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  • Writer's picturematilde tomat

when you fly...

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

quando tu voli

I used to wear a light blue and white stripey cotton shirt, jeans and in those years white leather trainers were a must. I had a green toothbrush, I remember, with a sort of contraption as a lid, a cover, a plasticky thingy, in the left pocket of my said blue and white stripey shirt. Money hidden inside white tennis socks: this is what we used to call: tennis socks. As if we ever played tennis. I know I didn’t coz any sport that involves a ball bores me to death.

There were a lot of blue and white and stripey clothes, and blue cardigans thrown over the shoulders as adults would do, even if I was only 15. And those were the years of trainers or “sailing shoes”, because of course we “all had” a sailing boat.

But I did, so there was a sense of entitlement.

I remember falling asleep on an airport floor in 1981. Because that was the year where things changed. I think that was the year of Istanbul and Athens and feeling mesmerised by burned wood covering the old houses while being smuggled into Asia among suitcases and trying to look clever by drinking loads of mint tea while being forgotten by the grownups. There was a picture of a petrified me, leaning onto the sign that read "Welcome to Asia". I was wearing a pair of red jeans and a horrendous white puffer jacket. I am half-smiling and by just looking at my hair, I could easily be mistaken for one of the long lost poor cousins of Charlie's Angels.

But I flew.

It felt like I flew everywhere and I was more in line at the airport check-ins than at school. Of course, it is not true but I do not have memories of what was in between. What was it in between? Definitely school, and family, and weekends with mum, dad and sis but still I have no memories. I don’t remember what I did, what WE did. I only remember I felt alive when moving, going, imagining, looking forward to what it will be, to meeting people I will never see again. There was a lot of pre-travelling reading involved, which I enjoyed. There have been photocopies of my passport I was more fond of than anything else; dinners alone in Singapore at 15, and an eagerness to leave mum and dad and sis wherever they were and me just going. There was escaping. It was a running away. The “I’ve got to go” is my valediction and it seems it is chasing me. Now, at 55, I’m petrified of sitting on a plane, next to someone who snores, burps, talks, or pulls and pushes and kicks my seat. I have now a system in place to protect me: I speak to the assistants, and I make very sure that they know I am on board. I am basically a pain. I fly once every couple of years but it feels like a whole household is moving, comprising of valet, attache, servants, helpers, maidens. Don't you worry: it is just me.

On the outside, I am all nice bag / nice jumper / nice trolley wrapped in fear and inside I am the old 15-year-old carefree girl who would just smile, sit and enjoy the journey. There is (there was?! Is he dead?) an Italian journalist, famous for his trips around the world meeting personalities, who always started his conversations with "it was me, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Elisabeth II, Barack Obama and Proust…" THAT kind of extemporaneous meetings around the world. In my case, it was me, my granddad, that American guy who invited me for dinner in Bahrain and sent me roses in Singapore, Pua, and a couple of guys from Grottammare, whom, of course, I fell in love with. Well, not both of them; only one and because he was tall, and lanky and had a cheeky smile and I was only 15 and so so far away from home. We met on an elephant ride on a rainy day. I was wearing a silk flowery reversible jacket, a pair of 1980’s jeans (ie: held together via a string… [eye rolling]) and a… gosh! pair of high heel shoes, taupe in colour, fake snakeskin… velvety and sexy on a pair of teenager's ankles that barely knew how to stand up. How I have not been abused, raped, beaten up and left for dead in the back of an alley somewhere in Asia, I don’t know. Who on earth chose the clothes for me that day?! But it was only me and granddad, and he never wore a tie. That was my kind of person.

I was talking today about this, some 40 years later, to sweet F. while having a glass of white wine sitting in her garden and watching koi carp enjoying themselves while her husband wondered about the number of water lilies and lotus flowers that would grow this summer. I was telling her how much I miss the old me. Every year, every new spring that comes around, I am here reminiscing and pining. Today it feels heavier and stronger than any other spring past. Today it dawns on me that I have been on a 40-year fast from life and there is a need to replenish that inner well, to cure my spiritual malady while addressing it a little bit every day.

(c) 2022 mtomat

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