You gathered from his intimate tone that he was talking with a girlfriend on the other end of the line and that it was a new relationship, and his heart-to-heart carried on despite the voice overhead instructing passengers to turn off all electronic devices. You wanted to slap him were it not for his brief words to you as the plane took off and he ducked back under the blanket and became a blue ghost, “You’re with me, right?”
In the split second he made this connection, your better judgment for the safety of this overbooked flight was overruled by your persistent nature to get along, and so you entered this complicity as you watched the flight attendant walk by and kept your mouth shut.
You waited in anticipation as the plane reached an altitude fit for only birds and gods, waited for the moment your seatmate was cutoff from his phone conversation, and when it finally arrived, you thanked the heavens for the return of quiet and the empty middle seat between you and him.
For the next two hours, you and seatmate, who’d emerged from hiding, watched movies on your respective small screens, headphones clamped over ears. At mealtime, you passed him his dinner tray from the aisle seat.
“Hi,” he said, breaking the ice, “I’m Krishna.”
“That’s not a small name,” you blurted, surprised to hear yourself say this. Gods hid in plain sight. You recognized him now. You had a knack for it.
“I was born in New Jersey,” he was quick to say, “My parents are from India. We’re going back for a cousin’s wedding.”
“Cool,” you said, playing along.
You believed yourself immune to holy stardom after living with Jesus in the 90s. This modern-day carefree version of a savior showed up at your doorstep one day answering your ad for a housemate. He captivated friends and neighbors by his mere presence. You found his wide musical taste, from Slayer to Dolly Parton, and his long braided tresses refreshing.
You thought back on that year when your new housemate shared his insight on eternal life (this confirmed his identity, but you never let on), but also left dirty dishes in the sink, played his guitar too loudly in the wee hours of the morning, and turned the living room into his closet, the floor and sofa strewn with leather jacket, flannel shirts and torn jeans (his excuse before slipping back into his bedroom: too busy to do anything else but save souls). Your tank of compassion running on fumes, you announced to the Holy One that he needed to find another place to live. You did not want to be someone’s housekeeper or parent, not even for providence. He nodded, said he understood. When you returned to the apartment after work the following day, Jesus had moved out, strands of his long hair curled into a ball in the bathtub drain. A surge of relief replaced the guilt you’d carried for weeks.
“God, I hope no one else in my family gets married soon. Air India has upgraded their planes, but these flights should really be shorter,” Krishna said after describing the weeklong event he would be attending.
He reminded you of your former flatmate: confident and intelligent, spoiled and entertaining.
Your initial ten minutes of chatter stretched into a longer personal conversation about his parents, both doctors, who grew up poor in Madras and his college experience in the state of Georgia, his first time away from family. You were riveted by this twenty-three year old reincarnate.
“I got depressed and transferred to another college closer to home,” he said.
His parents sat on the other side of the plane because of an arrangement glitch. They appeared often at your row to check up on their son. Attentive, pleasant, they eyed you like a mother bird.
“The thing that bothers me about India is the lack of personal space,” Krishna said.
He broke out of his reverent identity with ease and you laughed each time. In fact, you began to recognize yourself in him, a being who craved autonomy.
“How do you make a living as a writer?” he asked you.
“I don’t,” you replied, explaining how you had cobbled together part-time jobs in the last few years after leaving your drawn-out career as a rehabilitation counselor to write and follow your wanderlust.
An aspiring creative, Krishna pulled out an iPhone from his shirt pocket to share a short film he’d made in college. It was five minutes long and his former boss played a terrorist. The film had garnered a prize at a festival and since then he wondered about a career in the arts.
“I’m still deciding what to do with my life.”
Even divine beings needed a break. To live apart from familial expectations. To just be in the liminal spaces and not the limelight. Why hadn’t you seen this before you slammed the door on Jesus?
Krishna’s eyes sparkled when he spoke of his sweetheart of the last six months, a divorced Panamanian-American woman who’d grown up on a farm. Ah, you thought, the one he was willing to risk the safety of your flight for.
“She is my muse and I can’t live without her,” he admitted. “If my parents found out, they would split us up. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, you wait and see.” That was your only advice. In your old life, it translated well.
It must have been enough. Your anxiety-ridden seatmate fell asleep in the dimly lit cabin, leaning against the window, face disappearing into the sky.
At the Delhi airport hours later, passport stamped, body weary, you made your way to the terminal exit and in the crowd spotted a mother and father standing on either side of a man-child that could’ve been him, harbinger of the heavens, but you’re no longer certain. You took that as a good sign.