It's On Us by Jahan Sharif


Lightning flickers in the distance, lighting up the sky like a shock of grey in an old man’s afro. The monitor tells me that the constellation of stars I’m trying to place is called Wichita, Kansas. Who chooses to live in Wichita? I think to myself. The Koch Brothers, I remember. I wonder what that’s like.

I refocus my attention on the passing storm, it’s huge. It’s well past midnight, and I’m tired, but I feel like there’s a metaphor here-- somewhere in the clouds. I’m searching for it, but I don’t find it. I look at the storm again, its expanse practically swallowing this state’s largest city. I close one eye, and try to pinch the city away between my fingers. I almost do. Lightning strikes again, almost cuing the hum of the engines to intensify as we climb. “Your Coke, brother.” 

The flight attendant is standing in the aisle holding my beverage over my seat-mate. “Thanks.” I reply. “What would you like for dinner?” he asks. “I’ll have the noodles.” I say, taking a sip of my drink. The tall, Black flight attendant, with his dreads pulled back into a neat pony, hands me a small container of soba noodles with chicken breast. “Enjoy.” 

delta noodles.jpg

I fumble with the seal, trying to find a graceful way in. I turn it around, and notice the outside flap says, “It’s on us.” I pause for a moment to think about what exactly they mean by it’s on us? I’m in a coach seat two rows behind first class. And the only difference between my coach seat and the ones 20 rows behind me (aside from mine being double the price-- I didn’t pay for it) is early boarding, this “free” dinner, and a few extra inches of knee room. Meanwhile, the seats in first class look like international business class suites. 

Words are powerful, because they are the tools of manipulation and persuasion. Remember when a “flight upgrade” meant you were being “bumped up” to “first class”? Your loyalty to the airline, rewarded with some time spent in that upper class lifestyle. At least in those days, you legitimately did get a different experience. Today, airlines are still giving out “upgrades” to Comfort+, but what do you get? Free food and overhead bin access. And we take it with a smile, because at least we’re not in the “main cabin”. 

Paying more for what we used to get for free is a scam; even if we might feel like it’s a good value. And we’re getting scammed everywhere. “Think tanks” dupe us into believing whatever is in their benefactors’ best interests, and then those same capitalists exploit our ignorance for profit. 

Our lackadaisical and egotistical thinking is lubricating our self-destruction. And we will continue to be powerless in any effort to combat this exploitation if we remain ignorant to our own contributions to the problems. 

The irony is that they told us exactly where the responsibility for change lies. They wrote it right on their packaging: It’s On Us.

The skies over Wichita, KS, USA
August 2019