Whenever he was on a plane, Damian Birch would try to eat as neatly as possible. For no particular reason, really. It wasn’t so much that he was upset by messiness (his two-bedroom apartment in lower Manhattan would most certainly suggest disorderly enviroments were not a concern of his), he merely enjoyed eating each one of the airplane treats one by one, peeling off the wraps, breaking the little bread into bits and pieces, taking bites of his little tray, and then folding every piece of napkin, packet, butter container and placing them fastidiously inside a different container – like those plastic bowls where one might find little pieces of fruit or a bland dessert, and sealing it with whatever wrap they’d come with. Later, he’d arrange every utensil tidily within his tray, trying to make it look as if nothing had happened, as if the meal had never been opened and some items just happened to be upside down. Damian used to think this would be something nice for the flight attendants to come across, to find such a proper man, and that it would somehow inject a little joy to an otherwise tedious and sloppy task, but that was not why he did it. He didn’t know or question why, he just did it. It pleased him and he couldn’t help himself. He rarely ever thought about it or what it meant.
Writing was always such a random event. He always felt the urge to write but could almost never export this compulsion to actual words on a computer. And yet, sometimes, like that on a plane when he was describing his unusual eating habits, he could find no peace until the job was done. He needed to get it out, it was tingling all over his body, making him increasingly anxious as the words crept back and forth inside him looking for a way out. Forced to keep his phone off and unable to reach his iPad, Damian scolded himself for leaving his notebook at home. It was cute, too. It had a lovely illustration which read «Dear whoever, tell Trip I’m over him. He’s a creep. – You know who». He seldomly considered crossing out «Trip» and inserting Richard, his latest acquired disappointment, but would ultimately abstain. He searched his pockets for a piece of paper that wasn’t a government issued requirement to enter or exit a country and found his printed boarding pass. He went to town on it. It was folded four ways so he treated it as a little book, filling it page by page. He loved the way his pen would flow effortlessly across the paper, ink all warmed up from being in his pocket for so long. It stained the right side of his ring finger, the side that was pressed against the paper when he wrote, but it never bothered him. It reminded him of being in school. He never really quite learned how to hold the pen. It didn’t shame him that much anymore. In fact, he rarely thought about it.
Once he had finished he laid back on his seat, 37 A – window, and let out a heartfelt sigh. Damian was exhausted, genuinely spent by the labor of love. But it was what he loved. It could knock life’s wind out of him, wipe him out and consume his every cell and still he would not budge. He’d remain, a worn out carcass waiting to rot, if needed be. Because he knew it was right. He was satisfied – and he was not the type of man to ever be. He kept searching for something more around the corner that could be so much better. But not when he knew he’d got it right. The words, the sensation, the rhythm. No, when he got it right he was always content. Finally, something was enough.
All four pages were completed now, except for the last one. He’d look at the piece of paper, scribbled on every side. He wanted to look for synonyms of words he had caught himself using more than once and too close together. He would do that upon landing, while he typed it in his computer, before he put it up on his blog for anyone to read. Eventually he’d publish a finished version, where a total of sixteen words would be replaced. He had stated that the last page of the four-fold wasn’t full, so he decided to be true and stopped midway. Well, a little past the middle. Some might say it was almost kind of full, but that had always been his problem. Knowing when to stop.
The cab ride was rather scary. How bikers in this city don’t break their skulls on a daily basis was beyond him – he didn’t know this at the time, but data actually suggested that for every 100,000 people, 7.1 would die in a bike-related accident that year. They had completely taken over the white lines that delineated the traffic lanes creating their own. It was nervewracking just to watch. She now understood Paola. She’d said if you could drive in Brazil, you could drive anywhere, but people say that about any place that’s not North America. He could say the same about his hometown (although not a soul has gotten him to reveal where the hell he’s actually from) and had heard similar things on Iran, where Mila was from. Big cities scared Damian in general, but insisted «Manhattan doesn’t count», for it was actually «not that big, you can actually walk from one end to the other, though you might get shot». He was a true coward when it came to strange places. Passing through entire communities of homeless people didn’t help much. «Internet», he thought to himself as the driver made yet another random hand gesture, as if he was trying to swat every car in front of him with his mind. «A shower and internet and it’ll all be alright». He desperately needed to unwind. The drive up to the hotel had been rather depressing and his stomach was in knots. And those damn bikers kept attempting suicide right by him. «Nerves of still», he thought of telling the driver. He said nothing. He didn’t really feel collected enough to spark a conversation. Before he knew it, he had arrived. It didn’t make the ride seem any shorter or less exhausting, though.
«Storytelling is all about transformation», he announced to a room half full and half awake. Only a handful of boys were paying attention. He didn’t mind. «That’s why all of your damned stories start, lead up to or dwell entirely in death». This got a few laughs and Damian was pleased. He had always fantasized about being the clever, funny professor that students would discuss around campus, under trees or in the cafeteria, long after his class was done. «Death transforms everything in the most drastic and profound way, yes», he proceeded. «But let’s give the old gal a break. Huge, earthshattering changes can occur in the most intimate spaces. Sparks from a faulty socket will set a house on fire, my father used to say. Granted, he was talking about a completely different subject, but it applies». Damian was rambling, but he felt he recovered pretty decently. He just needed to challenge those little bastards to lay off Death and start digging. It was too predictable, too easy, too mindnumbing after the ninth paper. He threatened to will a stroke if anyone turned in another dead daddy piece and recommended the school counselor for all unresolved daddy issues. A few more laughs, but not as refreshing as the previous tirade.
«I never plan on anything, kid», he muttered, still half chewing a mouthful of cherries and bananas off his fruit salad. «I’ve read about all these writers who map out a general outline of who their characters are and what’s gonna happen, but I can’t do that. I just think about what I wanna say and then think of the best context in which this could happen and that’s how I discover who my characters are. I learn about them and build their story as I go. I wish I could plan it!». At this point I’d lost my concentration and kept fidgeting in my seat, turning my head in every direction searching for the waiter who was yet to bring me my club sandwich. Fuck, I was hungry. «Essentially, I’m every character, but since I can’t say everything through my point of view as a narrator, I incorporate everyone else», he concluded, absolutely clueless to my petty struggle. «When I feel someone’s hit their mark and had their fair share of opinions, I bring someone else to keep talking. Keep ME talking», he stressed and chuckled. Yeah, Damian certainly liked the sound of his own voice. But then again I did, too. He could go on forever and I wouldn’t care. The only thing that slightly bothers me is that he knows this all too well. It doesn’t feel like a terribly smart move, you know? Being so transparent about it. You just know I’m setting myself up to lose.