Once upon a time, on a flight from Mumbai to Dubai, both golden cities in their own ways, marvels of their own times, some long gone, others resurrected.
But this is more about what has been left behind, what is static on the ground, and while the earth doesn’t appear to move in flight, stewardesses and passengers did. Albeit not very far, and only captured in their own space bubble.
It was one of the quiet flights, when Emirates still served the kind of delicious meals in Economy class you could look forward to. Dazzled by memories and the four hours waiting time awaiting me in Dubai, I couldn’t rest. Nothing within me wanted to settle so I watched. I observed the passenger next to me, playing a very traditional version Mahjong with himself – for Chinese tradition surely wouldn’t permit you to play against yourself. The clicking of the wooden stones, sliding over the hard plastic surface was barely perceptible to any of my senses. And thinking back, it was the absence of the usual, glaring white overhead light that drew me in, that made me think I was still in one of these dinky pubs in London’s backstreets, without Whiskey, play for pleasure.
This isn’t the right place for a memory. How can something we remember be so out of context, though it was once real.
The man’s distinctly German voice slowly explained the rules to me, moving stones with what looked like ancient symbols from one place to another. Perhaps where they worked a different magic – because Mahjong is not like chess where you always know five steps ahead, no, you work a spell fully aware of the energy flow through the game.
After he said he was on his way to Hamburg he fell silent again. We had nothing to share outside the magic, and exhausted I dozed until landing. And while I had to return to the ground, the sad bird sings, I often still play Mahjong now, with myself when I need to be, within my flow.