The Runaway

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
Justin looked up at the tired faces sitting opposite him in the waiting lounge. Most looked travel-weary, and all of them were asleep. Except him. He was still awake at 1am in the morning, waiting for his flight. He wanted to sleep, but the tingling feeling he always had just before he drifted off eluded him tonight.
He wondered if it was the nerves from flying, or there was something else on his mind that kept his gears moving. "Stupid brain," he cursed, "can't ever stop thinking about things." He sighed, exhaling a deep breath of air as he adjusted his position, leaning against his left arm instead of his right. "If I could just find that perfect position," he thought, "maybe I'll be able to fall asleep then."
He blinked a few times, remembering a trick an old friend in the army had taught him to help fall asleep a little easier. He wasn't trudging through the jungles of nature anymore, but he might as well have swapped one for the other. "One of wood and mosquitoes to one of steel and uncomfortable seats," he pondered, "I guess some things stay with us, even after we've left them behind."
In his mind he thought about his future. About where he might go after he arrived at his destination. Where was it again? He suddenly couldn't remember, and panicked as he shot up in his seat. He scrambled for his passport and boarding pass as they scattered on the floor and quickly scooped them up, returning them to his embrace once again. Glancing at his boarding pass, he quietly reassured himself where he was going. "Tokyo Narita," he recalled, "the connecting flight."
A voice came over the PA system, opening boarding for all passengers. At last, he could board the flight and settle in for the next few hours. With any luck he would fall asleep and when he opened his eyes he would be far from home. He chuckled, suddenly aware of the irony of what he was doing. Running away from the country which had provided him everything, even the passport he was using. He had packed nothing but a single backpack, as if to go camping for a night or two. But he was very aware of how many nights he would not be home. Home. Where was home for him? Certainly not here anymore. This country had given him much, that was true, but it had also taken away just as much. That was also true.
There was nothing for him at 'home' anymore. It hadn't been since...a long time ago. Now it was just a brick-laid box of four walls, a marble-tiled floor, and a ceiling. He was glad to leave, but at the same time, he wondered about the possibility of staying behind. A nagging ache tugged at his heartstrings as he boarded the plane, brushing past other groggy passengers who were just waking up to the sound of the airline staff herding them in like sheep. Not the material possessions he had accrued over the course of the years, but a life he would have if he stayed. Could have had, more precisely.
All the connections he would never make again, train rides across the entire line while watching the sun set through the glass windows, the hill near where he lived. Was he doing the right thing? Making the right choice, if he stayed? "No." He steeled himself against these thoughts, shoving his pack up into the baggage compartment above his seat, and sat down in his window seat. He loved window seats. Always had and always will. He never lost the joy of looking through the window as the plane took off and shot high into the clouds, even though it hurt his eyes and made him see everything in shades of purple for a while after.
He wondered what kind of life he would have in this strange new land he was going to. Traveling there was one thing, but that was merely the beginning. The beginning of a whole new life. Maybe he would change while he was there; figure out and "discover himself", as other people liked to say. Eventually he quieted his inner workings; thinking about all the new possibilities was fun and all, but ultimately the real fun was the journey and not the destination. He had no idea what he was going to do there, but he could not have cared any less. This flight was in itself a journey, and he thought he should enjoy it while it lasted. He was never a pilot, but he was always eager to fly. At least, to experience the exhilarating thrill of landing and takeoff. He knew some people didn't enjoy it, but who cares? He didn't.
As long as he had a fun time and his fellow passenger in the middle seat didn't ruin it for him, he would be just fine. He glanced at the passenger next to him; a middle-aged man, armed with a travel pillow, a blindfold, and earpieces. A seasoned traveler, he reckoned, and too tired and experienced to care.
He had brought none of those items with him, save his earpieces, but that didn't seem to bother him. Comfort wasn't exactly on his packing list when he left. Just being on a passenger flight, the very fact that he was traveling, was enough to put him in a good mood.
As the last of the passengers embarked and the boarding gate was closed, the captain addressed the passengers and allowed the air crew to conduct final checks and safety announcements. Then, just as they were done with all they had to do, the captain addressed the flight again, "Good evening passengers, this is your Captain speaking. Time now is 2.25am, and we are currently awaiting clearance for takeoff. Weather is clear and we expect to arrive in Tokyo Narita as scheduled. In the meantime, all of us from cabin crew and pilots do hope you will enjoy your flight. Thank you."
"Yeah, enjoy my flight. Every time I fly I regret it. Why haven't I retired yet?" Muttered the man sat next to Justin. "Grumpy man," he thought, "at least he's asleep. Mostly." Justin looked out the window, where he could see the lights on the tarmac blinking, leading the aircraft toward the runway.
Takeoff would commence soon, and he thought about what the man said. Regrets? He scanned his mind for things he might regret. Last goodbyes? No, he hated goodbyes. Too many people tearing up at the end. Things he failed to pack? No, he could buy them wherever he landed. No big deal. Taking one last look at everything he was leaving behind? No, he could always come back whenever.
There was only one regret he had, but that was long out of his reach. There was no way he reconcile that now. He sighed, and considered the possibility of how things might have turned out differently. "If only I had gone home then," he silently lamented, "I could've enjoyed Mother's food one last time."