Hemingway’s Tower

“I’m sorry?” 

He turned away from the window to face the voice that had snapped him out of his daydream.

“I was just asking if this is your first time traveling with us.”

The woman before him was smiling. She had the kind of smile that was instantly disarming and you couldn’t help but be relaxed by it. The eyes had the same effect. Totally open with a disarming sparkle. Dressed in a neat burgundy uniform, she was the perfect representative to be on hand to greet travelers as they arrived and departed.

“Oh, no. Well, that is to say, it’s my first time since my first time. So technically my second time. But my first time going all the way.” he sheepishly replied.

“Would you mind if I see your boarding pass sir?” she asked.

“Sorry, of course.” he replied as he handed over the thin slip of card.

He let his eyes wander down her face as she scanned his boarding pass. She had that flawless complexion and classic bone structure that would have classed her as beautiful no matter what part of the world she was in. His eyes settled on her name badge. Paige Andrews, Client Services. She entered the credentials of the boarding pass into her tablet and handed it back.

“Thank you Mr Pryce. Sorry, Doctor Pryce. Everything is in order.”  She smiled that same disarming smile. “We should be boarding in about fifteen minutes and departure is right on schedule. The weather today is near perfect so you should have an amazing view. Please let me know if I can assist you with anything further, otherwise I shall see you on board.”

“Thank you.” he stammered as she walked away to welcome a group of travelers that had just entered the departure lounge.

As he surveyed the room and took in the various other people that would be on the flight, Dr Theodore Pryce couldn’t help but feel amazed that he was actually standing here and preparing to board what would be the most amazing trip he had ever taken. Theodore hated to use the term tourist, but that’s exactly how he felt. It was like he was a child of nine or ten on his first trip into a big city. Of course, he was no longer a child. Those years were just a distant memory, but at the age of sixty four, those memories were still vivid in his mind.

Theodore wandered the few steps back over to the expansive glazed wall that dominated the side of the departure lounge. A panoramic vista of arid desert stretched as far as he could see and he couldn’t help but bring his camera to his eye and capture that view in full HD splendor.

He wanted to take a photo looking up as well, but the deep shade structures overhead prevented it. 

Turning back, Theodore looked over the gaggle of passengers now clogging the departure lounge. A mix of people from different parts of the country had now found themselves in close quarters as they waited to get on board. Being a professor of anthropology, Theodore always found it interesting to observe people as they went about their individual daily rituals of life. 

There were a few tour groups huddled together with a mix mash of luggage all unified by the same bold yellow stickers and name badges that said in bright cheery letters ‘Hello, My Name Is…’.  Mingled between them were the families trying to maintain order over their excited children, the couples standing either engaged in hushed conversation or stoic silence, and the lone travelers lost in their own worlds of music piped through headphones that clung to their ears. Everyone had their own rituals, their own ways of dealing with the pressures of travel. Once on board however, those rituals would dissipate as they relaxed into their respective seats and waited for the first beverage service to begin.

Theodore was once again snapped out of his thoughts and observations by the sharp tone of the intercom announcing that boarding was about to begin.

He gathered up his battered case, secured his swinging camera, and proceeded to join the cacophony of travelers as they made their way through the gate and into the cabin.

To say that the cabin was spacious would be an understatement. With large panoramic windows, a high curved ceiling, and spacious seating, the cabin resembled a first class lounge on a cruise ship. Theodore took his assigned seat and stowed his case. As other passengers got settled, the chaos of boarding settled into a low murmur of conversation as the flight attendants did their rounds helping those in need.

As the attendants spread themselves around the cabin in readiness to demonstrate the safety procedures, Theodore was delighted to see that a familiar face would be assigned to his section of the cabin. With that same disarming smile, Paige and her fellow attendants soon had the rapt attention of all the passengers, not least of which a very attentive professor in the front row.

Following the safety procedures, Paige’s sonorous voice broke the low murmur of the passengers chatter.

“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the cabin crew I’d like to welcome you aboard and wish you all a very relaxing flight. We will be opening the viewing panels in a moment, but for the first few minutes of the journey we kindly request that you don’t wander too far from your seats until you become accustomed to the motion in the cabin.  Some have described the sensation as something akin to sea sickness, but please don’t be alarmed. The sensation will pass quickly. After that please feel free to move around the cabin.”

With the pleasantries in progress, a low hum permeated the cabin as the upper and lower viewing panels were uncovered. Theodore now had a stunning two hundred and seventy degree view stretching down to the ground and up to the sky. He had to fight back the urge to bring his camera out, after all, there would be plenty of opportunity during the flight.

Theodore reclined back and took in the tapering structure above him and smiled.

“If there is anything you need,” Paige continued “please do not hesitate to call on your attendant. As a matter of interest, our flight will take just ninety minutes and, with such clear conditions, you will have a truly wonderful view for the entire trip. We have received our clearance for departure and will be on our way in a few moments. Once again, I’d like to welcome you all aboard and wish you a pleasant journey.”

As Paige and her colleagues took their seats, the low hum increased slightly and the cabin began its vertical rise to geosynchronous orbit. In ninety minutes the magnetic friction drive would propel the cabin from ground level to Hemingway Station, 35,786 kilometers above the equator. Theodore let the gentle g-forces sink him deeper into his leather reclining chair as he watched the vista of the earth retreat beneath him. Looking up at the delicate taper of the cables extending into the blueness of the sky, Dr Theodore Pryce smiled.

This journey was only just beginning…

Across a crowded room…

She sat at the table with a quietness about her that was at total odds to the cacophony of noise around her. It was for this reason that my eyes were drawn to her. 

Amid the chaos and chatter of the restaurant was a table of two couples. Each had their meal in front of them and each was engaged in consuming their meal, but it was the way in which this woman held herself that caught my attention.  She wasn’t blindly eating away. She was measured in her eating. Each bite was purposeful. Each movement elegant.

She had a kind of Diane Keaton-esque quality. A frame of shoulder length greying straight hair that slightly tousled at the ends as it draped onto her shoulders. With streaks of varying shades of grey through black, with a peppering of white, the closest approximation was that of charcoal. 

Although she was certainly into her twilight years, her face did not reveal her age. Maybe she was in her seventies, but the lack of wrinkles presented as someone younger.

Her eyes were weary. Not heavy or tired exactly, but just weary. Perhaps her life had been hard. Perhaps she had seen things in her life that not many others had experienced. Her eyes had the look of a life well lived. Of a life appreciated. Behind a pair of black framed glasses, the eyes gave a glimpse into her soul. But it was a protected glimpse, as if the glasses were somehow able to conceal her true emotions at that time and in that place and would only allow those she chose to see beyond them.

I watched her eat. A bite brought to thin lips. No lipstick. Each fork contained just the right amount of food. Not piled high and quickly consumed. Her chewing was deliberate, as if each bite were to be her last. Without giving away any reaction, I could see that each mouthful was given its due consideration.

Her hands were thin yet graceful. Fingers clutching the cutlery gently yet firmly. Long and tapered, did she play piano? Was she an artist? I couldn’t help but wonder. She presented, for all intents and purposes, as a woman of quality. Of experience. Of refinement.

As I lay here writing this description, I can picture her in my mind as I saw her earlier. The greying hair, the glasses, the soulful and weary eyes. I had never thought of myself as a ‘people watcher’ and yet I found myself zoning out from the conversations at the table and focusing on this woman. It was at that moment that I had the sense that she was doing the exact same thing. I could tell that her mind had wandered away from the conversation of her companions. She appeared lost in thought. Her thoughts. Her memories. Thoughts that were withheld as private, known only to her. Memories lived a lifetime ago and remembered with a wistful longing of a life well lived.