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Leaving the Land of Osh


With all the heightened airport security in the States, the Osh airport in Kyrgyzstan is a refreshing place. When a bearded man rushes up to me as I’m checking in my bags, and waves the knife he is hawking in my face, I feel refreshed. “Very good!” he shouts, butchering an imaginary goat with a few swift strokes. “Yes, very good,” I allow. I decline his polite offer of “Good price!” and make my way outside to where the plane awaits.  

The plane squats on the terminal, a pile of seats, bolts, and gears, held together solely by Kyrgyz willpower. Before boarding the plane, I expect to see peasants clutching chickens, babies peeing in the aisles. I’m a bit disappointed. The seats are not made of straw, and the pilot, despite the eyepatch covering his left eye, is not a pirate. His craft is small, however. Smaller, in fact, that the Kyrgyz sitting next to me, who, like a mannequin in some oversized boutique, is covered head to toe in high-end brand names. Her pink blouse, an Oleg Cassini, her scarf Dolce & Gabana, and the two warts on her nose, well, such exquisitely crafted pockets of hide-hid hideosity can’t be blamed on nature alone, so I’ll call them Sveta and Sasha, originals.

My seatmate and I exchange smiles, and I shake her meatloaf of a hand in greeting and solidarity. “Baba. Baba!” she grunts. I assume her name is Baba. I point at myself and say “Isaac,” and then point at her and say “Baba!”

“Ah-hah-ha!” she cackles, pleased. She draws the scarf tighter around her shoulders. Then she launches into a spectacular monologue, hands flailing, teeth gnashing, spittle dripping, flesh jiggling like a juggler’s orbs. It’s the story of her life: Of sitting on her father’s lap and fingering the medals on his jacket, of hiking up her skirt as army trucks pass, of sucking furiously on hard candy as her husband wheezes in bed, of a house crammed with pillows…

That’s what I imagine as she babbles on in Kyrgyz. I try to reconstruct the syllables and pick out the words I learned in Kyrgyz, like “Hello” and “You’re very beautiful” and “massive diarrhea.”  I nod attentively; look her and Sveta and Sasha in the eyes. Seemingly satisfied with my reaction to her story, she smiles, shifts her torso towards the window, her head following obediently.

I draw a bandana over my eyes and try to sleep. But as Baba’s legs occupy my leg room, mine are forced out into the aisle. The plane hums like a whoopie-cushion. I drift off to sleep.

Bam! The drink cart bangs into my legs. “Huh?” I wake with a start, my head jerking upward, crashing into something collosal. “Allrrgh!” Baba shrieks.  “Arrrrlllhhglllllgh!” Baba shrieks again.  Slowly, my eyes absorb my immediate surroundings: Baba’s bosom, Baba’s neck, Baba’s chins. “Shit,” I mutter.

Sighing, I retrieve my head from Baba’s chins as the stewardess and the passengers look on. Baba sobs, softly. She removes her scarf and uses it to wipe off her tears. I touch the top of my head, and realize I’m bleeding. Then I realize the blood’s not mine. Then I realize it’s not blood.

There are two pits on Baba’s nose, where Sveta and Sasha used to be. Gingerly, I dab my face with a napkin. When I look into the napkin, I see a mixture of pus and hair, like a half-chewed squirrel. Baba looks deep into my eyes, and sheds a single dollop of a tear.

Not sure what to do, I release my grip on the napkin, place it in my seat compartment, and then drop the bandanna over my eyes. A few minutes later, I hear movement. Through the bandanna, I see Baba’s hand sneaking onto my tray table. She grabs the napkin and stuffs it in her purse. With not so much as a tremor, her eyelids crash down and one solitary snore, like the squeal of a baby girl, escapes from her lips. 
 
Ten minutes later, the plane begins its descent into Bishkek. After the plane stops, I look out my window and see the pilots running out of the plane. Baba clutches her napkin. Everybody is calm, and everybody is in their own little world.

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