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An Aisle Seat to Vladivostok

Awaiting departure from Seoul on Vladivostok Air: I look to see whether the plane is a Boeing or an Airbus. I now incorrectly recall reading “Vulva” embossed near the tail wing as I traversed the open hatch and boarded. I know the plane can’t be named “Vulva,” but I like the idea that it could.

The plane is nearly empty. The upholstery is a faded and frayed light blue with a darker light-blue, lightening-like pattern stitched through the fabric. It is a throwback to a failed and oppressive Soviet state. My seat is occupied by a stocky woman in her sixties with overly red, shortly cropped and disheveled hair. She seems fixated paging through the in-flight magazine. An equally zaftig stewardess barrels down the aisle and promptly checks my boarding pass. She sternly instructs the woman in my seat to move. The other two seats in the row and most of the seats around us are empty. The woman rolls the magazine into one hand, and before hoisting herself up with the other she faintly coughs twice. She then tumbles into the middle seat. I methodically wedge myself into the now vacated seat, soon finding myself lodged up against her while looking around at all the empty seats. I deliberately crane towards her, thinking that I could not more clearly indicate for her to move to the window. There is no reaction.

My seat cushion is lopsided. Neither the overhead lights nor knobs to turn on the air vents work. The buttons on the armrest are illuminated in Cyrillic. All the seatback pockets within sight are bare of any inflight reading materials apart from the aircraft safety card. The woman seems to be reading the only copy.

Another young and blonde stewardess in a stained uniform purposively traipses down the aisle passing back and forth a blue tray with individually wrapped hard candies evenly spread across the surface to make it appear like there are more candies than there are. The wrappers are all the same color. The woman next to me momentarily diverts her attention from the magazine and reaches over me to gladly clutch a handful. I scan the tray and deliberately pick one as if it were somehow special. I squeeze it between my thumb and forefinger hoping that it could have a soft center, but it doesn’t. The thin, silver wrapper crackles over my fingertips as I pop out a hard honey square onto my back teeth. I immediately grind it into sweet jagged shards. The taste is nondescriptly pungent but not anything recognizable, and the more I try to identify it I become bothered that the only thing I can recall is the smell of dried semen on my crusted childhood mattress.

The young stewardess soon returns going the same way up the aisle towards us, but this time she is fashioning a pale yellow basket in which passengers dispense their used candy wrappers. The woman next to me ignores this as she’s now seemingly transfixed on a trifold map of Russia protruding from the back cover of the inflight magazine.

A few rows down and across the narrow aisle, a woman in her twenties stands up and opens the overhead compartment and then begins shuffling through a bag. Now in full view, her arms sway above her unintentionally lifting her shirt and revealing her naval. From her thighs up through her torso she is firm, her naked pelvis smooth and tan. Her hair is died jet-black, and it is stiffly cut around her sternly sharp yet innocently unaware pale face. She is not profoundly beautiful yet she exudes a lustful exoticness. She could be from nowhere else but Far East Russia, where the centuries bleed into harsh remnants but are exalted by a dizzying abundance of unearthed femininity.

An American pilot surprises me when his slightly southern brogue bellows over the PA. He announces that we are commencing our final approach. Unprecedentedly, he warns to not be alarmed by our imminent landing. He informs us that Vladivostok’s airstrip is one of the roughest in the world. The plane soon thuds down the tarmac after which the scattered passengers endearingly applaud. Many immediately split open their seatbelts despite the semi-audible announcement to keep them buckled being muffled by the aircraft’s tumbling down the runway.

Through the windows across the aisle a utility vehicle flashes a yellow light and parks below the cockpit. Our terminal bus is driving towards us. On the runway a militantly uniformed man and two women are already waiting to greet us. One of the women cradles a clipboard. Both are propped up in overly stylish boots.

I undue my seatbelt, and as I am about to alight I am surprised to hear the woman next to me blurt out in feeble English, “Help me.” I must look startled as I turn towards her, and she says it again, “Help me.” It is then when I realize that she is unable to dislodge the buckle to undue her seatbelt.

Without thinking I thrust one hand upon the buckle and the other between the belt and her flabby side. She is properly stuck in her seat. After a few tugs and a yank and two faint exacerbated coughs from the woman the seatbelt promptly comes undone. She may or may have not said “Thank you,” I was already gone.

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