The Nice Thing About Strangers

Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.

You Can Read Over My Shoulder, But You Can’t Come Along

In the shuttle bus to the airplane, I break into scraps of conversational Turkish with a group of teenage boys from Kahramanmaraş. Even the boldest among them–a boy with smooth hair and light eyes–is subject to bolts of shyness. They are at the closing of a school trip, and remain curious–asking me about my Turkish boyfriend in simple phrases, often repeating themselves over and over until I get a general idea. Or until I make a wild stab at a sentence, hoping that my answer might relate to their question. They often divide into small groups and confer, then one representative returns with a new inquiry.

In the airplane I have an aisle seat across from the light-eyed one, who continues his attempts at chitchat across the aisle. In the window seat of my row sits the boy who most resembled my brother–sheepish and kind. He seems to have a better mastery of English, but is too apprehensive to speak.  He offers me a red apple with a smiling blink.

Somewhere after takeoff another from their group, newly splashed with cologne, takes the middle seat between my little brother surrogate and myself.  He takes up the helpless interview until I politely wave out and turn to my book.

I am reading Flannery O’Connor’s Collected Short stories, a book with peacock feathers on the front. I lean over a story called, “The Turkey,” without thinking of any clever connection to my neighbors. I dig into this story while the three around me try to read along, even the one leaning across the aisle tries despite the interruptions of the beverage and duty-free carts.

A line from the story strikes me and I grow still. Tears drop from my eyes onto the book. The boys jump. They could see the English word for their country at the top of the page, but this may have been all they could discern from the story, written in dialect, and causing that happy American woman to grow so swept away and solitary.

-Flight from Budapest, Hungary to Istanbul.

11 comments on “You Can Read Over My Shoulder, But You Can’t Come Along

  1. megalagom
    March 19, 2012

    I wish to someday have such touching and rich memories and experiences as you. You write beautifully.

    • Thanks so much! We’ll trade when you hit the road, but I bet there are these moments around you already. My father’s side of the family is Swedish, so I’m rooting for you up there!

  2. Jeff Walker
    August 29, 2014

    Fan.Tas. Tic.

  3. roughwighting
    August 29, 2014

    And the line was?? Flannery O’Connor stories do cause tears and introspection, for sure. Fascinating description of setting while reading this incredible author.

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      August 29, 2014

      Hmm, I do have this line transcribed, though I can’t be certain it was the one. 🙂 “He’d never see the turkey now. He wondered why he had seen it in the first place if he wasn’t going to be able to get it. It was like somebody had played a dirty trick on him.”
      O’Connor is a remarkable author. I agree with you on that!

      • roughwighting
        August 30, 2014

        And such a good question, the narrator had. Like, ‘why do we see a slice of heaven, once, if we’re not sure we’ll really ever get there?’ Flannery asks those questions in her ‘little’ stories that resonate with us so much.

  4. M-R
    August 29, 2014

    Oh, that’s marvellous, Paige … such a moment !!

    • thenicethingaboutstrangers
      August 30, 2014

      🙂 I’ve even stayed in touch with the boy from across the aisle, Samet. As my Turkish gets better, we can say a bit more. One day I’ll ask if he remembers the role of the book in this chance meeting!

      • M-R
        August 30, 2014

        That makes it even better … Just lovely.

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This entry was posted on March 12, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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