A speculative non-fiction piece by Alison Kinney.
EXTRADITION. Until the flight attendant delivered me into my new parents’ custody, they knew me only from photographs. One head-on, one in profile, with my name printed in English on a paper tag across my chest. Baby mugshots. All the papers were in order, my arrival signed for. I was ten months old.
FREIGHT. On my maiden voyage, I’d already flown further than my adoptive parents would fly in their lives. “She was the best baby on the plane,” said the flight attendant. “She didn’t make a peep.” She handed me into my mother’s arms and walked away.
Quiet as the kenneled pets riding in cargo. Quiet as contraband: baby birds shoved into a smuggler’s pants, fruit triple-wrapped in cling wrap, bringing a taste of home and plant disease to the other place. Quiet as a stowaway, bent double and sealed into a shipping container. Quiet as a bomb, because nowadays they don’t tick.
By all accounts, I made a happy American kid. Very quiet. Nobody remembers what my first word was. Sometimes the silence of our house deepened until Mom came searching for me. She’d find me under my crib or inside the closet, not making a peep.
FLIGHT PATH. We were a planeload of flight attendants and babies, who flew seven thousand miles from Seoul to Anchorage to New York City, across the International Date Line and ten time zones. I have no memory of the flight.
Thousands of other flights followed that trajectory, planeloads of babies and little kids. Some of us were old enough to remember; some have retraced our steps; some have told the rest of us what happened. What I know about it now doesn’t depend on my memory at all.
EMERGENCY EXIT. Remember the last time you took a plane trip with a baby—your own, or anybody else’s—the Baby On Board who presaged doom? Or the restive four-year-old, ears popping, shrieking too hard to remember to swallow?
“Are we there yet?” you cried. You considered bailing, but those were life preservers under the seats, not parachutes. Knowing there’d be no escape for the next two, ten, or twenty-two hours, you lowered your seat and ordered a drink.
Now multiply that by fifty, or a hundred. The babies, I mean. Or the drinks.
IN-FLIGHT SERVICE. We occupied whole rows in Coach, dozens of us, apportioned five to a flight attendant. There weren’t enough arms to hold us all. The flight attendants demonstrated the seatbelt and oxygen mask, waved toward the exits, served dinner—and changed diapers. They bottle-fed babies and burped them over their shoulders. They comforted, pacified, scolded, smiled and smiled, and didn’t give a hoot that you wanted your drink refilled.
“She was the best baby on the plane. She didn’t make a peep.” Of course the flight attendant told my parents that. She’d worked a double shift on a job that wasn’t her job and longed to sack out in her hotel room. She was going to say whatever it took, to get rid of that baby. Nobody will sign for the worst baby on the plane.
She was the last Korean adult I’d see for sixteen years, one of only two Koreans at all. The other one was my sister, who flew to join us two years later. No, she’s not genetically related to me, my sister. Or the flight attendant, either, in all likelihood.
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