I don’t like this seat. The middle one. Row 17. For a moment, I find it strange that Row 17 exists on flights. Then, I remember that this number is supposed to bring bad luck only in Italy. Row 13 is missing on flights. Not 17. Your outlook changes when you travel.
To my right, black suit, tie with thin pink stripes, expensive-looking cerulean shirt. Business man, black Tom Ford spectacles. He could be anything between 30 and 120 years old. But. There is a “but” in this story. He is reading Manga comics on his pearl iPad and to proceed, he actually moves back. Let me explain: instead of turning the pages from right to left, his clean, tapered fingers flick from left to right. When you travel, your reference points – forward, backward – collapse.
To my left, she is reading a real book, made of paper. It’s in French, and becoming almost cross-eyed, I discover that it is a novel about some strange family secrets. The main characters are Anita, Benny and Astrid. Their story must be captivating: the brunette does not move a muscle for the short flight duration. She embodies Relativity: she travels in relation to the globe, but also travels with Astrid, Anita and Benny, who knows in which countries, and through which family dynamics. In the row in front of me sits a very intriguing trio.
The aisle seat is occupied by a Christmas sweater, similar to Bridget Jones’ one, but without the usual reindeers. It’s not December now, but it’s Christmas in Astrid’s, Benny’s and Anita’s book. He has a cleft chin; I see it when he gets up to go to the toilet. And he has exactly the same watch the Manga reader has. Precisely. The. Same. Model. And they know it too: they recognise each other. They smile at each other. Faraway, but so close. In such a small world, sooner or later, in the midst of all these trajectories drawn by airplanes in the skies, we meet, we recognise each other, without crashing into each other.
Sitting by the window, a pair of huge ears. Inside them, orange sound-cancelling plugs. The ears are attached to a head covered with dark hair. His mouth is moving. He prays, maybe. He talks to himself, perhaps. In fact, neither, but I will find it out only at the end of the flight. He has a manual in Dutch in his hands and he is studying French. One day, will he read Astrid’s, Benny’s and Anita’s lives?
In front of the Manga reader, there is somebody that will accompany me from Copenhagen to Amsterdam to Torino. We share the same nationality, the same passion for black clothes, and the same path within a thousand possible ones, across this beautiful Europe of ours. On the second flight, we will seat besides each other: we will put up a stern fight against the minute seats they gave us and we will find out that he lives in a small town – one among countless variable – just outside Torino where some of my university friends live. For a palpable fear of the Possible, I am not asked my friends’ names and I do not provide them.
I am extremely fascinated by other travellers that constantly cross my path, my paths. I often stop to listen to their conversations, if I understand their language. I often observe them and I try to identify the least noticeable similarities and differences. What leads us to recognise each other in the eyes of someone that comes from the other side of the world, but who likes the same watch model? What are the chances that, on the same flight, there is someone that is reading a book in French about something happening at Christmas, and is sitting a few seats across from someone wearing a Christmas sweater besides someone that is learning French? Why isn’t that traveller learning Danish, for instance? We move and go over our footsteps like figure skaters, in different lives? In different times? What if all those separations they force on us were only empty conventions? Time. Passports. What do we really leave behind, when this flight is over? An idea of us. Our perfume. A plastic bottle. A manual in French.