Stultified, Edwin felt like time was collapsing, the atmosphere in the den of his house where he was sprawled on the couch turning his vision into mist, alone again. Outside the house it was winter. In the house it was some relief from the icy elements but seldom these days did Edwin feel much pleasure from anything, warm or cold.
It played tricks on him, this feeling. The map of blue and other primary and secondary colors denoting nations of the world, hanging on his wall was like an invitation to go everywhere. Faced with so many choices, he could not begin with one. He was compelled to stay put.
He wasn’t altogether familiar with tastes of the world; he had his own, marked by the company of the television, and sometimes it was questions that flitted through his mind about where in the world he might instead like to be, but more and more seldom were questions such as that one occurring to him. He felt constrained by the reality. It was no good trying to get around it.
Like a boy in school he looked at the map on the wall, and felt no inspiration from gazing at it. Perhaps it should have been something else, a movie poster perhaps. His mind was comfortable with that. A film starring him, it might have been of interest, not unlike those he saw from time to time, on the television set which was something of a friend to he.
A fancy in his mind spread its tendrils over his consciousness, idle daydreaming as he fell into sleep which cast its blessing as sleep does for a man. His mind freed from burden, Edwin was somewhere else now, a traveler, although not with much inkling of knowledge. He was in this realm of the fantastic somewhere else entirely, and it became as real as things had been, and it wouldn’t be for long.
He dreamt he was in an airport terminal, in a tidy departure lounge, early for the flight he was boarding, and made to wait accordingly. Everyone knows they ask you to be early for those occasions. His luggage had been checked into the baggage claim and he idly leafed through a business magazine, his carry-on on the empty seat next to where he was staying put. There wasn’t much that was captivating news of economic successes, but it didn’t seem as though anyone would be ready company.
Until a very fair sight began to illuminate his vision. She drifted into the lounge where Edwin was waiting for his flight, a hell of a sight as far as he was concerned, medium height and cast with locks of brunette beauty to her shoulder, the pale features of her face framed nicely that way and her apparel clearly modest but flattering, from head to toe. A vest, a blouse, a skirt, stockings and heels, all picture-perfect as far as he was concerned. Garments colored blue and purple, that bouncy hair was somewhere between fine art and a chalk drawing, diagrammed. His attention was no longer on the article he had been half-heartedly reading about what it takes to be productive and successful. His attention was on her.
How to get her attention? he was wondering. True, they were alone, but an awkward introduction would leave him nowhere. She seemed to be preoccupied with the monitor of incoming and outgoing flights, a reasonable concern given that she was likely going to be a passenger on the same flight as him. He wasn’t thinking about whether she knew when the flight was scheduled to leave. He was thinking about how to make an introduction.
Thirty second rule, he was unconsciously reflecting, thirty seconds to make a good first impression. That was beginning now, and he had scant few seconds to leave an impression on her, that he wasn’t another dull passenger trying to make it out, with enough means that a trip was practical for him but wasn’t in season and therefore less expensive than it would have been in the peak months. He knew striking out badly that way would cost him, both embarrassment and general subdual of his shot at completely enjoying his trip, compared with how it would go if she took to him.
“Going to Highston?” he said, trying to radiate confidence speaking to her. Going to Highston? his unconscious echoed. Hadn’t he just resolved not to say something like that? He knew that of the possible things she might say, very few of them resulted in him making a friend in her. He resolved to hold himself in check, to feel optimistic that of what she might say in reply, whatever she was about to speak might lead to cordial. He felt a tad foolish that he didn’t have something more interesting to say, but wondered if he could steer the conversation in the direction he wanted notwithstanding.
“Oh, absolutely,” she said enthusiastically, which came as a great relief to him. “I just love it when the tourists have gone for the winter months and it’s beautiful there and not too crowded. I’m Carmen. What’s your name?”
“Edwin,” he told her, amazing that such a basic approach returned such a friendly exchange. She was charming, he could tell. How did this opportunity happen to him? he asked himself. Sure beat the business magazine.
“Traveling alone, are you?” Carmen asked him. This was too good to be true. Both Edwin and Carmen were early, so Edwin was already calculating that there was a major possibility that more passengers would show up in the departure lounge, which could easily spoil the moment if he didn’t maneuver his end of the conversation so that he could get to know her.
“Yeah, business class as usual,” he said, trying to move from introductory remarks to chit chat if he could manage not to seem like a total clod. “For a flight this short, I always go business class.” That was a little better, it occurred to him. They were starting to share airline tips now, which was good if there was any hope for turning this conversation into je ne sais quoi. He didn’t always feel this nervous around a woman, but something about her had him a bit tongue-tied and oddly determined to try getting his foot in the door. “I have to tell you, I don’t really know why I’m doing this, but is there any chance you’re in row N on this flight? That’s where I’m sitting.” He felt apprehension at what he was saying. Was he in grade school? Could the pretty lady sit next to him on the airplane? He tried to disguise the ineptitude he was beginning to fear he was projecting.
“Oh? My boarding pass is in my handbag,” Carmen told him. “Here, let me get it out so I can tell you.” She began to dig in the elegant handbag which was on her arm. He watched the objects she was handling. Tissue, he noted, sunglasses… There it was in her hand, boarding pass. “Where does it say it?”
“Right there at the top,” Edwin said, more and more charmed by everything Carmen did. “What does it say?”
“Would you believe it? I’m in row N, too,” she said, obviously wowed.
“You know what I think,” Edwin said to her, “something tells me there’s never been a better time to fly to Highston.”
“I’m not at all surprised,” Carmen had to say.
Such a painful moment to awake, but that is how it sometimes is when a dream dissipates leaving behind a rude awakening. Edwin saw the asymmetrical russet shape on his map of the world on the wall of his den, but he wasn’t crisscrossing it on an airliner and he wasn’t in such good company anymore. Don’t you hate it when something good turns out only to be a dream? Wouldn’t you just like to go back to sleep?
Photographer: José Martín