April 4, 2015

SHASHANK MANE: "THE ARM REST"


Shashank firmly believes that written word is at the essence of human communication and evolution. He hopes that you will enjoy reading his stories as much as he has enjoyed writing them.

 








The Arm Rest
Jack was tired. After 16 hours in international transit, hopping on and off flights, he was awaiting the home stretch on the final leg of his trip home. Traveling half way across the world to spend the holidays with family was no easy task for Jack, who boarded flights frequently for work but loathed traveling, especially during the holiday season. Upon hearing the boarding call, Jack breathed a deep sigh of relief and was tempted to pat himself on the back for having made it this far. This would be the last take-off and landing before reaching home and all the comforts that came with it. He had planned wisely, selecting a seat at the back of the plane with no one to be sitting next to him for the final leg. Jack plotted a peaceful flight, picturing himself with a whiskey on the rocks, a copy of the morning newspaper and peering out the window to take in the sights on his 5 hour journey while listening to music. Things were looking up for Jack and it was only a matter of time before he would be able to forget this painfully long trip.
Jack stumbled to the back of the plane, squeezing through the aisles and bumping every seat and person possible on the way back. He swung his large backpack upwards, landing it in the overhead compartment before pressing through to his window seat. Seat 39G was located in the last row and contrarily to what many people believed, Jack knew well that the seat was comfortable and, indeed, reclined. He had outsmarted the average traveler and felt proud that he knew the aircraft well. Jack was a frequent flyer and a devout planner. He had strategically mapped the perfect flight, from where he would sit to what brand of whiskey he would have and when he would take a short nap before arriving refreshed to greet his awaiting family.
“Howdy!” A large smiling man, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops was staring down at Jack. Jack did not reply. He figured the man would place his bag next to his own before sitting somewhere nearby. Jack nodded at the man, quickly returning his scrutinizing eyes to his newspaper, obstructing the man’s view of his tired face
“39F. We’re way in the back here!” The man squeezed into the seat beside Jack, who was beginning to turn slightly red.
In an attempt to remain calm, Jack took a few deep breaths to relax his jumpy nerves. The lady at the check-in counter had said there would be no one next to him and now he would have to deal with this man for the next five hours, in his immediate space, lingering over him and breathing what sparse air the aircraft could afford. It’s not so bad, thought Jack. I can just sip my whiskey and this will be over in no time! With nothing more to worry about, Jack returned to his newspaper, flipping the page. The man reached his hand near Jack’s leg.
“I think I got it…wait, no…lost it. Hate it when these things get all tangled up” Jack huffed, hovering over his seat as the man pulled out his seatbelt buckle from underneath Jack “Thanks! Robert’s the name. Heading to Southern California? It’s my first time headed to the West Coast”
“Yes” Jack was short, hoping the conversation would end there so he could return to reading his newspaper in relative tranquility.
“Ok! I can’t wait to be in the warm sun and hit the beach out there. Oooh weee Sunny California here I come!” Robert began humming in excitement. Jack took more deep breaths as Robert attempted to get comfortable in his seat. A large man and about twice the size of Jack, the seat was hardly a good fit for Robert. Having squeezed into the tiny seat, Robert restlessly wiggled, unable to sit still. Spreading out his legs, Robert’s knee and upper leg were now rubbing against Jack’s leg. Jack waited a few seconds, hoping the leg-to-leg uncomfortable contact would seize and John would pull away in courtesy. Resentment was building strong and fast within Jack. His space was being slowly infiltrated and his peace, immensely disturbed.  Jack reevaluated his original flight plan. He would need two whiskeys and more reading material to avoid conversation with this disruptive man seated next to him.
After a while, with his plan reorganized and his nerves gently returning to a point of bearable tolerance, the captain’s voice came over the intercom, announcing the flight would be delayed for takeoff by forty five minutes. The passengers groaned in unison, Jack turning redder and his heart sinking back into a silent despair. His head slowly slumped over till it tapped against the window, sounding a gentle thud.  Robert’s leg continued to intrude into Jack’s space, his arm taking over the middle armrest and head tilted towards Jack, breathing heavily and beginning to snore. Suffering, Jack slumped deeper into his seat that had grown smaller than he had anticipated. His eyes were glued to the newspaper but he could not process the words he was reading. Jack had lost focus and there was nowhere to run to. He wanted to relax and breathe as much as he wanted to immediately get off the airplane. As sixteen hours in transit turned to seventeen, his patience began to run thin. Jack awaited a chance to order his drink and escape the long travel that lay ahead. The plan was quickly falling apart.
A few minutes after take-off, Jack could hear the sound of the drinks carts readying for service. This was now a good moment for Jack. Second after second, being seated next to the snoring big man with bad breath and sticky leg was raising Jack’s level of agitation to a point of detonation. The drinks cart stopped beside Robert, who was seated asleep in his aisle seat. Robert’s dormant body served as a wall between Jack and his much needed whiskey. Jack made an attempt to alert the stewardess with his hand, to no success. Finally, he spoke
“Excuse me, I‘ll have a….”
“Sir, you will have to wait for a few minutes” The stewardess unlocked the wheel and hauled the cart to the front of the airplane. Jack was distraught and now in pain, realizing he would be the last to be served. He reminded himself that patience is a virtue. He convinced himself that the drink would taste better after a long wait.
“I’ll have a Maker’s Mark. Make that two so I won’t have to bother you later” Jack cracked a broken smile as he attempted to hand the stewardess his credit card.
“I’m sorry we do not have any whiskey left, sir. Anything else you might like to have?”
A darkness came over Jack’s face,
“Anything with alcohol in it…” He mumbled, thoroughly annoyed
“I’m sorry? Would you like a bottle of wine? We have beer, too, if you’re interested” The stewardess made an attempt to sound vaguely helpful.
“I’ll take a bottle of red wine”
Opening the bottle and pouring a glass full, the stewardess reached over to hand the glass and remainder of the bottle to Jack, who was now certain he could transform his desolate corner to a more pleasurable experience. Unfortunately for Jack, a thrust of turbulence decided to strike the plane just as he reached over Robert to grab his drink from the stewardess’s hands. Half the glass of wine splashed across Jack’s seatback tray table, the other half over the front of his fine collared shirt. The stewardess offered a robotic apology as Robert opened his eyes, jolted by the rumbling airliner.  He quickly returned to his slumber, snoring louder than before. The stewardess handed Jack some paper towels, water, and said she would return with another bottle wine.
Sitting in his corner with a red-stained shirt, a sticky sweat -dampened leg and limited room to breathe, Jack sipped his wine, assuring himself the flight could not get any worse. He had limited space to maneuver his body and with his arms tucked by his side, he could not adjust to his seat and get anywhere close to a range of comfort. He realized he had limited options in finding a remedy for his now aching body and struggle for space.
In between the two seats lay a sizeable armrest. There were three arm rests for the two seats, one situated on the aisle and one next to the window. The third was up for grabs between the two seats. It was no thicker than four inches across, large enough for one forearm, but more importantly big enough to provide much needed support for Jack’s tightly squeezed arm. Acquiring precious space on this chunk of solid plastic would temporarily alleviate the cramping and swing the momentum in Jack’s favor. Jack wanted to plan and win the fight back for his space but was cautious not to directly confront the man he would have to sit next to for the next few hours. Besides, the middle armrest was entitled to whoever placed their arm on it first. Jack plotted a scheme to win the arm rest.
Jack knew Robert would get up to use the restroom but there was hardly a signal to predict when.  He had not seen Robert take a drink and estimated that it could take over an hour, at the least. There was little time to lose. Sipping his wine, his contorted body was reaching a breaking point. He thought about walking to the back of the plane to stand for a few minutes but quickly dismissed the idea as the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign was on and getting up was not an option. Jack knew that on this day, he would not be relying on any sort of luck. He would need to trick Robert into moving his arm so he could take over the much needed space inconspicuously. Soon after this realization, Jack had a brilliant idea.
Jack dropped his tiny pillow to the floor of the plane, just below his own feet. Jerking his sweaty leg that was stuck to Robert, he slid the pillow under Robert’s seat with his foot. Robert mumbled in his sleep, grunting and awakening upright, his head a few inches away from leaning on Jack’s shoulder.  
“I’m sorry, Robert. I seem to have dropped my pillow. I think it might be below your seat. I can’t seem to reach it…” Jack was waiting for an offer from Robert to retrieve the pillow as he made a halfhearted attempt to reach down to the floor
“Here, let me get it for you.” Robert said enthusiastically, reaching down with his right hand that lay on the armrest to assist Jack recover the pillow. Jack was ready to win back a little space.
Just then, the stewardess arrived with a tiny bottle of red wine
“…And here is your wine, sir” Jack was in utter disbelief. Having to reach with his left arm to grab the bottle would provide Robert with enough time to resituate his arm on the armrest.
As Jack grabbed the wine, Robert’s head came up
“…And here is your pillow, good sir” Robert chuckled, handing Jack the pillow while simultaneously retaking his position on the armrest. With tired eyes, fatigued body, cramped arm, a red stained shirt, sweaty sticky leg, and barely any breathing room, Jack waved his white flag. He was finished and slumped quickly into his seat with his little bottle of wine, staring longingly out the window in hopes of landing soon. The stewardess lingered
“Sir...Your total comes to twelve dollars and seventy five cents” 
~SHASHANK MANE

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