and how cold his exposed skin tended to get. He reached down and realised he’d forgotten his scarf; he always forgot his scarf. Chuckling at his own foolishness, he looked out the window to see airline baggage handlers holding their hats as the plane trafficked in; he was already on his feet when the seatbelt light blinked off.
He rescued his bag, the second on the conveyor belt, just in time for the suited and serious to start swarming the track. "If you all stood back just a little bit," he thought to himself, "you would all be able to see whose bag is coming up next and wouldn’t have to crowd; simple." Swinging his bag over his shoulder, he shuffled outside behind a slow-moving and bewildered tourist pushing a rickety trolley and peering at a city map; he pulled his cigarette pouch from his pocket and made use of the time presented to him. "The bus doesn't leave for another 20 minutes brother, you stroll on," he said, assuming the man – who promptly sped up –could not understand him.

The trip into town on the airbus always made him wistful. As always, the wind was rushing through the bus tunnel, and the assault of sideways rain was waiting at the other end. The combined efforts of 40 pairs of lungs and one opportunistic tagger left the inside of the bus windows looking like unintelligent cave drawings; RUKA WUZ HERE - how very insightful. He loved how bleak everything seemed from in here, and how starkly different he felt once out on the street. He smiled awkwardly and looked out the window, clearing the condensation with his jacket sleeve. "There is so much paper in this town," he thought to himself as the batteries on his discman died. Posters, leaflets, post-its - any kind of paper expression you can think of lines the streets in this town. It was as if, he thought, the closer you are to the Government, the more likely they are to read your pasted-up anarchistic sentiment. He began to feel worried about how disinterested he was in politics, literature, art; everything. He'd spent his entire adult life chasing a liberal, passionate and creative ideal that he had now realised was constructed out of rote learned, lecturer-poached beliefs. He scanned another passing wall, and noticed a large statement in graffiti: THINK FOR YOURSELF – DON’T TRUST THE INSTITUTIONS. Did the paranoid anarchists of post-it-note fame have it right?

The bus soon reached the city, and he alighted near Cuba Street. His friends were set to finish work in 30 minutes and he had time on his hands. Soon he had re-juiced his music, and began to walk with the spring in his step that comes from having a beat to bounce to. He loved this part of town, and always felt calmest, happiest and free when walking by himself, taking in the colours and smells of this vibrant area. The Irish pub was alive with music, laughter and the clinking of glasses; men with yellowing teeth and burgeoning bellies cackled at each other’s jokes and kept one eye on the telly. Across the way a Chinese health store was closing - the owner was delicately moving medical sculptures to make way for the sliding security gate. Four school-aged girls in headscarves and singlets huddled together and ran as one, screaming about the cold and giggling infectiously. He was again in love with this city of meagre dreams.

The diner where he met his friends was as cheap as it was charming; kitsch as it was catastrophic. Retro thermoses lined the walls, each something to behold and something to examine individually. Many were traditional tartan, others shone in stark 70s yellow, but the Charles ‘n’ Di wedding commemoration was the biggest treasure. Settling into his green leather chair to wait for company, he looked out the window into the wet – he hoped they weren’t going out tonight. They arrived and plied him for news of home instantly. “Is she still going out with him? Have you seen my mother? Is the weather as shit as it is down here? Who are you living with now? Is she hot?” The way they’d all meet up and instantly start finishing each other’s sentences loudly reminded him that the more things change, the more they stay the same; that old chestnut. His friends informed him that there were to be drinks at their flat tonight in his honour. “All 15 of our friends are coming!” they laughed. “Not your usual party back home, but enough to keep someone like you interested.”

The hill leading to their house was large and confusing to him; he’d been to flats a million times here but always in the valley. As the city lights faded into twinkles and the taxi wound ever higher into the tight windy roads of Hataitai, he leaned over to the driver and enquired – “We can barely fit through ourselves, what happens if a car comes the other way?” The driver sped up without looking back at him and said coldly, “They give way to me”. If he were more honest with himself, he’d say that this flat was like any other flat, that these rooms were like any other rooms, that the view was just like the one in his old place last year, and that the girls were just as pretty. Instead this villa was a palace – equipped with rich wooden floors, a long sheltered deck and a view of the city that made him audibly sigh. His friends’ rooms were large with high ceilings and thick curtains, resplendent in maroons and browns. Both rooms were home to a number of discarded vintage shirts, piles of university readings and Polaroid photos; he felt artier already just being here. The girls here were great too – they wore floral prints and dainty shoes, and liked posters with sparrows and Matryoshka dolls. Two boys and two girls lived here – how wonderfully nuclear.

Before long the lounge was full of interesting, interested people who he swore had been handcrafted for his enjoyment and emotional fulfillment. He mingled for a while before taking a particular liking to a spritely blonde who was studying linguistics and played French horn. He was sipping on red wine and telling wry, self-depreciating jokes whilst she giggled away, scrunching up her nose and flinging her head back with glee. Her bubbly persona was absolutely infectious, and as soon as he had finished his third wine, his usually closed-lipped smile was reborn as a grin, saved mostly for when she gave him a post-joke pat on the arm. His friends left him to it, but often gave him knowing smiles and winks from their respective corners; she was too busy maintaining eye contact and re-crossing her legs to notice being noticed.

Four hours later, she followed him to the deck, where he lit up a cigarette. There were no lights, but as he sank into the comfort of the outdoor couch, his eyes adjusted and he was able to see well. Lingering back a few steps, she followed his lead and slunk down beside him, resting her head in his armpit. He put his arm around her and nestled his nose into her hair. They sat in that same position and chatted into the night, long after the party had wound down and weary drunks had headed into the night. Thanks to a very political upbringing, this girl was well travelled, knowledgeable and astute, and conversation with her was easier than he ever thought imaginable. She was funny and delicate, friendly and affectionate, and best of all, she was ladylike. He loved how she repositioned her legs onto the couch so gracefully to bring herself closer to him– there weren’t many ladies back home, and this one’s grace was as intoxicating as his near-finished bottle. When he told her how ladylike he thought she was, she lifted her head and kissed him on the cheek, then pulled his arm further around her. “I need to work in the morning, so I’m going to leave here soon, but I’ll be around tomorrow, and I’d like to see you again.“ Part of him was disappointed she couldn’t stay, but he comforted in the knowledge that she was also that kind of lady.

Walking her down to the road to wait for her taxi, he noticed that she was shivering from the cold. Her slight little body was covered in goosebumps and her arms were crossed, frigid in the night air. “I hope you don’t find me too painfully chivalrous here, you can take my jacket tonight if you want,” he said. He pulled at the sleeves and looked at the ground, stuttering, ‘It’s tatty, old and gross though, so you don’t have to-“; she stopped him with a kiss on the lips. Smiling, he took the jacket off and helped her into it. She scrunched up her nose, grinned and pulled the sleeves over her hands; “it feels lived in and loved”, she said, “and I like it”. He crossed his own arms to brave the cold, just in time to see the taxi pull up next to them. He gave her a kiss on the forehead, then her lips. She grabbed his hands and squeezed his palms through the cuffs on his jacket; “thank you, for all of this”, she whispered. As she got in and disappeared down the hill, he thought to himself, “If I get nothing more out of this weekend, this will make it all worth it”.
As he skipped inside for one last drink, he sighed, and to no one in particular he said, "Man, I love this town".


Aimee said...

This is cool! I keep trying to marry up different characteristics in thestory with people you know though. In the first 3 paragraphs this character could be me, with exception of being a boy and getting his baggage near-first after the flight. I hate that self-concious dread after cracking a funny with a stranger.

Hannah JV said...

It's not actually anyone. I thought him up when talking to Matty B about things I like best about Wellington. The only thing that I think I can attribute to anyone is how he acts when he has his iPod on whilst walking; me!

Oh wait! They give way to me is a Nick quote, but I so adore it.

Next story on Sunday night. It's about me, so you'll probably know it all already!