In the clouds- Short story

Life in the clouds may seem the same as life below, but it´s different in essence. I have an unimposing 40m2 flat in downtown London. I’m not from here; I came from far away, but it was such a long time ago that I’ve already forgotten about it.

I just have the vague memory of a different feeling back there. Life was slower, but it wasn’t measured, so it seemed to pass by faster. Here life is faster, but every day and hour are counted. For me in particular, every minute is important sometimes. My job entails flying on a daily basis. I spend a great amount of time in the clouds, which has become my true element, but I also do my share of normal living on the ground. Anyone who sees me down there would swear that I am just as everyone else, which is true but for the fact that I’m free to fly away whenever I wish.

For those who don’t understand the implications of this simple fact, imagine being a bird perched on a sinking ship; having the ability to fly away anytime. Now imagine this bird’s capacity to emigrate whenever and wherever it wishes; nothing attaches it so nothing affects it. In practical terms it means that economic, political and social turmoils are irrelevant to me.

I was unaware of this essential difference from the rest of people until very recently. I was waiting for my flight at the lounge when I overheard a language which wasn´t English but which I nevertheless understood. I´m generally too focused on my own affairs to pay attention to others’, but this young couple was too overtly dramatic to avoid listening to. He was completely distraught and she was trying to soothe him, although she looked as hopeless as him. He was imploring her forgiveness while she begged him to drop the subject and forget all about it, but he ranted about unconnected matters, such as a new laptop, which she needed for her work, two months of rent of their apartment and other stuff which now I forget.

The histrionism of it all was made even more theatrical by their use of an obsolete language instead of English, which is both conventional and efficient. But what caught my attention was the fact that I could understand them perfectly. By the chunks of incoherent information he was conveying unawares to me, I could gather that because of a mistake on his part, they had missed their flight back home and had had to buy much more expensive tickets. The sum wasn´t extraordinary: Only 500 pounds for both, but it seemed to be a lot for them. By this time I noticed something even more peculiar about this scene. Although I didn´t know what language they spoke, I could have sworn he was speaking it wrongly. It was like listening to an unknown song which is out of tune. I couldn´t resist any longer; I went up to them and said: “I´m sorry, where are you from?”

Poland,” she answered in English while he mopped his tears with his T-shirt sleeves. “And you?” she asked out of politeness.

I´m from England,” I said.

Yes, but originally,” she retorted. I didn´t understand what she meant. I said I was from England just because I owned a flat there. I could barely say I was from anywhere at all, so her question puzzled me. Originally we were all apes, then naked wild men in Africa, and after that we moved around the globe and settled in places with names such as London. What kind of information was she demanding from me?

She saw my bewilderment and she must have thought it convenient to give me an example, so she said: “He comes from Argentina, but he´s also a Polish citizen now.”

Oh, so that was what was bothering me the whole time” I thought, “His broken Polish.” But where in hell did I know Polish from? I was more puzzled than before. By now she obviously thought I couldn’t speak proper English because I failed to maintain the conversation. She started by English lesson number one: “ My name is Helena,” she said, articulating carefully with no Polish accent at all. “I´m Tom,” I said. “Nice to meet you,” she said, stretching out her hand. “He´s my husband, Juan.” “Nice to meet you, Tom,” he said with sad but friendly eyes. “Where are you traveling to?” she asked me in the same condescending tone.

Stop it,” I said. “I speak better English than both of you combined. I even understand your Slavic babble. I just don´t understand why.”

Czy Pan mowi po polsku?” she said with a genuine smile on her face.

Apparently,” I answered in English. “Since I understood the whole melodrama you´ve just performed in front of me. Tell me, can 500 pounds be the reason of your distress?”

You’re right,” he said. “I´m too dramatic. After all, I can recover the money with three weeks of work.”

His words were like a gunshot. I had never thought of money in terms of time before. I guess that the lack of attachment to a particular place conveys the lack of attachment to a definite lapse of time. I knew I needed to be somewhere at a specific hour, but that was it. I had schedules to fulfill, but I didn´t consider time in terms of money. Maybe because I didn’t receive any wage for my job but I relied solely on huge commissions after a deal was struck. I didn´t know how much money three weeks of my life represented but I was sure it wasn´t 500 pounds. I spent that much per day on journeys and hotels, and I’d never considered it a considerable amount. Maybe I could just give him 500 pounds from my pocket and do a good deed, but unfortunately our society hasn´t conventionalized this kind of behavior. I knew I needed to come up with a good excuse to do that, and I didn’t have one.

As if reading my thoughts, he said „Don´t worry, we´re not in dire straits. I just regret being so imprudent and wasting so much money which could’ve been used for better purposes.”

He´s always very passionate about everything. It´s really nothing” she said. „Gdzie Pan się nauczyl polskiego?” she said. „I don´t know,” I answered, and now the whole focus of my attention was on this strange mystery. I believed in Karma, after all. Otherwise it was impossible to explain that Mozart composed symphonies at 8. „I must have been Polish in a previous life,” I thought.

She was a talkative Polish woman, so in spite of my discouraging silences, she continued the conversation. „Your name in Polish would be Tomasz,” she said randomly, „Tomek for the friends. Could I call you Tomek?” „A friendly Polish person” I thought, and I don´t know why, because I didn´t have any preconceptions about Polish people or about any people in general, but it struck me as odd that a Polish person would call me their friend just after meeting me.

Tomek, siadaj” I said out-loud, for an unknown reason. The woman just smiled at me. „Yes, Tomek, siadaj proszę. Please sit with us,” she said.

I remained standing „Why had I said that? And why in hell was I speaking this inadequate language?” „Tomek, siadaj, już uspokoj sie” I said this time, and my unrest was even greater when the figure of a kind woman came to my mind. I had met hundreds of nice girls during my journeys through the clouds. Girls were generally attracted to the independent life I carried and they gave themselves to me in the subconscious hope that I would take them with me, but i never did. But this woman was different. She didn´t want anything from me; on the contrary, her only concern was to make me happy. „Nie mamo, nie Nesquick, dzielona herbate proszę.” I said.

She laughed candidly and he smiled bemusedly at me.

We were poorer than you are,” I said, as if a torrent of memory had just flooded my mind. „My parents are still in Poland. I never see them. They mean only attachment and limitations to me. Now I´m boundlessly free but I can´t carry anyone with me. Once you have someone to care about, you become limited again, and vulnerable to the ups and downs of the world. Please let me give you the 500 pounds that mean so much to you and nothing to me. Please allow me to have a gesture of kindness at least, to thank you for the nice memories you brought back to my mind.”

If you want to thank us,” she said „go and visit your parents as soon as you can.”

I can´t possibly do that,” I said, „I can only deal love by means of money.” And pulling out a wad of bills I had in my pocket, I laid it quickly on the table and left. They didn´t follow me, probably thinking I was going to come back to take my plane, but I didn’t. I looked for the next flight and I went downtown while I waited for it. I wanted to collect my thoughts before taking off again.

More memories came to my mind. We lived in a small apartment and my father used to buy hamburgers for dinner from time to time; otherwise we would eat just the leftovers from lunch. The hamburgers were small, so my mother would give me half of hers. My father and sister settled for one and never showed any discontentment with the deal. Once my neighbor, whose father owned a hamburger restaurant, invited me to his a restaurant for dinner. The place was just next to our flat, so I went out at 8 pm to meet my friend and eat a free hamburguer. I remember he didn´t like tomato or lettuce on his hamburger, and his father showed me as an example because I ate it whole. But when I turned my head by chance towards the door of my building, I saw my mother and sister sitting on the stairs. They were watching me eat, their eyes full of happiness for me. Then I realized that I was the chosen one and that they would sacrifice everything to see me happy. I didn´t want that so I left as soon as I was eighteen and I´ve never looked back.

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