Stickman Readers' Submissions July 24th, 2014

Night Flight to Singapore

I ducked out of the Terminal 5 concourse and into the sanctuary of a small coffee shop I hadn’t noticed on previous trips. I ordered an Americano, with an extra shot. It was going to be a long flight, and I was going to write, so I thought the caffeine was a good idea. I figured the frequent trips to the toilets at the back of the plane would be a hedge against DVT too.

I sought out a dark quiet corner of the coffee shop and settled into my seat. The view looked back out through the glass walls of the terminal building. Despite the late hour it was still light, the sky a military shade of grey. Planes reached up, giant mechanical beasts sporting the liveries of their homelands, lifting their creators to places far across the oceans.

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Comfortably settled into the low-slung leather armchair, I started to appreciate just how busy it had been out on the concourse. I had a couple of hours to kill before my flight, due to depart around midnight, but I already had my MacBook Air and notebook and pen laid out on the table in front of me, and the baristas would keep me suitably fuelled.

I sipped the hot, bitter drink and reflected on all that had happened over the previous two years. It had been as busy as hell workwise. A number of challenging contracts had been completed. New technology had been wrestled with. Problems got made to go away. Money found its way into my bank account. But that’s all it had been, just work. Every few years I needed to re-evaluate my life, and the best way to do that in my experience was to travel.

But travel to me wasn’t two weeks on the beach in some God-forsaken “resort”. It meant to go to the other side of the world and immerse myself for months in a different culture, where the people ate spicy food, thought in ways I could not fathom, and worshipped strange Gods in incense-infused temples.

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Sure, Singapore was no Timbuctu, but it was a start. From there I could take the train up through Malaysia and into Thailand, stopping along the way to explore the small smoky jungle villages, or just beachcomb the shell-covered hot white sands. Or maybe I would head out to the Sulu Sea, and float like an embryo in its amniotic waters, the ancient life circling with a mixture of curiosity, fear and hunger.

There were other places that tempted me too – Hong Kong, Macau, Penang, Bangkok perhaps. All colourful noisy melting pots, where I could walk the steaming streets at night, the rain-soaked sidewalks reflecting the neon lights, the smell of roast chicken and wood smoke mixed with traffic fumes and open sewers. All places where a man could lose himself, go off-grid, at least for a few hard-earned months.

I took another sip of my drink, and looked around the nearly empty coffee shop. Behind the counter the baristas busied themselves cleaning up with an urgency that heralded an end of shift. Only for them it would all begin again the next day, each

trapped in their own personal Groundhog Day.

Of course, I could have been at my home, fast asleep in my bed, while the owls floated across the dark downs like ghosts. Or perhaps stoking the open fire and sipping a single-malt. I could’ve done with a wee dram right there and then. But there was still time to do some duty-free shopping – I suspected a bottle of The Dalmore would be finding its way into my carry-on. That and maybe a bottle or two of Johnnie Walker Black Label. I couldn’t stand the stuff, but it was kind of universal currency in Asia. A useful aid to lubricating covert border crossings, not that I envisaged any on this trip, but you never knew.

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Thinking of that open fire back home and my cosy, well-worn armchair, I had to ask myself The Question – the one I asked myself every time I hopped on a plane – why?

The answer was still the same.

Travel was like holding up a mirror on my life. Only when I left my current existence completely could I gain perspective on it. It could then be examined and prodded and dissected, and evaluated coldly, like a corpse on an mortuary table. You can’t do that when you are still in the old life, it’s like trying to pull your trousers on without lifting your feet.

Of course it is under this dispassionate gaze that the holes in your life start to appear. And the insanity of it all. The nine-to-fivetil- you-die death march so many of us live, and call life. You know then it’s time to get out.

I drained the last of my coffee, packed up, and headed to the duty-free area. That Dalmore seemed to be calling me.

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