The disembodied voice of the pilot is saying something about the weather in Melbourne. I tune out and turn towards the window. An inky night stretches to the horizon and I am suddenly aware of the distance separating me from the people who I said my goodbyes to the night before.
Amid the din of 80’s music, somewhere in the jungle humidity of Siem Reap, I laughed till my voice was reduced to barely a rasp. My throat burned with the echoing trail of cheap tequila and I held my friends close, knowing that our time together was drawing to a rapid end.
The safety video plays in its usually predictable way. Even though I’ve sat passively through the same animation countless times over, I would still be at a loss if things went south. The plane trembles as it begins to pull away. The tarmac, a dark silken ribbon, unravels beneath us. The miles between one set of friends increasing just as it decreases with another set anticipating my return to the sunburnt shores of Australia.
Hard to believe that it was only this morning that I awoke groggily and possibly still inebriated from the previous eve’s festivities, to the exuberant hammering of both Kapil’s voice and fists on the glass sliding door of my hotel room. He announces with his usual chuckle that his earlier flight had been cancelled so breakfast together could still be had. I peered through leaden eyelids at him, stumbled to the bathroom to exchange my sleepwear for swimwear and proceeded to throw myself headlong into the mirror calm of the saltwater pool of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. All this so I could begin to truly sober up and converse with Kapil over the breakfast table in some semblance of a coherent human being. Even then I struggled.
We meandered from topics of the amorous intentions amongst our tightly knit clutch of friends to colonialist attitudes within photojournalism and why the lovely staff at the FCC were so damned stingy with the mango plate. I nursed a burgeoning hangover armed with coffee, a multi-vitamin fizzy drink and coconut water. I could feel my cells gasping with the relief of hydration as I imagine them popping from the size of raisins to grapes.
Meanwhile, Kapil is chattering away about interesting ideas for photo books one minute and bemoaning the lack of appropriate boyfriends upon my horizon the next. He calls me “sizist” because of my preference for men that resemble crudely carved monoliths, no matter their skin colour, economic standing or sense of style - the usual parameters set by women in their superficial search for a mate. I interject and remind him that a warrior-like demeanor must also be accompanied with a strong sense of goofiness to seal the deal. What good are broad shoulders when you can’t have a laugh at your own expense?
After eating, turning my brain back on and drinking three or four different kinds of liquid, I whirl into a packing frenzy, check out of the hotel and head to the airport with Kapil and Sheila in tow, who appears out of nowhere looking tired and rather pleased with herself after a long night of debauchery. We only have to turn back once to retrieve Kapil’s luggage which he forgot to load into the car and ended up making it to his flight with several leisurely minutes to spare.
Two hours flying from Siem Reap to Singapore and 5 hours in transit later, here I am, tearing through the night sky at altitude towards Melbourne, still hungover and thankful for the ability to sleep uninterrupted for seven hour blocks on airborne vessels…