On Wings
Seema Mukhi

The cockpit is a mystery to me; I have never seen it. I am certain that the airplane carries itself. I look out the tiny oval window at the reflective light on the wing, and for a moment, the wing looks alive, as if the airplane will take off, start flapping its wings, and carry me south for the winter.

The metal feathers at the edges; the cockpit is a single glassy eye that sees more sharply than a human. I feel the road rumbling under me, and the airplane begins running faster, propelled on its three legs (a strange bird), and breathing harder at the effort. The wing is flapping! I can see it, I know it! Why does no one else notice that, for the first time ever, this bird is betraying its life to us?

I look to the young businessman next to me, and he is reading a newspaper. The woman behind me in a sari is trying to make her daughter quiet, speaking agitatedly in a language I do not understand. There is a line for the bathroom.

I turn to the window, but it is no longer a window. It is a tunnel. I squeeze through it, and it carries me to the wing of the bird, all feathers now and only faintly silver. How massive even a single feather is! I tiptoe carefully, grabbing one feather after another, until I reach the front of the plane. But there is no cockpit. Only myself looking back at me.

I understand. There never was a cockpit. Before I can stop myself, I am back at the wing. The wind lifts me, and cities disappear beneath me. The plane is away from me now, flying south. But I, I carve my way through new clouds, on my own wings now and with my own eyes.

First published: February, 2004
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