Xing Jun Ng
I remember the first time we saw each other. We were five and eight, peering out from behind the giants of our parents. You were probably too young to remember, but I recall the way your wide eyes froze, gaze flying to the black-eyed susans in my mother’s prize-winning flower patch. I spun around to find a Migrant Hawker resting on my nose, and yelped as I flailed my arms. I heard you laugh, and when our eyes met, I laughed too, the beating of dragonfly wings in our hearts and heads.
One afternoon when your mother came over for tea, I looked up from my crayons and saw you dancing around the room with a toy plane in hand and you told me you dreamt of flying. “So do I”, I said, and it was not quite a lie, for my hands were colouring in the brown of your aviator goggles, your red scarf flapping in the wind as you flew. It was a different kind of dreaming, but that didn’t really matter. Later, when we giggled through Greek mythology, you told me how stupid Daedalus had been to make wings out of wax and feathers. When Ms. Seccombe slid Da Vinci’s sketches of gliders on the projector, I read wonder in the ‘O’ of your lips and I smiled back at you.
Everyone in school knew you, you with the thud of helicopter rotors in your pulse, your head in the clouds. The school counsellor was not surprised when you said you wanted to join the Air Force. But you were, by the empty bewilderment on your face when he asked you what your Plan B was. I kissed you later that night, and with mischief dancing in my lips told you that I would be your A, B, C and all the letters you needed. While I dissected cadavers in med school, you wrote to me about how well your pilot training was going, that soon you’d be certified to fly planes with 180 horsepower and with four seats! Wasn’t that something? If only you had more money to pay for tuition. Neither of us were dripping in gold. I waitressed tables in that café with the broken signboard, its green twist of light seen only a few times a week on my night shift. Mrs. Robacheaux never cut off the power. “Hope, Laure”, she’d arch an eyebrow at me as she roasted the morning’s Arabica beans, “is what keeps this place running”. “That, and caffeine”, then she’d bark out a laugh and I’d join in good-naturedly.
You worked too, side-jobs like bartending and running rides at Sunnyside. Do you remember that time when I drove 8 hours to see you? I came to visit you at the park, and we rode The Revolution when your shift was up. We stood in that circular cage, bright eyes connecting with the Indian family huddled across from us. We began to spin, faster and faster until the mechanical arm rose and we were tilted on our side, forced against the wall by the inertia of our bodies. I could barely turn my head against the weight of us spinning round and round, but you grinned at me and yelled as you thrust your arms out. It was the closest I ever came to flying.
I don’t know what you remembered. All those years we lay in bed together, squashed together on my single dormitory bed, my auburn hair splayed across your shuddering chest on the morning you learnt that you were two inches short of joining the Air Force. The times on the double we assembled from Ikea after your first paycheck from the airline. Me stumbling onto the queen after drinks to celebrate my first operation, but you were already asleep by then. All the while our bed grew wider, and with it the space between our sleeping bodies. By the time we upgraded to the king, I secretly asked myself why we hadn’t just pushed two singles together, and wondered if you were thinking the same. Only our Vicky, taking a hand from both of us, bridged that space in between, her little body covering the crack that had appeared in the mattress.
Vicky, still small, still girlish, still skittish. Our Vicky, gone off to college in a month’s time. I wonder if you will notice her absence from forty thousand feet in the sky, my globetrotting husband flying from one country to the next, never staying in one place for long. No, I don’t think you will miss her, not the way I miss you, my pilot in the clouds. It’s why I’ve been speaking to the lawyer. The separation period will be over soon. It will be a no-fault application, no fault on either side of the bed.
Outside the window, a vapour trail streaks across the winter sky. It is white on white, and invisible unless you are looking for it like I am. It is not your plane, I know. You have not landed in our city for many months now, because in your heart I know you had always envied Icarus, always looking to the sun, never looking down. You know better than to land here. Now I may not be a figure out of dream and legend, but I am a doctor, and from here I can tell you that Icarus died not because he flew too close to the sun, not because the wax dripped from his wings, but because when he fell, he was too high in the sky, too far from earth.