The old woman next to me begins to clear her throat immediately after sitting down, the phlegm dragging against her esophagus until it makes it way into her mouth and screams for release, finding an exit between her parted lips. After a ceaseless twenty minutes of this, it becomes obvious that this is a condition that plagues her chronically, and it will be a condition I will be plagued by for the next seven hours to Paris.
“Give her a cough drop?” a friend advises via text.
“Is it alright to kill grandmothers?” I respond.
Four months of Bikram yoga have done wonders for my in-flight anxiety (though, apparently, not my tolerance). The plane hurtles forward until we are airborne. I breathe deeply and hear my half-naked teacher with the shaved head and the impressive ab muscles screaming “Puuusssssshhhhhhh the floor away! PUSH!!!!!!!” – only I imagine it’s the plane pushing from the earth, which gives the whole venture a deceivingly safe quality to it, one I would not ordinarily fall for. For the rest of the flight, we travel over the Atlantic on a pair of sturdy, invisible arms, which provides me with more confidence than any scientific tutorial on aeronautics.
An hour in, the flight attendants are making their rounds with the usual “Pick Your Poison” routine.
“Beef stroganoff or cheese ravioli,” a man with a tidily tucked shirt and a gold wristwatch asks me.
The girl next to me practically giggles with delight at the sight of her vegetarian platter, a steamy, potent combination of rice and curry. I look down grimly at the tray in front of me: shrink-wrapped white roll, a triangle of nuclear cheddar, something you might call a salad, and gray mess of overcooked beef and dry mashed potatoes sweating under a plastic cover. I find one carrot and two pieces of broccoli and forgo the rest. Better safe than sorry.
I drape my men’s coat over my head and do my best to fall asleep, which I think is successful in that I wake up hours later to the familiar sound of the food and beverage cart hulking down the galley. “Breakfast?” he asks. These questions always seem misleading, as though from them you could distill what is actually coming. “Sure,” I say, and then I remember that American Airlines has removed 90% of the components of their continental breakfast option, leaving only a sad croissant clinging to a paper doily and a round plastic container of orange drink.
Just beyond the bulkhead, I see a woman with shaky hands paw around for butter and jam to adorn her infinitely superior croissant, which stands, tall and flakey, upon a proper dish. I seriously want to know the cost difference between a shitty croissant and a real one, and if it’s done less as a measure for cost effectiveness and more to just further accentuate class hierarchy in life.
“Actually, it’s okay,” I say, handing my tray back to him, like a prisoner who would rather starve than suffer the indignities of his jailing.
Our tires hit the ground at 7 a.m. As usual, it’s darker outside than you’d imagine it to be. Here, the sun feels like it doesn’t come out until noon. I follow Business Class out the doors and trail the same silent parade of plastic wheels over red carpet as we walk through the white metal and glass corridors towards a “Sortie” sign.
French customs is the usual, disturbingly casual affair. I am asked no questions. My passport is stamped without hesitation.