AFTER less than a week, an 18-hour plane ride, a near-puking incident and several listless nights in Las Vegas, I finally got to finish reading Dan Brown’s latest novel “Inferno.”
The 460-plus-page tome is Brown’s latest installment in his Langdon saga featuring inquisitive and indefatigable Harvard professor and “symbologist” Robert Langdon. The book, as you already know, managed to ruffle the feathers of not a few onion-skinned Filipinos for the author’s unflattering description of the Philippines, particularly densely populated Manila, as the “gates of hell.”
Before I tell you what I think about it, I’d like to share with you a close encounter I’ve had that afflicts not a few travelers on long-haul journeys. While my friend and colleague Lai and I were on our way to Las Vegas via Los Angeles, I felt tied down, bored within an inch of my skull and extremely uncomfortable in the plane’s coach section that there was nothing left for me to do but devour Brown’s latest magnum opus.
Prior to take off in Narita, Japan, Lai and I were being our hideous and cruel selves laughing at one flight attendant who, in all honesty, could literally pass off as your kindly grandmother. Henceforth, we started calling her “lolé” (pronounced as low-lay, my own Frenchified term for lola or granny). 😀
Not even her cheerful demeanor could hide the fact that lolé’s blotchy skin was lined with age and her sagging facial muscles looked weighed down perhaps by a gazillion takeoffs, touchdowns and violent air pockets in between. In short, she wasn’t mature. Hell, she looked borderline elderly!
And despite tottering on three-inch heels, lolé, who, to her credit, had managed to remain relatively slim and with-it, was clearly hunched. She should be flying, all right, not as a flight attendant, but as an energetic and well-heeled retiree out to see the world with a fresh pair of eyes.
I’m not being ageist. I just couldn’t help but think how she’d react in case of an emergency, both routine and major. Well, before we could touch down on LAX, I partly got my answer.
Confucius says karma is a bitch. How many times do I have to remind myself of this?
During the final hours of our flight, the joke was on me, as the senior flight attendant Lai and I were laughing at behind her back was the very same person who was up on her feet handing me a couple of pain relievers and a glass of water, while I struggled with a killer headache of inferno proportions.
Yes, I overdid reading Brown and was now suffering its consequences. That, coupled with a nearly sleepless flight and the cabin’s dry, cold air discombobulated my system.
And to make matters worse, my aching eyeballs were throbbing, while my mouth went watery. Every time I swallowed, I had this weird aftertaste that, in cooking parlance, combined a pinch of sour with a hint of seawater fish—the kind of lansa (fishy aftertaste) you’d get after licking (should you dare do it) a brass statue. Read: I was experiencing a clear, unmistakable prelude to a major puking episode in the economy class.
The fishy aftertaste got worse after I downed the pain reliever with a glass of water handed to me by the flight attendant. Before things became ugly, I stood up, grabbed a couple of motion sickness bags, and headed for one of the plane’s CRs (restroom to the uninitiated).
Tough luck! Since we only had a few minutes to kill before “breakfast,” several lines of well-rested and/or restless passengers had already formed in the plane’s CR section. I was about to go, and when I did while waiting for my turn to use the restroom, almost nothing came out. The motion sickness bag barely got wet from my saliva.
When it was finally my turn to use the toilet to let it all out, again, nothing came. I went back to my seat, and, for the first time in living memory, refused the breakfast being offered to me by the flight attendant.
Imagine me, the typical voracious airline passenger skipping a hot tray of breakfast. Unthinkable! Well, there’s always a first time. The thought of spilling my guts out 35,000 feet above the Pacific so scared me that I chose to keep my piehole shut.
I tried to shut out everything by willing myself to sleep. I woke up a few minutes shy of touchdown feeling much better. Lolé’s TLC worked. Before long, I was back swapping nonsense with Lai on our way out of the plane and into LAX’s immigration counters.
Of course, the lesson wasn’t lost on me. Never ever dismiss a person’s ability because of her age. The woman I deemed too old to fly, let alone serve the one million and one demands of various passengers, was ironically the one who was up and about attending to me. Had lolé only knew how dismissive I was of her, she would have had the last laugh.
“Lai,” I said to my seatmate, “na Karma Martin ako (in reference to Filipino actress Carmi Martin, I got my comeuppance)!”
Lai could only giggle in agreement. Indeed, karma is a bitch, but I never knew that I’d get my own karmic retribution while cruising above the clouds on a trans-Pacific flight.