Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.
I get to sit by him! The little old Japanese man I spotted back in the glacial airport check-in lines–he’s in my row and he will be spied upon.
He wears a surgical mask, sits for a while with his feet tucked under his thighs. He peers out browline glasses, he has wispy hair and vinelike eyebrows. The classic Grandpa cardigan keeps him warm.
His wife rests in the seat between us, so short her feet only touched the floor when she points them. My bag is under the seat in front of me and when I lean to get a pen, she thinks I am bowing. She bows lower. I bow back.
Later I need lip balm, a snack, another book–any time I reach for my bag she begins to bow. We set off a series of respectful awkwardness in the small space above the seat pocket. I want to say something–thank you or a correlative, respectful term for a cease-fire–but suddenly the only Japanese that comes to mind is, “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto,” and I have no idea what it actually means. So we just keep smiling and bowing. The little old man by the window sometimes watches the contest, sometimes skims a Japanese guidebook about Budapest, and sometimes stares straight ahead, his eyes not drooping closed with exhaustion. Not yet. Not on their first leg.
When we arrive, there is an echo of clicks from unlatched seatbelts as the announcement asks people to stay seated during taxi. It’s not an emergency evacuation, but a moment of contagious restlessness. People stand and start pushing forward. We are only going to a shuttle bus on the ground, after all. Once out of the plane, the waiting will continue, but there was no desire on the part of the passengers to let rows in front of them depart first.
Channeling someone much tougher than myself, I move into the aisle and hold back the maddening crowd so my darling and miniscule seatmates can climb out of the airplane before being overrun. I quite enjoy compelling politeness out of the 30+ numbered rows. As they grumble, I smile. And when I enter the shuttle, my seatmates offer me one last excellent bow. So we are even.
-Flight from Budapest to London. Also the scene of: The Shared Eyebrow and the Runaway Tablet