Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Ties That Bind – Part VI

Chapter 6 – To another Shore

In which the always fascinating Juldeh Holland travels to a distant land and crosses paths with the irrepressible Jesus Shuttlesworth

And now, all in my own countree,
I stood on the firm land !
The Hermit stepped forth from the boat,
And scarcely he could stand.

`O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!'
The Hermit crossed his brow.
`Say quick,' quoth he, `I bid thee say--
What manner of man art thou?'

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale ;
And then it left me free.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns :
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from land to land ;
I have strange power of speech ;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me :
To him my tale I teach.

-Excerpt from Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Juldeh was deep in thought, pondering the existential reality that was his life, and he was feeling a twinge of fear. He knew that most people never really knew the meaning of fear. The thought of change could induce a cold, clammy fear in even the most hardened of people, but this fear was foreign to him. Juldeh had always prided himself on having mastered his fears. He'd had no choice. His father had always being strict and had impressed upon Juldeh the importance of stoicism in the face of adversity and the futility of fear as an emotion. His father had been somewhat distant and strict, and it had being his mother who he'd been really close to. Nevertheless, the lessons he'd learned from his father had stayed with him throughout his short life so far. They'd kept him alive. They'd kept him on an even keel. They'd kept him from getting caught in the undertow of despair and loneliness. But, it was getting harder and harder to maintain any amount of stoicism or calm, especially in the face of all the recent chaos in his life. The second law of thermodynamics had to be obeyed. Disorder ruled the day in his world. He was in uncharted waters, and was sailing blindly into the storm.

Juldeh looked around at the luxurious interior of the Air France Boeing 747 plane. It was idling on the tarmac waiting for the go ahead before it could take off. He had flown numerous times in his younger days, and had never felt anxious before, but he was feeling anxious now. Before his brothers had been born, his parents had taken him on most of their business trips. They'd travelled to most West African countries and a few countries in Europe and Asia. He barely remembered most of these trips, but he vividly remembered the last two they'd taken to Tokyo and Amsterdam. Those had felt less like business trips and more like vacations. He had been given free rein in the hotel while his parents were away. Those were some of the happiest memories that he had. He had been truly carefree, and so had his parents. They had not been consumed by work, and had had more time for him and each other.

The plane started to taxi down the runway and Juldeh gripped the arm rest tightly. Eventually, he gathered the courage to look outside his window. The view of the rolling hills, brilliantly blue water below and soft wisps of white clouds was breathtaking and calmed him down, but only a little. Eventually, his thoughts drifted back to his parents. He'd had so little time for introspection the past few years of his life. He'd been focused only on survival.

Eventually, the smooth motions of the plane as it soared majestically through the sky, and his daydreams about the new life he was flying to, lulled him into a deep sleep. He woke up to see the Flight Attendant standing over him. His mind involuntarily flashed back to the last time that had happened, and he reflexively jerked backwards.

"I'm really sorry about that, sir," she apologized profusely. "I'm a bit new at this."

"No need to apologize, I'm sure it was an accident," Juldeh replied good humouredly. "Just promise me you won't do that again."

She blushed prettily, and Juldeh took a closer look at her. She was beautiful in an understated sort of way. Her hair was blond, and done up in a quite severe looking bun. Despite the old fashioned hairstyle, she barely looked older than he did. She had a sharp, equine nose and high cheekbones, but her most striking features were her eyes. They were a deep, piercing blue, and they seemed to stare right through Juldeh and into his very soul. He was staring mesmerized when she extended her hand and said "I'm Natasha. It's nice to meet you."

He shook her hand and replied, "the pleasure is all mine. My name is Juldeh."

"Juldeh? That's an interesting name," she replied.

"I was born with it, and it's served me well so far." She laughed at that and he continued. "You know, I've always wondered. What is it like being a flight attendant?" he asked.

"Some days are better than others, like today."

"Something interesting happened?" Juldeh asked with a smile.

She said nothing, but she blushed a deep, fierce red, and Juldeh's smile got broader.

"I have to get back to work, but after I'm done serving lunch to the passengers, you should come to the crew quarters. It's just past the bathroom on your right. We could talk more there."

"Maybe I will, Juldeh said finally after a period of deep thought."

He leaned back expansively in his chair as she returned to her tasks. Flying first class was certainly the only way to fly. He didn't know how Stella could afford the ticket, and in all honesty, he didn't care. All that mattered was that she'd kept her promise. The two weeks they'd spent in Abidjan felt like ages ago, but he had to admit that he'd had a good time with her. Despite her coldly brilliant and focused exterior, he'd come to realize that she was actually a funny and charming person.

They'd stayed up late at night, playing chess games, and he hadn't been surprised when she'd beaten him more often than he'd beaten her. She'd told him about her plans for her future. After reuniting with her mother, she planned to travel the world extensively. She never spoke of Wednesday during the two weeks, and she'd shaken her head and smiled her enigmatic smile when Juldeh told her of his plans to find his brothers and then when possible travel to London to meet Nella.

The flight lasted 16 hours in total, but it felt like minutes. After the flight attendants had finished serving the passengers, Juldeh had made his way to the crew quarters. Natasha had introduced him to the other flight attendants and he'd spent the rest of the flight with them. They had a plethora of interesting anecdotes and tales of far-off countries; places he'd only ever read about; places he wasn't sure he would ever see; places where wonders and magic came alive. He'd said very little about himself, and that had only seemed to intrigue them even more. He wasn't trying to be mysterious, but a combination of his difficulty in articulating his story, and his certainty that they wouldn't believe him made him reticent. Despite this, he'd still enjoyed their company. He'd hoped the flight would last forever, and he'd felt a pang of loss when the pilot had announced over the intercom that they were making their final approach. After the plane landed, he'd slowly walked out into the cold April air with his bag slung around his shoulder and Natasha's phone number and email address in his pocket. She'd asked him to give her a call at any time. He doubted he'd ever see her again, but it never hurt to have friends in high places.

The air was balmy and moist as he stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac. He glanced at the watch that Stella had given him. She'd said it was her gift for her role in disrupting his world. He didn't want to take it. He felt too beholden to her as it were, but she'd insisted to the point of embarrassment and he'd been forced to acquiesce.

It took him far too long to get through customs and immigration. It took all the willpower he had to keep his cool, but eventually, he got his brand new, faker than a two dollar bill British passport returned to him and he made his way carefully and without haste to the pickup section. As he approached the gaggle of people and cars milling about, he saw a short, wiry, stocky man holding a sign with his name on it. He was standing beside a black Crown Victoria, the kind only law enforcement ever used and as Juldeh approached, a flash of recognition fluttered through his big, brown eyes. Juldeh confidently strode up to him, stuck out his hand and said, "Jesus Shuttlesworth, I presume?"

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