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I LOVE YOU I HATE YOU

I take a plane from Cape Town to JHB. Sitting along the aisle, legs stretched out and ready for a restful flight. At some point I realise “something” is going on with the two people sitting to my left. Right next to me is a Muslim young man, long beard that brushes against his chest when he moves, wearing a galabia, glasses and a fez. He’s small and wiry. Next to him is a young girl. Tan-coloured skin. She’s upset. They aren’t talking.

Now I must confess, as a writer, I have, over the years, perfected the art of eavesdropping. I can’t recall how old I was when I was delighted to discover I have incredibly sharp hearing. Sharper than most. I realised this skill the way I imagine Peter Parker discovered his amazing talents, you know? Over the years I have become more and more intensely obsessed with people. No one ion particular, just human beings and the way humans being be! After all I need to return to my desk at the end of the day (or in the morning in my case) and create a believable world of make believe people. To do some with any modicum of success I realised I needed to have a huge understanding of human beings and what they do and when they do it. And the wider the scope of human being I can “consider” (from mother to serial killer to beggar to business woman) the better. Anyway I’ve digressed massively. What I was saying is, here I was on the plane next to this “interesting scene”. My curiosity was peaked.

Seeing a tear slide down the girl’s face I started musing. They are both wearing black. Has someone died? Are they coming from a funeral or going to one? I remember being driven to the hospital upon receiving a call from the doctor that my mother had passed away that morning. If you were walking past the car you would have seen a white girl – my dear friend – driving and me, weeping through my hands that I used to cover my face. Yes, I decide. It must be that. Satisfied I settle into my flight, passing on as much of the sympathy vibe as I can.

About an hour into the flight, the guy turns and says something to her. I can’t hear what it was but it lacked a certain sensitivity one would think people reserve for those who have lost someone they love. She doesn’t respond. In fact now that I look I notice she is turned away from him, staring out the window. He says something again. Then nothing. Then she snaps something and he snaps something back. I am wired at this point! The bristles on my arms stand up.

Minutes pass. And with this next exchange I finally have little doubt as to what I am sitting next to. She shoves a white, be-jewelled GUESS bag into his lap and he, muttering something, shoves it back. They proceed – I am not lying – to spend the next few minutes shoving the bag back and forth. My mind is running. A good ol’ lover’s spat. Except this isn’t it’s the next level on from that. A spit? Back and forth the bag goes. Heck if they don’t want it I’ll take it, I think. But I don’t offer. Maybe he bought it for her and she’s saying take you sh*t and leave me the hell alone. The drama is brilliant. I look around to see if anyone else is seeing. No, only me, it seems.

They settle for a while. The bag has been shoved under a seat apparently to be left there for the SAA staff to puzzle over. For the rest of the flight there are jabs of conversation that go back and forth. Damn, I can’t hear anything.

After the initial excitement of sitting next to a real-life fight passes I actually start to get mildly irritated. They are adults but what I am watching is two 5 years olds. Surely there was a time when they would embrace, kiss, even make love. What happened? There is a point where I bite my tongue and hold onto the handle of my seat to stop myself from turning and asking them. I resist turning and saying, ‘Stop it, you two.’

Why didn’t I – scared, I suppose. Worried they’d turn on me. Ofcourse they’ll tell me it’s none of my business. Except we were in the forced intimacy of an aeroplane and pretending like there wasn’t something going on felt dishonest of me. All the same I pretended. I can only speculate what could have happened if I had interrupted and offered them coaching, some kind of arbitration. As a perfect stranger, surely I would have been the best person for the job?

As the plane landed and taxi-ed she took something out of her pocket and tore it up. He watched, damp-eyed. Must be something that was supposed to mean something. He took out a Clicks card and flung it at her. I cringed. I didn’t feel as if I was just watching two people hating each other, I was watching human beings be how human beings be. We fight. We love but then we also hate. And sometimes the people we love are also the ones we hate. With a venom. With an intense commitment to inflict pain. Part of me wanted to follow them out the plane, see what actually happens. Another part wanted to forget I’d ever met them. I wasn’t just watching two lovers fight, I was watching myself.

Outside the toilet in the O. R. Tambo Airport I called my boyfriend and told him what I’d experienced. Ironically we have fought many times. Maybe even as venomously as what I’d witnessed. We talked and laughed about what I’d seen. I promised him I absolutely had to write about what I’d experienced and he encouraged me to. I told him I loved him, put down the phone and went to use the bathroom.

Oh, Lord, I prayed. Help!

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  1. May 16, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    I love this piece…we do that, don’t we. Unaware of the clarity of our expression we think our tiffs are private. We think they are gestures that only WE understand but they’re so clear to everyone. A typical case of “actions speaking louder than words”…and I’m so guilty!

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