Have you read The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, or Dominion (C.J. Sansom)? Two works of alternative reality science fiction in which the points on the railway of history are switched another way, throwing humanity down the wrong track.
Well, I say science fiction, but this has just happened to me. Somehow on the return journey from my Boat Trip I managed to slip through the veil separating parallel dimensions, and now I seemed to be trapped in a worrisome iteration of the world in which a hate-filled idiot with the attention span and skin colour of a goldfish is about to become the next US President.
It sounds far-fetched, I know, but bear with me. I think the dimension-hop occurred at the moment my flight from Muscat to London hit the cold, wet tarmac of Heathrow – it was a bit of a bumpy landing, come to think of it. When I left Bangkok, fourteen hours earlier, I was definitely still in my own dimension. After ten weeks on the road I was ready to come home. Although I’ve only got as far as Hanoi on this blog, my complete itinerary turned out to be thus:
Thailand – Bangkok, Chiang Mai
Laos – slow boat, Luang Prabang
Vietnam – Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An
Cambodia – Siem Reap, Koh Rong Samloem, Phnom Penh
Burma – Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Kyaitiyo, Mawlamyine
Bangkok again, then home.
(I’ll write up my impressions of the rest of the trip in due course – hopefully once I’ve found the portal back to a less terrifying version of reality.)
I was flying with Oman Air via Muscat, a route and airline I would thoroughly recommend. It was very cheap and all my flights were relatively empty, allowing me to stretch out over several seats and get a decent amount of sleep. During the brief stop in Muscat I checked my phone and everything seemed normal. I think the polls had closed in some parts of the US but not in others. Weirdly enough, I ended up listening to a radio interview my boyfriend did about the current threat to Hornsey Town Hall. That was strange: sitting on the marble floor of the airport, surrounding by tall men in elegant white dishdashas and embroidered skullcaps, listening to David talking to Vanessa Feltz.
Then I boarded the second, eight-hour flight. My sense of time stretched to snapping point between the Bangkok time I’d left, the Oman time I was now on and the time it would be in London. I went back to sleep, waking hours later to find the steward had thoughtfully wedged an array of juices and snacks into the seat pocket in front of me.
Then it happened. We landed with a bump in dark Heathrow. As soon as we’d stopped I checked the news. Everyone around me was doing the same.
“Good God, he’s ahead in the Electoral College,” I said, smiling, assuming it was one of those election night blips.
“He’s really far ahead,” the guy in the row opposite me said, frowning at his phone.
A woman behind us overheard, gave a little scream and pulled out her own phone. There was none of the usual pushy scramble for the overhead lockers, or pointless queue in the aisles while the plane doors were still locked; everyone was frozen in their seats, eyes on little glowing screens, or huddled around each other’s phones.
A deep silence descended on the plane.
At some point I refreshed the New York Times and it went from a 95% chance of the orange vandal winning to the news of him having won. Someone barked at me to put my phone away so I did, impatiently pulling it back out as soon as I could. I went through the incoming results with a couple who had obviously been following the race very closely; we whistled through our teeth as the news from the swing states. My hand was trembling violently as I held up my phone so we could all see the red-stained electoral map.
Then I looked up and realised with a tremendous jolt that I was standing at the baggage carousel and I’d been there for several minutes. I didn’t even have any checked baggage to collect. I’d registered passport control only as an instruction to put my phone away.
I said goodbye to the shocked couple and slipped away. Heathrow was quiet. Everyone looked stunned. My feet found their way down to the underground while I frantically searched through every news outlet I could think of, as if looking for the one that would say ‘just kidding!’ and all would be well. Everyone on the tube was silent, shocked, glued to their phones. People were actually making eye contact, an extremity of London commuter communication, equivalent in other cultures to people grabbing each other by the shoulders and yelling ‘what the hell is going on?!’ in their faces.
Then we went underground and lost internet connection. I looked around and realised, properly, that I was home: my ten-week journey had ended. But it was around then that I began to suspect that in a wider sense, I wasn’t home: I had landed in the wrong dimension, and my journey into this paranoid, debased, ignorant world had only just begun.