Tuesday, 12 February 2013

288: City Lights

Derek was never sure whether the lights of the cities below the plane were going to dazzle him or bore him as they came in to land.  ‘Travelling frequently for work makes one so jaded’ he often told people, especially those who wanted to talk about how fabulous all that international travel must be.

Like most of the middle aged, bespoke-suited businessmen who travelled around the globe in search of deals and clients, Derek really only saw a limited amount of the world.  Inside of airports, taxis through dark streets and hotel rooms, even if they were plush.  The company at least paid for rooms at the top of the range, as they should after 19 years of loyal service thought Derek.  They couldn’t afford for one of their top guys to get tired on the job, could they.

Derek looked out of the window at the ground below.  The descent hadn’t yet started and in the night sky the power of the lights below didn’t reach the plane.  The sky was clear with minimal, wispy clouds, nothing to stop the glittering once they began to climb back down from the air and into the ordinary world.

A steward with slim hips and artificially flattened crow’s feet announced the plane was about to begin the descent into London Heathrow and although he knew that would still mean a good 20 minutes or more, Derek readied himself for landing.  He wiggled his shoulders and his toes, rotated his head left and right as far as it would go, sipped water and took a hard mint to suck on so his ears wouldn’t pop.  That was one thing he never could conquer however many thousands of miles he flew each year.

Looking out of the window again, Derek could see the lights of towns below him as the ground became clearer and sharper.  Streetlights showed the routes to peoples’ houses and flats.  Car headlights lit the way they travelled home, so much more slowly than Derek and the other travellers.  Chains of bulbs lit shops and gaseous brightness adorned restaurants and clubs.  Derek, tired from the flight, found them neither boring nor dazzling tonight.

The plane closed the rest of the way to the ground, touched down then went into reverse thrust to slow down.  As it taxied to a halt Derek could see dozens of other planes, some empty ready for cleaning, some landing like him and others preparing to take off and fly to places with their own glittering lights.

The plane came to a complete halt at the gate and Derek switched off the seatbelt light so the passengers could disembark.  Even with the cockpit door shut tight he could hear the thumping of feet as 200 economy fliers unfolded themselves and rushed for the exits.  They would now return to family and friends and colleagues with stories of how wonderful or dreary or busy or fruitful or exciting their trips had been.

Derek would head home to the flat he once shared with Cathy, drink expensive whisky in the dark and wonder whether the dazzle really did leave him at the same time she did.


  1. poignant and sad...the lights have gone out in more ways than one.. there's a lovely symmetry to this tiny tale.