The Agenbite of Inwit

by Maniza Naqvi Redpouch

She is startled awake by the sound of her own snore—a sense of falling—a sudden panic— the sensation of drool down the side of her mouth—the cold point on her forehead against the window– the plane seems to be dropping—she looks out of the window—where are they? Above the Congo — no must be just out of Lilongwe—she must've nodded off—The long road trips to several villages—starting out at six am and returning late in the evening and all the attendant turmoil of thoughts— The guilt of having three meals a day—and clean water– The Agenbite of Inwit—Coetzee—had it right——-last night on a narrow path—between fields on fire—stubs of maize, stalks set ablaze—and in the other blaze of headlights: children, fleeting sights—-Children catching fleeing mice, trapping them for food—-a special favorite treat. The SUV, rushing through the rising smoke, with its large aid logos, stamped on its sides. In it, peering through the haze outside, Coetzee, Mapanje in her head, one sentence after the next.——– she is caught there—suspended—repeating words—the Agenbite of Inwit—And tomorrow is another long day and then another long ride– back in the night—Confused she looks out into the darkness— — a large patch of lights below—are they approaching Addis already? That would mean she's slept the entire three hours — But the cramped seat—the shabby state of the seats does not fit what she is accustomed to on Ethiopian. But then the surly announcement just then—instructions about the seat belts meant to allay the fear of the abruptness of turbulence—brings her back—She is suspended ten thousand feet above the frozen space between Minneapolis and Washington DC—on United—-another two hours to go—they must have just flown over Chicago—-she can just make out that it's all frozen below.

The fear sets in for a moment just as it does over the Congo— the sight of the frozen lakes conjure up the same sensation as do dense green forests —what happens if she were to fall—into that wilderness—if the plane were to crash—This possibility she wills herself to banish from her thoughts—she must get her feet on the ground fast— she tries to lure herself back to sleep—wills a calmness to flow through every fiber and nerve—-she is afraid of flying—and yet it seems she is forever doing this.

Now she reaches for the Ativan…but remembers that the stewardess had taken her small pouch and stowed it away on account of the fact that the strap—during turbulence or something else— could be harmful and strangle someone. ‘Ma'am I'm going to have to take that away from you—and put that in the overhead compartment.' She had protested it was so small, easily tucked away between herself and the arm rest —‘No Ma'am. Please hand it over—it could get away from you during turbulence and the strap could strangle someone.' The flight attendant had pointed to the three inch by three inch worn claret colored velvet pouch with a strap.

The flight attendant had commanded her in raised voice which seemed to imply she would like witnesses in case they are needed—-and in a tone which bears the familiar overtones of outrage and self-righteous indignation that were in ample evidence in the terminal on the T.V news channels and she imagined that the tone implied that if she didn't comply immediately, the stewardess would summon the Air Marshall to pry the soft velvet pouch right out of her hands— then he would probably rip it's already ripped and much repaired and stitched linings—it innards– to verify it for not being a security threat and neutralize it so that it would not be able to become one—thus showing foresight and pre-empting a threat.

She wonders how it is that the stewardess had jumped to such a violent possibility of—strangulation—and switched the tone of voice so rapidly from one of the minimum required for civility to one of imminent menace—she had glanced at the person seated next to her—a man who doesn't care to get involved and is studying a magazine held close to his face. It was just a soft, old pouch——yet for the flight attendant when seen in the lap of someone like her—a strangulation device able to threaten the entire plane load of passengers. She hands over the small pouch containing her cellphone, lipstick, Ativan, cash and credit cards the softness of its leather still transmitting to her finger tips a comfort—soothing her anxiety in this impersonal environment. Flying the skies, unfriendly, lonely steeped in notions of violence and accusation.

She wonders how the flight attendant sees her when she looks at her. She knows what she sees when she looks at the flight attendant. She wonders if the flight attendant can see what she thinks of her in her eyes—her expression. She forgives the flight attendant after all it must be her training that provides her with this heightened perception of threat levels. The pouch has been removed from her possession –yet, she is allowed to keep the much larger and much heavier IPAD. After all, machines matter: they are the new friends and allies, they are safe; they are trustworthy, predictable, incapable of hurting—not human.

* * *

Other writing by Maniza Naqvi here.

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