Staring at the foggy window, I watched the commotion down below, eyes moving along as people working different jobs got ready for takeoff. While I watched the tiny ants scurry in and out of the crowded plane, the people around me cried out in frustration as another message of “sudden delay” came over the intercom, filling everyone’s ears. As if I had pressed a fast forward button, the ants over scurried faster, muttering curses about how much they hated their jobs. As my airline companions began to diddle with their watches and flip their frivolous magazines, I tried to catch up on twenty-three years of missed sleep. Closing my eyes, I waited, pretending I was in a movie, trying to knock out instantly.
When that didn’t work, I went back to people watching. I tried to relax. Then, a tap on my shoulder stopped me from even thinking about relaxation, the little “e-hem,” that followed providing more evidence for my thesis. Turning to see what the flight attendant wanted, I was unpleasantly surprised to see a man instead of a questioningly beautiful stewardess. He had an aura of happiness surrounding him; the smile on his structured face wasn’t the only bright clothing he wore.
“Orange chinos?” I asked.
A laugh came struggled out of him. “It’s a fashion statement,” he replied.
A fashion statement huh? “What are you trying to state? Trying to mark a detour?”
He laughed again. We’d only been talking for three minutes, but I could tell he laughed way too much. “No, I’m stating my existence so that gorgeous women with long hazel hair can notice me. Based on this conversation, it seems to be working.” He punctuated his response with a delayed wink.
“It’s dirty blonde,” I said. “Can I help you?” My patience was running out quicker than usual.
He smiled politely. “You’re in my seat.”
Unlike the man in the orange chinos, I had no smile. “Am I now?”
He never even broke that damn smile. “Yes, you are.” He handed me his airplane ticket, showing me the big red circle around the number 34A, the same 34A I was sitting in.
I stood slowly, eyes never leaving his and sat in the seat beside him. I wanted my window back. Suddenly, a hand blocked my vision of the chair in front of me.
“Abel Walker,” he insisted. Looking at him with a bored expression, I made no motion to take my head out of my hands. He had stolen my window. “Sorry,” he chuckled, “you’ll probably forever know me as Orange-Chino-Guy, but that is my name. My name is Abel Walker,” he repeated slowly, still offering his hand.
I looked back at the hand as a thought occurred. I slowly lifted my head out of my hands, placed my hand in his. “Madelaine Pierce,” I said, shaking his hand with a firm grip.
“Madelaine? Haven’t heard that name since I watched a movie about a British woman in the 1950s.”
I shrugged, “Movie must’ve been more popular than you’ve made it out to be.”
He smiled. “So where are you heading?”
If he kept going, soon I’d have to ask the stewardess for multiple glasses of water. “Same place you are,” I said, eyes never leaving his.
“So you’re also going to Granny’s house for her 83rd birthday.”
I gave him a weird look. “I would remember a face like yours at family reunions.”
He continued that same ol’ smile, concealing his obvious teasing.
I decided to play along, sleep obviously out of the question. “Do you always flirt with family members? That’s a little sick, dude.” I felt very successful when I saw that little smile just wiped away from his face, and instead a disguised and panicked face take over.
“I’m actually going to a business meeting, I might be getting a job offer at a publishing company,” I said, feeling bad for the guy.
A loud noise interrupted our conversation. Muffled voices came from the intercom until finally the pilot began to speak. “Ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the long delay, but we are now ready to begin our flight to Chicago.”
Abel replied, “Yes, we’ve been ready for the last hour.”
A few of our neighbors chuckled at the little remark. Admittedly, I did too.
“So, Ms. Working-At-A-Publishing-Company, how long are you going to be in Chicago?” he asked.
“It’s actually “Ms. Maybe-Will-Be-Working-At-A-Publishing-Company to you, Mr. Walker, but to answer your question, it’s the other way around. I’m just getting back home from Colorado. The job offer is an added bonus.” This was starting to get fun. “How long will you be staying in Chicago, Granny’s Boy?”
Grinning, he replied happily, “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a Granny’s boy!”
I laughed at that.
“But to your answer your question, Maddy, I’m staying just for the weekend. Two days at Grandma’s house and then I’m back home in Colorado.”
My brain kept going back to that one word he’d said. “I’m sorry, but Maddy?” I asked.
“C’mon, as if nobody’s ever called you by Maddy before!”
I froze at that—why was I so forgetful at times? “Right,” I said, “of course, yeah, people always call me Maddy.”
A frown overtook his smile, and I changed the topic, leaving our other conversation behind. “So do you have any pets?”
His reply was paused by the plane suddenly taking off. Gripping my armrests, I tried to think about anything other than the fact I might die. Breathing in and out, I continued until I felt the plane move more slowly and steadily.
“Never thought you’d be afraid of planes,” he said.
I opened my eyes at the words, my breathing calming down slowly. “Well I’m only scared of takeoffs.”
He seemed to get curious quickly. “What if it about takeoffs that gets you scared?”
Peeling myself off from the arm grips, I looked back at him. “Isn’t it obvious? You never know what might go wrong during a take off. It is fast and unpredictable and, well, fast! Do you know how many planes go down in the first two minutes of takeoff?”
He shook his head.
“I don’t know either, but I do know it’s more than ten!”
He still had the same curious expression on his face, but I also saw a hint of amusement.
“You owe me seventy dollars,” he said after my explosion.
I’d never turned my head quicker. “What? Why?”
He shook his head at me, trying to remain serious. “You’re paying for my therapy session.”
That got a laugh out of me. It seemed as though the rest of the flight was the same as the takeoff. We didn’t stop talking until I heard that little intercom come again: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now in Chicago. Please wait with your seatbelts fastened until the lights go off.” As though nobody had heard that announcement, there was a commotion on the small plane. Bags flew about and suitcases were rolled; small children cried of joy; I honestly wished I could join them.
I remained in my seat, next to Abel, until everyone else had left. Next thing I knew, we were at the gate, about to head our separate ways: he to his grandma’s, and I to my parents’, ready to celebrate my birthday by eating the cake with pink frosting spelling out, “Happy Birthday Ana!” Smiling at the thought, I turned back to Abel, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was staring at a man all the way across the room. A man with a suit, holding up a sign that spelled out Mr. Williams.
After waving his hand at the guy he looked back at me. “Well, thank you for switching seats with me, Ms. Pierce.” I smiled at him. Never thought I would make a friend on a plane. I was ready to “take that off my bucket list, along with the box that said, “Invent a life.” It seemed he could do the same.
“It was really nice to meet you, and maybe one day we’ll find each other again in different circumstances. Mr. Williams.”
He looked taken aback, but before he could respond I continued, “By the way, my name is Ana.”
He smiled, obviously connecting the dots. He took my hand and shook it with a firm grip. “It was very nice to meet you Ana. Maybe next time you won’t be scared of takeoff.”
I laughed. “Maybe next time you won’t wear orange chinos.”
He smiled. “I won’t make any promises.”
Then we were off.