My eyes flit across the usual suspects as I stroll into the dank, humid atmosphere, coat still drenched from torrential rains. They stare back, knees trembling, clutching themselves, shrinking beneath my approach, each of them criminals, all of them capable of what so many others had failed to do already. Sure I’m the last, but am I here to punish or to salvage whatever’s left?
I stroll by each of them, prudently, deliberately, monitoring their reactions to my scrutiny as they’re strapped one-by-one into their metallic chairs. There’s the older man indisposed beneath a cowboy’s hat, reeking of bourbon, sitting so vaguely still to have his buzz last longer. His anesthetic cologne is wearing off, bleary haze filling and leaking a futile determination to forget that earlier letter from his only grand-daughter. Russian fables spill from his lips when he pictures me approaching, pitchfork and coffin dragging behind my back.
There’s an unkempt twenty-something dressed in last year’s fashions, shifting unnaturally, praying for the hour-by-hour discipline needed to survive her hunger without scratching at her infected rag-doll skin. She’s never sure whether to proffer herself to others for consumption, or to swallow herself like an Ouroboros. Somebody offers her something to eat, but she’s too distant to accept it. To her I’m just another shape with sharper, darker edges.
Now there’s the grizzled perv who’d lost his lover’s tuition to green velvet poker tables, not quite prepared to accept her unabashed forgiveness. An unrelenting silence fills the space between them, interrupted only by winces from a discreet sort of bruise hidden beneath her layers. Both of them wither well when confronted with my thunderous, contemptuous clapping between bleeding ears, insulated by these cabin walls.
I am judgment, I am a newcomer plastering my plea to a face obsequious enough for the rest to see, witness to their funneling concerns as they recognize me for who I am. And as I pass I can feel them digging their scythes into my trembling legs, their intensity reverberating off my body’s upper half like so many dirty prisms. Even my attendant has something definably sinister in his voice, as he tells me to take my seat.
Bourbon hell is stronger here. To my right sits the bourbon man himself, still glaring intently at my modest possessions. His hands, so greased, reek of so much sin that I turn away in disgust, clutching my duffel bag closer to my chest. Recognizing that he’s claimed my attention either way, the man sees fit to mutter, “I’m watching your shoes, Mohammad.” I can’t ignore this as the engines rev up, realizing full well that all I can expect is an on-time departure