As told by Jonathan
It’s been a tenuous few weeks proving I’m worth my salt as a captain. Of particular concern to me has been sticking my landings. In Kigali I realized too late that I was higher than I should’ve been on my final approach. I had to make a hard landing that I was not in the least bit proud of. Nonetheless my first officer was accommodating, but it hasn’t been so on all flights. There are first officers who know I’m a new to the E190 as captain and want to school me on the craft like I didn’t take my training. I’ve had to shut that nonsense down.
It hasn’t been all grind though. There’s been some excitement. I’ve enjoyed a dawn take off the most. Time seems to move faster when the sun is coming up. There are some opportune moments though, when the golden rays hit the flight deck just right to produce a prism effect that can’t be replicated in the same lifetime. I live for those views, that novelty, the adrenaline rush of pushing the thrust lever and feeling this magnificent beast lift off the ground and cut through the air like Captain America’s shield.
I’ve had fun with my inflight announcements too. I had a great time on a flight to Livingstone telling fun facts about the four corners of Africa where the borders of Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet. I knew I’d hit the spot when I heard murmurs of excitement erupt in the cabin. Some tourists even came up to me when we landed and thanked me for a fun flight. That has made it well worth it.
I don’t remember ever feeling anxious to get back from a flight. The thrill has always been out there, not back home. Some days I longed to get back to my bed but even those were sullied by sporadic periods of insomnia. Now I am eager for the return leg of every flight, knowing that I’ll land soon and Mel will be somewhere close by. Sometimes, like this weekend, she’s at my house, and others she’s at hers, but there no borders between us. I can reach her if I want to and that’s enough for now.
Last night I was on the balcony drumming my fingers on the railing. She came out, slipped her cold fingers under my shirt and wrapped herself around me. I flinched and turned around to lean on the railing. She was wearing my sweatshirt and her cotton slippers. I pulled her into my arms and wrapped the fleece blanket I had on my shoulders around her. Her squiggly hair peeked out from the satin scarf I bought her. Her skin glowed, freshly washed with water lily scented soap. When I lifted her chin, her breath quickened. I brought my forehead to hers, rubbed the tip of her nose with mine and caught a whiff of the minty mouthwash in her breath.
I’ve never felt so content. I wondered why this isn’t enough for her and it twisted me up inside. Left me feeling black and blue, like the midnight sky above. I took the length of three songs to feel mighty sorry for myself. Then I shook it off, and went back to figuring out what a salary upgrade, a mortgage and a baby on the way mean for my bank account.
“Hey, what do you think the view is like from that block over there?” I turned to my side so that she could see it.
“Mmh. I don’t know,” she said scrunching up her nose. “Why?”
“I think they still have some three bedroom units for sale in phase two. Maybe I can upgrade the mortgage or something.” She looked up at me, an indiscernible emotion swelled in her eyes for a fleeting moment, and then it was gone. “We could go see them, if you’d like.”
She nodded. “I would like that.”
“Good,” I said. “I’ll look into it next week.”
Mel’s head is resting on my lap with her fingers curled into the sleeves of a heavy cream sweater. We were both wiped out from staying up late so we slept in. Since she can’t stand the smell of eggs anymore, we had cereal for breakfast. Now we’re just lounging on the couch listening to Lauren Daigle because it’s Sunday, my day off. But also because every now and then my soul thirsts and it helps to quench it with praise music.
I spent a whole year in Addis Ababa feeling stuck. Stuck in a contract I had to sign to keep my job; stuck in a city away from my friends and family; stuck in a personal plateau with no prospect of a relationship. And I spent a great deal of time feeling lousy about being stuck. Addis was a wilderness. There was nothing but emptiness there.
Then I landed back in Kenya and everything came at me like a flash flood in a desert. The good mixed in with the bad. Why make it easy on me? Ha-ha. I’ve had to remind myself to resist feeling overwhelmed when I’m the one who prayed for my cup to overflow. I think it’s plain bad manners to now feel lousy about being unstuck. So I’m taking it all in stride.
Mel is not showing yet so I have this incessant need to keep touching her belly. She puts her hand over mine and looks up at me with a smile.
“What?” she asks.
The idea that there’s a baby in there that’s a little bit of me and her is still blowing my mind. If not for the prenatal vitamins arranged on her nightstand, I’d forget entirely. I know mom will be elated I’m finally starting a brood of my own. It’s my old man I don’t know about. I suspect he’ll look up from the business section of the newspaper just long enough to blight me with indifference. That is, as long as I don’t ask him for anything.
He is a proud man from the generation of men that believes fatherhood ends when children attain their education. He’s proud of the premier schools he could afford my sisters and me, which really just means he’s proud of himself. I’ll be damned if I give him a reason to remind me of every penny he sunk into flying school for me.
“Nothing,” I shake my head.
I want to tell her things, but my mind is in the state of a ball of yarn after a cat has had its way with it. I want to tell her about the dissonance in my head that’s keeping me from fully investing my emotions in her, in us. On one hand, she smiles at me like I am the sun around which her world revolves. On the other hand, she has a fella waiting in the wings for when we don’t work out, like what we have needs a failsafe.
But then, maybe I shouldn’t blame her. She didn’t ask for this. If I hadn’t fancied myself the pullout aficionado we wouldn’t be juggling all these balls. Perhaps with more time I would have won her over without foisting the fruit of my loins on her. Of course I could have taken the pregnancy news better. I could’ve waited for her to tell me. I didn’t need to bring shit I heard at the club home.
“How were you going to tell me?” I ask.
“Huh?” she looks up at me puzzled.
“How were you going to tell me that you’re pregnant?”
“Oh,” she rests her head back on my lap. Then she thinks better of it and sits up. “I hadn’t figured it out. I didn’t know whether you would want it, so I didn’t make any elaborate plans. I was just going to wait for the moment that felt right.”
I know now that I had as much part to play as she did in robbing us of that right moment. And I would tell her that, if I enjoyed eating crow. But I don’t, and I won’t.
“Well, when the doctor gives us the A-OK we can do dinner or something, just the two of us,” I say. She has been adamant that she wants to wait until the twelfth week before we celebrate.
She says okay with a resigned shrug.
“What? What is it?”
She ponders a moment too long and then she sighs. “I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed in me.”
“I feel like you have expectations of me that I can’t meet. I’m in a conflicted space right now. I don’t want to be, but it is what it is.”
I am in a conflicted space of my own so I can understand that.
“Eer…I wouldn’t say expectations per se,” I take her hand. “I don’t have any expectations of you. I’m just trying to do right by you and I am hoping, that you’ll do right by me as well.”
She turns towards me and tucks one heel into her inner thigh while her other leg swings off the couch.
“I need time and space…and by space I don’t mean distance. I’m not asking to go on a break, or not talk or not see each other. I’m just saying, hold onto whatever you like about me while I go through this transition, or rather, grow through this transition. It may not seem like it and I know you’ll have doubts, but if you just hold onto the person you know me to be, I promise I’ll come back to that person. Does that make sense?” she asks, eyes wide with earnestness. I rub the back of her hand with my thumb. I am apprehensive and she can feel it. “I know it’s a big ask, but if you do this for me, we’ll come out the other side the better for it.”
In times of great strife or mirth, the tests of character stick out like a sore thumb. The lessons are easy. They are either endurance or temperance. The true test of character does not come emblazoned on big tragedies or great fortunes. It comes woven in a simple request and finds you sitting on the couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It comes like a thief in the night and if you’re a man of faith, and have kept watch like the Messiah urged, you catch it. This is one such test, one that I have failed many times before and that many men have failed before me.
Mel has posed a question to me whose answer will be a reflection of my character. Will I accord her, the woman I love, the grace to work out the kinks on her journey, and will I do so in a graceful manner?
I have been in situations that have called for me to watch in silence and allow things to run their course. Before, I didn’t know how to identify such situations. Even if by fluke I was able to recognize what was required of me, I didn’t know how to be still. I didn’t know how to keep my ego out of the way and stop making somebody else’s experience about me. About my own fears and the personal dysfunction that subconsciously dictates how I make my decisions. So I failed.
Now, I have a chance to have another go at it. I’m going to do what I never would have dreamt of doing yesterday. I’m going to say yes, no questions asked. Then I’m going to wait it out, patiently, because the strength is in the patience.
If it swings my way, I will have earned her loyalty. But if it doesn’t, I will rest assured that I chose my highest self today. I was graceful, and that’s the character I choose to display.
“All right,” I say. “You do what you have to do.”
Taste of Mel continues next week.17