It was with great trepidation that I asked my mother-in-law if I could accompany her on her fabulous trip to Europe. It was with even more anxiety that I waited for her to say yes. She took two whole days to tell me if I could come. And then finally when everything was approved by her excellency, the jitters came.
For brevity, let’s just say my mother-in-law and I wouldn’t ever be mistaken for sisters or mother/daughter or friends or even remote relatives, we are so different. Our likes and dislikes, values and belief systems, food preferences and relationships patterns are as different as can be. I’ve never met another human being who is so much my polar opposite as she is. We just don’t see eye to eye on much.
Then why go on a trip with her, you ask?
Because I was without a job since they fired me from the last one. Due to no fault of mine. Just a misunderstanding. Really a tiny one. I mean, I didn’t even think my coworker would tell anyone but she did. And I regret it to this day. And before you get really curious about what criminal activity led to my expulsion from my dream job, it was just this. I gave some discounts to my friends that I shouldn’t have. I mean how was I to know that the employee discount didn’t extend to friends and family? They never explained it like that to me. By the time my friends and some family were done shopping at fifty percent discounted prices, the company had to declare bankruptcy and of course they couldn’t afford me anymore. They could’ve just let me go, right? But I guess they wanted to take as many people down with them as possible so they made it look like I had been a bad employee and handed me the nastiest termination letter that an HR office has ever written for an efficient employee.
But let’s not discuss that most unfortunate event of my life. Clearly, Life had better things planned for me because here I was, ready to roll out on a phenomenal trip to Europe on my mother-in-law’s dime.
Mother-in-law had reluctantly agreed, I know. She’d rather take a baboon with her, I know. She has a severe disdain for my ways, I know that too. But do I let her opinion come in the way of our relationship? On other occasions, I do. But on this particular occasion I swallowed whatever little pride my ex-employer had left in me and took her disapproval of me as the reason why I should take this trip with her and have a chance to impress her with my worldliness and sophistication.
A little tidbit about MIL is that she’s very particular. Everything has to be just so. Even though I appreciate and even envy this quality of hers, it does make her a teeny bit insufferable. Like she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t sticking to the weight limit of 15 kg for my luggage. We were going to just one European country but it’s a major one and gets insulted easily so I had packed my traveling best. MIL, because she’s always present when I’m having a pivotal life moment, was present when I had just been closing the suitcase with my “essentials”.
MIL insisted that I open my bag and let her see why it was straining at the seams. I tried to tell her that I was all packed and opening the bag would be an inconvenience but I had clearly forgotten how inconveniencing other humans is my MIL’s mission in life. Therefore I gave in before she changed her mind about taking me along with her and opened my bag for her scrutiny and unedited judgment.
Another human would have complimented my choice of clothing for the most elite of all European countries, a country where fashion is born, a country which has its own fashion houses by scores and actually is the most esteemed country during fashion week. But mother-in-law squared her shoulders, narrowed her eyes and furrowed her brow at my packing.
“Dear! Isn’t this a little excessive? Why do you need so much nightwear?”
I was ready for this one. Mother-in-law can’t dress nicely to save her life. She can’t understand fashion and likely sees it as a satanic way of spending money and time.
“Dear MIL, one for each night that we are there and two for the plane each way. It is a long flight, you know. I thought I’d need a change of clothes like my dearest friend Abby who had to change four outfits on a transatlantic flight just two months ago”.
“But dear, as far as I know, Abby changed four times because her twins threw up on her four times. Who is going to throw up on you?”
“Errr…..you could throw up on me”….. I saw the look in her eyes, “or I could throw up on myself too”, I added quickly.
“Dear, don’t worry about me. I’m not sitting next to you. And are you sure you’ll upchuck on your own self more than once during the flight? I have never known you to get sick on flights or cars”.
“Errr…..well,” I started meekly but MIL seized the moment and said authoritatively,
“I think you should get rid of at least four of your pajamas”.
I could sense the mounting disdain in her voice for the amount of clothes in my bag and therefore quickly removed a few items, planning to put them back in when she wasn’t around.
Suddenly I realized what she had said.
“Are you not going to sit with me?”
“Because I’ll be in the first class cabin with my friends”.
I felt anger coursing through me. Why couldn’t she get me a first class ticket too? After all, it’s not like I get a paid vacation every other day. This was my only chance to vacation in style and she ruined it. Did she not think I needed extra leg room too? I have legs too.
I knew I’d have to play this one carefully so I said in a sweet voice,
“May be I can accompany you in the first class cabin too?”
“Well you certainly can,dear, but I told you that I won’t have the money to get two first class tickets when you expressed the desire to accompany me on this trip. And you seemed okay with it. What made you change your heart?”
“Well I didn’t think you’d get expensive seats for yourself and leave me out to dry”.
“I would hardly call this leaving you out to dry. I’ve paid for your tickets and will be paying for the rest of the trip also. It would be nice if you showed some gratitude. Or at least didn’t show overt entitlement and hostility”.
I couldn’t believe that she was not only defending herself but also lecturing me on how to be grateful. But this wasn’t the time to pick a fight therefore I immediately surrendered and said,
“You’re right. You’re so right. I’m being a tool. Thank you so much for your generosity”.
Mother-in-law left the room in huffed silence.
The day of the trip came but not before a tiny fiasco at the passport service.
I needed to get a new passport. I had never made an international trip and had a driver’s license since the age of 16 so never really needed an alternative identification card. I decided to apply for one and because MIL has travelled so much I chose to take her with me.
Things that you and I consider basic sustenance are redundant and excessive to MIL. Like the passport photograph. She couldn’t get why I wasn’t happy with my photograph after the first nine takes. She thought I was being childish when I expected the photographer to take such a good one that border security thinks of me to be some celebrity. She thought of it as being frivolous when I asked the photographer if he could photoshop my makeup and airbrush my photo. She kept reminding me that it had to be natural. I asked the photographer if he could use one of my Snapchat filters but he flatly said no to it. So of course I had the ugliest picture known to mankind that I brought with myself to the passport office.
Well needless to say I didn’t make a good first impression on the passport folks because I told them my age was five years less than what it really was. The officer looked at me critically and then said in a dry voice,
“But according to the date on your driver’s license you should be 25”.
I was momentarily nonplussed at being caught but went ahead with the same vigor,
“Well that can’t be right. I’m 20”.
He looked at me quizzically and said,
“So is the date on your license wrong?”
I didn’t know what to say but I was determined to delete five years from my life at all cost. All my friends had miraculously turned 20 when they turned 25 and that made me the oldest. I had to follow suit.
“I guess, yes”.
He looked from around me and beckoned to MIL to come forward.
“Madam!” He began in a clear and firm voice, “How old is your daughter?”
“She’s not my daughter”, MIL clarified.
“Oh I’m sorry”, he began but MIL interrupted him.
“But I can answer that question. She’s 25”.
“But she insists that she’s 20”.
MIL looked at me with genuine surprise in her eyes,
“You’re 20, dear? How so?”
I knew she was going to pull the truth out of me by just staring at me therefore I tried to make it sound like this was a fact that I was told to keep hidden.
“I’m actually 20, MIL! The date on my license is wrong”.
“But why, dear? Did you know you had the wrong date there, dear?”
I couldn’t say yes or no. This was more than I had bargained for.
“Well I kinda knew and I kinda didn’t. I don’t know how to explain it”.
“Well, Madam, you have to explain it because providing incorrect information to us on purpose is considered fraudulent. What was your motivation to get a license issued about ten years ago with the wrong date of birth? This license was issued when you were supposedly 15. Are you saying that you were 10 years old when this license was issued and you were driving?”
I was caught in my lie. But the strange thing is that he actually believed me to be 20 and was contesting the date on the license. May be I look 20, I thought happily.
“Dear! This is very confusing”, MIL said with concern, “if this is true then were you only 16 years old when you married my son four years ago?”
The officer sat up even straighter,
“Madam! You both need to step aside. This is a case of marrying a minor and I’m not able to handle it. We will have to get the police so this can be properly filed and processed”.
Needless to say this debacle ended with me divulging my reasons for telling this fib, my reasons being (in MIL’s verbiage) vanity and self-occupation.
But before you worry for me for not having made that trip, I did. I did get on the airplane with her and quietly took my seat in economy class while she sashayed her way to first class.
It hurt me that even though I was the better-dressed, better-looking and better-smelling one between the two of us, she got to sit in the first class due to the fact that she has more money than me. The separation of the classes is a real thing.
The gentleman sitting next to me was a kind appearing but extremely boring man who didn’t have two words to say to me. The girl next to him actually was leafing through a Vogue and would’ve made a much better travel companion but he refused to exchange seats with me. Therefore I had to ask that girl all about her outfit and her hat from across him. It annoyed him but I reminded him that he asked for it and that I was willing to exchange seats with him. I don’t know why but the girl looked alarmed when she found out that I could be moving next to her and immediately handed me the Vogue saying that if that was why I was planning on sitting next to her then I could have it. Perplexed at this I accepted the Vogue and after looking at a page or two, I cast it aside.
People started to drift off to sleep which is hard for me to do on a plane. I mean why would they not watch all the free entertainment! But I think I can tell why there was a lull on that plane. The entertainment on the inflight TV wasn’t good enough.
I’m nothing if not an advocate for people so I got up and decided to take this up with the stewardess. I asked her if she could help me find Gossip Girl.
“Sorry, Ma’am, I don’t believe we have that show”.
I already knew that but wanted to humiliate her a little for leaving out such a popular show and instead stuffing her entertainment channel with stupid Star Wars.
“Don’t you think that’s an oversight on your part”? I asked her like speaking to a toddler.
“Excuse me?” She responded coolly.
“Well I’d excuse you but that won’t make this flight any more entertaining, will it? You’ve ruined it for me”.
“Ma’am”, she began patiently, “I don’t know how to help you. I suggest you find something else to watch or may be sleep?”
“I can’t sleep. It’s hard for me to sleep in a seat with a straight back”.
“I’m sorry but all the seats in economy are like yours”.
“Can I not go into a first class seat?”
“No”. She replied flatly.
“No? So are you saying that this is some type of communist rule where you have me in a seat of your preference with the entertainment of your choice? Is that what you’re saying?”
She looked alarmed at my sudden passion.
“Ma’am….” she began but I was on to her.
“Please don’t patronize me”, I interjected angrily, ” Is this why the world fights against injustice everyday so we could all PAY astronomical amounts for a plane ticket and be locked in a cabin on a straight-backed chair with a badly put-together entertainment show? Do you think that I or any of these passengers bargained for this? Do you think we had any idea that this would be our lot when we boarded this plane? We thought we were going on a plane. The most modern and sophisticated of all vehicles. Something that is the closest to flying that we’d ever get. A realization of our dreams as humans. A sort of elevated level of being. I mean I feel like an immortal when I think that I’m thousands of miles above the ground. But I can’t enjoy that feeling in its entirety, can I? Because then I turn around and what do I see? Your straight-back, military-style chair that is causing my vertebrae to cross over into each other. I’m telling you again if you’d listen. I’m not enjoying my first plane ride”.
At this point I took a moment to gauge the interest of the audience. Because you better believe I had an audience. Men and women, children and teenagers had woken up from their sleeps and were now looking at me and the stewardess. I drew a deep breath and addressed my people,
“Dear fellow humans! Is this not ironical that the only reason why I can’t sit in business class is because I don’t have the money for it? What do you think, huh? Huh? ￼Is that fair? Did we come all the way up here to still face the many atrocities and disparities that socioeconomic strata inflict on us everyday? Where do we go to be treated like an equal of the rich people in first class and business class? Where? Have you ever wondered? Where do we go? The Earth doesn’t let us be equals. And now the skies are abandoning us too. I say if this is going to be our life then why doesn’t this plane take a nosedive and just crash into the ocean right now?”
I looked triumphantly at my audience when I saw how impactful my last sentence had been. People had started to murmur and some people were even angrily gesticulating (probably at the airplane management) and I felt very powerful and sage.
I have cracked the code to public speaking, I realized with a heady feeling.
I have made a valid point, my inner voice told me proudly.
Just then I heard a man’s voice saying gruffly,
“Coming through! Coming through!”
I saw an older man approaching me with what appeared to be a baton. He looked wary and smiled when he saw me looking at him.
“Now, now dear, just relax. Nothing bad is happening. We are all here. You’re okay. There’s a good girl. Let’s sit and talk”.
Sit and talk? How dare he recommend that I alone sit and talk? I’m not just talking about myself. I’m talking about every single person on this plane. I felt a certain responsibility towards my fellow passengers and therefore replied with sanctimoniousness dripping from my shrill voice,
“No Sir, please don’t ask me to leave these people behind. They’re to me what my own family isn’t today. They’re going to be the torch bearers in the revolution that will remove this separation of classes that you’ve got going on here on a plane. A twentieth century transport machine. Why would you have such archaic, orthodox and conservative thoughts when you have a machine as modern as the airplane on your hands? Why are you still living in the fifteenth century? These people are my people and if we have to give up something in the line of truth, I swear we will and won’t step back from it”.
“Give up what exactly?” A frail, old woman who appeared to be in her nineties asked in a frightened voice.
“Well”, I hadn’t thought this question through and hadn’t expected one of my own to trip me with an unexpected question therefore I said in a grave voice “Whatever we need to give up to make it better for our future generations”.
The man who had approached me five minutes ago was still watching me with fear and caution in his eyes and he again said in a cajoling voice,
“Dear, why don’t we sit down and talk about it or better still we can go into my cabin and talk?”
“Are you the captain?”
“Well, no, but I can assure you that I am in communication with the captain”.
“I won’t speak to anyone if it’s not the captain”, I said huffily.
“When you say captain, you know it implies the pilot, right ?” He asked again in a sugary sweet voice.
I hadn’t thought what captain exactly meant. I just thought this would be the proper way to escalate my problem with societal norms and the class system in an airplane.
“I suppose so”, I said airily and complimented myself inwardly for being so confident even though this was my first time in a plane and the offense was just a straight-back seat. I was so proud of standing up for myself and the rest of humanity that occupied that plane that day that I totally forgot that my arch nemesis AKA my mother-in-law was also traveling on the same plane.
“But the pilot can’t come out of the cockpit”.
The man looked at me bewildered.
“He’s flying the plane”.
“Okay. Can I go into the cockpin to see him?”
“Okay okay why’re you yelling? I’d like to see him in the cockspit”.
“Cockpit, dear Madam”.
“So what did I say?”
He sighed a long sigh. He gave me a withering look and asked me to follow him.
He took me to the back of the plane and asked me to wait. I was so impressed with myself for creating a ruckus that was getting the most important person’s attention. I thought of all the people who’d thank me for the drop in air fares. All the people who’d have the same food in the future as the first and business class people. How this would may be revolutionize the way wealth is distributed in the world. How my little protest could become a real movement, and make me the head of a revolution. People would come from far and wide to meet me and talk about social issues. I’d be consulted for labor laws, minimum wage and other things pertinent to human equality. Wow! What great things lay in my future. What great achievements are to be had by this tiny thing I did on a mediocre plane for all those stupid people who didn’t have any idea how the airline was ripping them off. May be I should’ve let them rot in economy class, I thought with holy temper. They didn’t deserve to be saved as they were so complacent. But then my righteous fury was replaced with wisdom and uprightness. Leaders don’t think like this, i admonished myself. Leaders have to save their people.
Before I could congratulate myself completely for my hitherto unexplored and largely hidden leadership qualities I saw my mother-in-law entering the little cabin with the man who had gone to get the pilot.
For a moment I was stumped. Is MIL the pilot of this plane? I thought to myself.
But before my imagination ran with another epic rendition, the man who had brought her and who now introduced himself as George, spoke up,
“Dear Madam, is this young lady with you?”
As mother-in-law nodded her head dazedly I tried to avoid making eye contact with her.
“Madam”, George continued, “This young lady appears to be upset about something. And I would’ve agreed with her if it sounded like she knew what she was talking about. But she has her head in a tizzy and I have no idea why. She has actually got all the passengers very frightened by cursing this plane with a crash. I’m sorry but I had to remove her from where the elderly and children were sitting”.
MIL looked like she hadn’t registered anything but I knew she had. She had that look in her eyes that she had when she came to rescue me from the police station when I insisted on driving my car on the wrong side of the road because “I was right handed and that was a more natural side for me” or when she saved me from a shopkeeper who had gotten into a fist fight with me because he had taken the “Sale” sign down before the day was up or when she insisted I should clear my head at home and come back to the scene when I got into a very heated discussion with a woman who had just given birth about how the baby didn’t look like her or her spouse but rather looked like her husband’s business partner.
Mother-in-law cleared her throat, obviously buying time to think, and then said slowly,
“What are you upset about, dear?”
Now if you knew her like I know her, you would know that “dear” isn’t a term of endearment in her book. She uses it almost like a curse word sometimes. It’s scary when she uses it. And I was scared then because I didn’t want to sound like I had broken her nap in the first class of this plane just because I had been trying to create awareness and mount a revolution. But I couldn’t let her faze me either. The mark of a great leader is to not be fazed by people who doubt them.
So I looked her in the eye and said,
“I’m upset about the discriminatory ways of this airline”.
“Hmm. I see”.
Mother-in-law assumed a silence that was deafening. George leaned over and said in her ear loud enough for me to hear ,
“Dear Madam! How is this young lady related to you? Is she your daughter?”
Mother-in-law looked at him with an icy glare and he shut up immediately.
“Dear! Tell me more”, mother-in-law asked me much more politely.
As I started to relay my woes of straight back seats on the airplane and the unavailability of quality entertainment on the plane to her, MIL heard quietly. But even though she was attentively listening and appeared to be invested in my diatribe, I could hear the words of my speech in my ears, and could sense a kind of moronic quality about them. What had I been protesting about? Straight-backed seats on an airplane? But even though I had objected to them so forcefully, half the plane had been asleep in them, snoring. The other half was enjoying shows on the inflight entertainment.
As I continued to count the number of ways in which the first and business class passengers were enjoying “class privilege” and better treatment, I realized that most of my argument was idiotic and mental.
After I had finished, MIL took a deep breath and shook her head.
“Do you hear her, Madam? Do you hear how she talks and gesticulates about mundane things that are for airline safety? Like the high-backed, straight-backed seats? Can I ask you something, Madam, if you don’t mind?” He became almost apologetic.
Mother-in-law broke out of her reverie and said,
“Of course, George!”
“Is she”, he hesitated, “does she” he weighed his words again, “I’m not trying to sound insulting and I’m not a prejudiced person to think in any way but the highest way possible of fellow human beings and consider their afflictions my own so I do request you to not hold my question against me,”
“Pray stop whimpering”, MIL barked impatiently, “what do you want to ask”?
“I wanted to ask,” George started apologetically again, “Do you have any reservations about having this lady on board for the rest of the journey? Because you see we are very close to landing at our first stopover and I think this is most opportune. We could drop you and this young lady off at this approaching airport and arrange for a flight back to your home and may be she could travel at another time. A better time. What say you, dear?” He grinned at me toothlessly and meekly waited for my answer.
I was mortified. What happened? What is he saying? That I would be escorted off this plane and shipped back home? How could that happen? I was trying to avoid MIL’s eyes because I knew she was seething.
MIL broke the silence.
“She is not a danger to anyone but has certainly not acted in her best judgement tonight. Isn’t there any way for her to get a first class seat? I’ll keep her close to me and see to it that she doesn’t get in anyone’s way.”
Aha! Now if only MIL had listened to me in the first place and gotten me a seat next to her and her friends, it wouldn’t have come to this.
“Really MIL?” I said with tears in my eyes, “You’d really do that for me? My dear , dear MIL? How can I ever thank you?”
MIL didn’t say anything. George was contemplating how to make this happen. He finally said,
“I don’t see why not. If this young lady will act more contained if she was closer to her family then I’ll see that she sits next to you. You won’t have to pay for it either. This is to benefit our passengers in the economy class. She can’t be with them. They’re scared of her”.
Scared of me? But I was trying to save them.
Still trying to put the pieces of this mystery together, I asked MIL,
“MIL! Do you have recliners or something more comfortable in your section? Because I’d rather not go if you don’t. I have made friends with a really stylish girl who’s sitting one seat over from me and has lent me her Vogue. I’d be much happier there”.
“She has requested me explicitly to take you as far away from her as possible”, George quipped.
Oh this George! The first thing I had to do on ground was get him fired.
“Okay! I guess I’ll sit in first class then”, I said nodding my head like the statesman that I had come to realize myself as, “But is there a way to the first class that doesn’t go through economy? You see after this massive revolution that I stirred up, it would be a sign of insincerity if I traipsed through economy into the first class. That would be so elitist of me”.
“I can assure you, dear,” MIL said a touch too sharply, ” no one considered your hysterical musings a revolution. All you’ve done is embarrass yourself and I. I suggest you come and sit with me and be thankful that we weren’t asked to exit this plane midair”.
I followed mother-in-law silently with my head bowed. I couldn’t quite get it. Where were my people? Why didn’t they come after me? They just let me deal with the establishment on my own?
As I was walking past the many economy class aisles I heard mutterings,
“There she goes. The girl who wouldn’t sit in her seat. Maybe she was uncomfortable because look how hunched she is”.
I turned around to retaliate about this misconception about my physicality but then I heard another one,
“Don’t tell me they’re going to reward her for being obnoxious by whisking her off to the first class. I should take my clothes off and dance naked to get in there next”.
What? This guy thinks this is a reward? If truth be told I’d much rather sit in economy and talk about how to change the system.
Another woman was soothing her toddler,
“Don’t worry, Charlie, the bad woman is going to another part of the plane. She won’t bother us anymore. She’s gone.”
Hmph! Stupid Charlie and his stupid mother! How little they know of my wisdom and cunning with which I would’ve changed the layout of a plane forever.
“Gosh look at her! Doesn’t even look so smart. She was going on and on about rights and revolution and oppression and discrimination. Look at that outfit! Frankly she looks like a blithering idiot to me”.
I turned around to say something but noticed that the speaker was a teenage boy with gum in his mouth. Calling him a troll in my head I kept moving.
We finally reached first class.
I sat down in one of the comfortable recliners, drank hot chocolate and was soon snoring.
I woke up five hours later and saw MIL reading.
“Just in time,” she said crisply, “we will be landing soon”.
I stretched and yawned.
“Where am I”? I asked with some confusion.
“But wasn’t I sitting in the back?”
“Yes you were and then you came here. Do you not remember how?”
“No”, I strained my memory a little. “I don’t remember much. I’m still so sleepy”.
“Well dear, when I heard you talking about being a statesman and a leader and a revolutionist, I thought you were barking mad. When you were promising things that you had no control over and were swearing on others’ lives I thought you were addled. When you went so far as to call them “my people” I believed you to have lost an important screw in your brain. But now that you have no memory of the promises that you made just a few hours ago, the lives that you swore upon, the people whom you owned, and the revolution that you threatened us with”, she straightened the newspaper that she was reading and sank back in her chair, “I firmly believe that you have a career in politics and statesmanship”.
I blinked at her stupidly and was soon snoring loudly again.