When I shelled out $30 for the extra leg room seat I was fully aware that a baby might be next to me. But I also knew that if I wanted to survive the second consecutive night on a plane, not having my knees stuck at mouth level was the way to go. And Ruben turned out to be a rather nice companion. As a rule, I do not talk to whoever is sitting next to me – I am not interested in knowing why they are going where they are going, where they live or what they do. Usually the platitudes just end there or else move to more mindless conversation I would rather forgo in favor of a book. Unless a Richard Gere lookalike happens to have the seat next to mine – which has never happened. Well, it happened once and in my excitement to be sitting next to someone cute, I knocked my drink all over him, which sort of ended our interaction right there and then, with him rummaging for a clean shirt in his hand luggage. But I am digressing.
Ruben did not engage in any conversation but he grabbed my glasses and my book as soon as I sat down. With his big blue eyes he exerted a charm I could not resist and the next thing I knew I found myself helping his hapless young father all through the flight. I always suspected travelling with children was a nightmare but I never stopped to ponder how many bags one has to pack, how many nappies and changes of clothes, snacks, toys and whatever else might keep a 9 month old interested for an endless amount of hours. In Ruben’s defense, he did sleep through the night while it was me who stayed up staring at his cute, round face. He did not puke or scream too much – he was a nearly perfect travelling companion.
When flying long distance, the only consolation I find I have is the certainty that time will pass. And when in the window I finally saw Table Mountain framed by a huge cloud it felt like days had passed since the last time I was here. It felt familiar maybe because it was the smile of my best friend who greeted this weary monkey. In effort to keep me awake, she took me to her favourite shopping center where, even in a state of daze and confusion, I still managed to accomplish some serious shopping at Woolworth, a department store which, in this day and age of globalization where brands can be found the world over and everything is made in China, I can still find clothes that no one will have back home at prices that in LA wouldn’t get me anything even at the Salvation Army. Shopping was followed by coffee in the same coffee shop we spent hours at last time I was here, dissecting my life and how to move forward. We have known each other for 25 years and not time, distance, time zones and continents can come between the ease we slip into when we are together. We reassure yourself we have aged better than expected and that our lives might be less glamorous but more meaningful.
As I write, a chicken is roasting in the oven and parsnips are cooking on the stove. It’s still winter here, a winter similar to California’s, with sunny days and clear skies and brisk air at night. In a few days we will leave on our road trip up the Western Cape, along the famous Garden Route. I touched 3 continents in two days, I am jet legged beyond imagination and I am not quite clear what day it is. Why am I still doing it? Because going far away, very far away is the only way I know to leave my life behind in its totality. And I am of the firm belief that shedding our skin at least once a year is something we owe, if not to ourselves, to our mental sanity.