So, she was laughing, seemingly uncontrollably.
I was on a LuxAir flight a few weeks ago. The Bombardier Q400 has two seats on either rows and two propellers on both engines. I was seated on the window seat of row 7 with the propellers a couple of metres away from my face with the hardened glass panes separating my skin from the metal of the blades. Yes, I was happy to have snagged the window seat because it was the dusk of a sunny September Dublin day. The sky had a strikingly deep hue of orange that I had barely seen before. The usual dusk is cloudy around here, and I would have been behind my desktop on an any other day. On unusual ones like this, I was peering out at the orange sunset. On a close second look, it seemed red, not orange. But then, where was the point of certain differentiation between orange and red? I should have clicked a picture. It was like a pit of coals on the horizon, burning without a shroud of ash around them. Burning clean, burning bright with it’s heat nothing more than ephemeral. No grandeur of a chariot, no fancy horses. Just the brightly coloured sky. I lean towards calling it red, rather than orange. Though I wish I had a picture, so you could see it and decide.
And that is when the plane took off. In most of the flights I’ve flown before, the take-off was marked by a sense of weightlessness, popping of the ears and a sense of accomplishment as a member of that remarkable species that has been successful in defying gravity.
But not this time. The take off was marked by intense laughter from a seat that was a few rows in front of me. She was hollering, from the moment the plane took off. She was laughing, seemingly uncontrollably. There were weird looks being thrown around by the rest of us. The laughter continued. I saw a few awkward smiles breaking out in the rest of the crowd. Everyone else was grinning too, except for those who had headphones and earphones on. In what I’d like to believe was a moment of genuine human connection, we were airborne. She stopped laughing after a while. I tried seeing her face, I couldn’t.
As we gained height, darkness enveloped the sky. Below was an orange hue of Dublin. Of those sodium vapour lamps, their glow between yellow and orange. I am not sure if they use sodium vapour lamps anymore, but the color reminds me of those. The same colour that was simmering on the edges of the evening sky is now below me. The oranges of Dublin, or of a far away Liverpool. The hues of the many English towns which I’ll pass over in a few minutes. The Bombardier Q400 flies at a lower altitude.
And out of nowhere, I wondered, what was she laughing about. It didn’t seem like nervous laughter, but it could have been. Stemming from the idea of flying in a metal canister a few thousand metres above the ground, with well dressed people inside who demonstrate how you can save yourself by blowing air into a life vest. Her laughter didn’t seem nervous, though, but of mockery. Mockery of the fact that from the metal canister, a lot of the cities look quite the same. Mocking at how each of them tries to separate itself from the others, only to end up looking like a bunch of bright orange-yellow grids from up there. The patterns of the hues may vary from Bangkok to Bath, but the colours seem similar. They are all the same from above. And maybe we are all the same too.
I then wondered if she was mocking me. At my inane romanticization of the ordinary. Of my privilege to wonder about her laughter. At the everyday events and at the seemingly absurd. Because it is indeed a privilege to be able to wonder fondly about the inconsequential. And to recollect it. To wonder about demarcations between orange and red. To fly over the cities of the world. To talk of hues and glows. To think of a Sufjan Stevens song and playing it on loop throughout the rest of the flight.
But I was making this about myself, yet again. I am the centre my perceptible universe. I wondered if this centre shifts when we try to see things from a different perspective. Is human empathy heavy enough to shift the gravitational centre to outside oneself. I looked for perspective now, so that I can understand the reason for her laughter.
It was probably the creaking noise of the propellers that had cracked her up. Or it could have been the collective laughs of all the people we flew over that night. People of quaint European towns living in their cosy homes. Or of the homeless and their guffaws at their despair of spending an October night under the dim glow of the orange hued street lamps. All of these echoing through her, in moments of disparaging passion, came out as uncontrollable laughter.
Her laughter did stop after a while. I wondered why, because the absurdity below hadn’t.