To the outside world, he is a stone-cold man, and smiling is a foreign concept. Wrinkles ravage the land between his brows despite being only 26. During the day, he works to make money. During the night, he sleeps only so he can make more money the following morning. Life is static except for his ever-growing bank account. Ever since the beginning of his occupation, his vacation days have remained untouched. He shows up to work every day, not even stopping for his birthday. Co-workers, after inviting him to a couple parties in vain, have long given up on their efforts. Parties are a waste of time, he thought. And so, this man continues his life of money-making monotony.
Despite being quite a successful businessman, Chou frequents economy class airline flights due to his Scrooge-like beliefs. On this day, he carries his modest briefcase and suitcase through the terminal and onto the plane. The plane’s hallways are quickly congested with people and their baggage as they worm their way to their seats. Chou does the same. Quickly, he heaves the luggage into the upper storage compartment and, after wrestling the laptop from his briefcase, stuffs the case under his seat. He holds the laptop in his lap until trays are permitted to be opened. Chou settles into his seat. The relentless chatter of each person which blends into a dull hum. Safety instructions are repeated from overhead speakers, seatbelts are secured, and flight attendants check the overhead compartments. The captain welcomes everyone on board. Soon, the plane taxis to the runway, and the captain expertly directs the plane into the sky. They quickly reach cruising altitude and the overhead seatbelt light blinks off. Besides the roaring of the engines, a hush settles over the cabin when the overhead lights are dimmed. Chou unfastens his table tray, immediately beginning to work on his business logistics.
As many people are familiar with, the economy class does not harbor optimal conditions for comfort. Chou begins to experience this fact after some time. The person next to him, a middle-aged man dressed in a button-up polo and khaki shorts, sits rigidly still, listening to music through his headphones. The sweat stains around his collar and armpit grow larger and larger by the hour. The body odor surrounding this man also grows larger and larger as the sweat particles diffuse through the air.
Chou sniffs. He sniffs again.
The man, hoping to alleviate some of his tension caused by intense aerophobia, stretches his arms toward the sky, completely exposing his pits. The smell is a million times stronger now, and everyone in a 10-foot vicinity is subjected to nasal cavity assault. They cover their noses, turn on the fan, and turn away. However, Chou does none of this. He’s lost on a nostalgia trip. This smell reminds him of his first love. She smells exactly like this. Chou turns his head toward the man and sniffs.
He leans in closer and catches a whiff of her scent. It is sweat that he smells, but he does not mind. It’s a warm, sunny day in the park and Chou is a different man. His mouth shows the beginning of smile-wrinkles and his eyes glitter in the sunlight. He sits crisscrossed on a red, plaid blanket surrounded by fruits and snacks and accompanied by the love of his life. In his eyes, she is perfect. Every glance in her direction sets off sparks in his stomach. To the outside world, she may be tacky, but the loud voice and border-line bossy attitude disguise a sound mind and big heart. With eyes that are not too big yet not too small, hair that is not too long yet not too short, a height that is not too tall yet not too short, and etc., she dominates Chou’s world. With one last look at the woman’s eyes and dimpled smile, his flashback jumps to another scene.
They are arguing. Chou’s girlfriend is standing in the living room that can barely be called a living room while Chou hovers in the small apartment doorway. Her voice rises with every sentence and they pierce Chou’s ears.
“There’s no way we and our baby can live here!” she argues.
“This is all I can afford!” he counters.
They bicker until Chou backs off, storming out of the dinghy complex and into the chilly, nighttime streets. The darkness of night is oppressive and pushes against the feeble streetlights and houses. Somewhere in a corner, a rat skitters away. Chou does not notice any of it.
Realizing that Chou is sniffing him, the seatmate jumps and looks at Chou incredulously. "What’re you doing, man?" his eyes seem to ask. Booted from his reverie, Chou straightens his shirt and composes himself. It is not like him to ever think of the past because he has made himself a future-oriented person. With the shake of his head, he turns back to his laptop and attempts to continue his reports. Unsurprisingly, he cannot focus. Each word brings him back to the girl and the lingering smell of the man’s sweat does not help at all. Where is she? he wonders for the first time in years. He hopes she is doing well. Surrendering to his wandering thoughts, he folds his laptop closed and leans back into his seat.
Throughout the rest of the flight, Chou is lost in his thoughts of her. He remembers each and every moment they were together, sometimes even the exact wording of her sentences. He arrives at the destination exhausted: an eight-hour flight and not even a wink of sleep. Chou does his best to ward away the intruding thoughts. They make him sad. Out loud, he curses his big brain and people move their children away from him. Thoroughly frustrated, he busies himself in the upcoming presentation’s script and graphs.
Fast forward a few hours, Chou delivers a stunning presentation. His sponsors are impressed and he scores a considerable grant. Without break, he moves onto the next big thing to boost his company, to bury himself in work, to avoid all of his other troubles. Sometimes, it’s easier to work than to face our lives.