Thomas remained absorbed in his game all the way to the gate and then even onto the plane. He walked with his Nintendo DS clutched tightly in his hands, and moved with the speed of an elderly arthritic man with only one leg. I didn’t mind, though, as long as he was moving. I tried to subtly nudge him in the right direction and away from people and walls. I felt like his puppet master.
After an hour or so at the gate, our group was called to board. Thomas responded to basic commands, such as ‘Up Thomas,’ but he was still engrossed in his electronic fields and farming duties. I flashed the tall and impeccably dressed attendant our passes and passports, and he waved us through.
We stepped off the walkway and into the plane, and the stewardess smiled, glanced at our boarding passes, and pointed in the direction of our seats. I didn’t know if the enclosed environment was going to be good or bad for Thomas. I didn’t know if he was going to feel penned in or appreciate the smaller, cozier atmosphere of the plane. We didn’t have the privilege of business or first class, so it was going to be a bit tight.
I put my hand on Thomas’ shoulder. “Here we are, Thomas.” There were three blue seats to our left, and we had the two nearest the window. “Did you want the window seat or the middle seat?”
“Just sit down, I’ll be next to you,” he replied, tapping the buttons on the DS.
I took the bag from my shoulder and put it on the floor space by the window. I then helped Thomas with his bag and put it down next to mine.
We both sat down.
I watched more passengers file in down the aisles, carefully reading the row numbers to find their seat. I wondered if Thomas was going to play his game for the entire flight, too, but this was answered with a declaration of victory.
“I did it!” Thomas exclaimed. He punched me on the shoulder. “I killed the bastard.”
“The dragon? No. I killed him ages ago. I just killed the Hydra.”
“Oh, well congratulations, mate. Job well done.”
Thomas flicked the switch on the DS and turned it off. In one fluid motion he slid it into his jacket pocket. He then glanced down the aisle and watched some passengers loading the overhead compartments. The colour drained from his face. “Where are we?”
“We’re on the plane, Thomas.”
He shifted in his seat so he could see towards the back of the aisle. “So this is what it looks like.”
“Yeah,” I stated, confused. “What did you expect?”
He shrugged. “Crates? People dressed in military outfits.”
“I don’t think we’re on that kind of plane, Thomas,” I explained. “Haven’t you been on a plane before? Oh, that’s right,” I realized. “You didn’t fly to France did you?”
He jerked around in his seat and appeared to be staring deep into my ear canal. “We took the ferry. How’d you know about France?”
“Your parents told me about it.”
“Of course they did,” he seethed. “I bet they told you about the zoo, too?”
“As a matter of fact,” I said unsure, “they did.”
“Would you mind facing the front?” I asked. “You’re kind of creeping me out.”
Thomas spun in his seat. “I’m sorry. They just make me so mad.” He leaned forward and pressed his head against the back of the chair in front.
I tried to console him. “I don’t think they were making fun of you, Thomas. They were just telling me about the other times that you’ve traveled.”
Thomas’ ears had turned red. “They always talk about my independence, but they always imprison me by telling people this stuff about my life.”
I leaned forward to put my forehead on the seat in front, too. “How does that imprison you?”
“When they share moments from my past with people that ended up leading to my embarrassment, they deny me that privilege of sharing a personal anecdote with who I want, when I want, and in my own context. By denying me that choice they give me less options in my personal life, and you may not know this, but I find it hard to be social anyway.”
I laughed and sat back in my seat. Thomas punched me in the leg, but he was smiling. “I’m sure there’s still plenty for you to talk about. For example, why the hell were you taking pictures of everyone at the zoo?”
“It only seemed fair. I wanted them to experience what the animals do every single day of their existence. I didn’t care about the photos, as such. I mean what was I going to do with all those pictures of ugly humans?”
Any previous apprehension of accompanying Thomas through the airport was lost in a fit of gut laughter. “Oh, that’s brilliant, Thomas!” I said, wiping my eyes. “Thank you for that.”
Thomas sat back in his seat with a curious smirk on his face.
“Here’s another question for you. Why the hell did you have nunchuks in your carry-on luggage?”
His brow furrowed and he glanced down at my knee. “Well, they’re mine. I thought the whole point of packing your things in your bag, was that you could pack your things in your bag.”
I nodded. “This is true. But if there’s anything that could be used as a weapon in your bag, of course they’re going to ask questions, just in case you try to use it to take over the plane.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Well, if you were a terrorist and wanted to take over the cockpit, for example.”
“To reiterate. Why would I do that?”
“Security doesn’t know who you are. They don’t know if you’re a terrorist. That’s why they search everyone and confiscate anything threatening, or call the police if it’s too serious.”
Thomas’ mouth hung open and he ran his tongue back and forth under his upper teeth. “If I was going to hijack a plane, I wouldn’t use nunchuks. Look at all these people on here.” He snickered, “You couldn’t swing a yoyo, let alone nunchuks.”
The plane was filling up. It was getting harder and harder to spot empty seats. The lines of people shuffling down the aisles had dissipated, and now only stragglers appeared, sweaty and red-faced, carrying their cases out in front.
“So, why did you go and hide in the toilet, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Hide?” he replied, shocked. “I wasn’t hiding. I was angry and just trying to pull myself together. When the lady took my bag and started poking around in it, I started to lose it.”
I wanted to clarify. “So you weren’t hiding?”
He turned to face my chin. “Hiding implies that I’m trying to avoid an enemy or something. I just needed the world to piss off for an hour while I played my game in peace and quiet.”
That made sense, in a Thomas sort of way. “In a toilet. In the middle of a busy airport,” I added.
“Wherever,” he shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.” He pointed to my shopping bag. “Is that Jack Daniels?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I picked it up while you were telling the world to piss off for an hour.”
“Do you mind if I have a sip?”
“Umm,” I considered the question. We were on holiday, sort of. “Sure. I think I’ll join you. I didn’t think you really touched alcohol?”
His eyes glistened as I pulled the bottle from the bag. “I don’t usually,” he said. “But after the morning I’ve had, it’s obligatory, wouldn’t you say?”
I laughed. “I believe it is, Thomas.” I wound the bottle seal loose, and tossed the plastic wrapper into the shopping bag. “Just out of curiosity,” I pressed, “who have you decided to be as you pretend you’re somebody else to help you deal with this trip?” I passed the bottle to Thomas’ receptive hand.
“I’ve given it some thought, Matthew, and I think I’ll just have a go at being myself.”