Scenes from a journey

It’s mid-afternoon, but the airport is nearly empty.  There is no one behind me to wait impatiently while I unload shoes, laptop, liquids into the security bins.

“Do you have a laptop?”

It takes me a moment to realize that she’s talking to me, but then, who else would she be talking to?

“Yes, I do.”

“You need to take it out of your bag and put it in a bin.”

I respond by lifting my silver laptop out of its bin on the table, wordlessly demonstrating that I am aware of this regulation.  It seems an oddly accusatory instruction, given that I am still in the process of taking things out of my bag.

My belongings slide slowly through the X-rays.  The agent running the machine stops the belt, leans in, and lifts with one finger the strap of my Medela Pump-In-Style Advanced.

“What is this?” she asks.

“Breast pump,” I answer, a touch too loudly, overcompensating for my nervousness by a fraction of a tone.

She says nothing, but replaces the squat black cube in its bin and restarts the conveyor.  I half-expect another agent to materialize and swab the thing for explosives.  None do, but with the rush of adrenaline, I forget to pick up my pocket lip balm and spend the next thirty minutes trying to reassure myself that I didn’t forget anything else.

The airport remains eerily uncrowded.  I scan for a family or single-stall bathroom—there are none.  I scout out the ladies’ room—are there any outlets in the stalls?  How is this supposed to work, exactly?  I opt to stand at the far end of the counter, pumping apparatus modestly hidden under a nursing cover.

The pump is loud in the quiet room.

The janitor enters, a pleasant-looking woman.  She waves away my attempts to shift position and systemically wipes down the sinks, changes the trash, flushes the toilets.  It is only as she is leaving that I realize that she had blocked the bathroom entrance when she arrived.  I am grateful for this small kindness.

I buy myself a novel in the airport shop.  I cannot remember the last time I did this.  Usually I stare interestedly at the books on display, telling myself that they’ll be much cheaper on Amazon—except I never get around to purchasing them on Amazon.  And usually, I’ve brought a book from home.  But my book at home right now is a hardback copy of the eighth Outlander novel and my backpack has no space for that monstrosity, so I treat myself to a paperback of Gone Girl.

Three separate strangers on two separate flights comment to me that Gone Girl is a great book and I’m going to love it.

They keep announcing that the flight is completely full (“there is no remaining space in the overhead compartments”), but the seat next to me is still unoccupied.  Finally, a woman staggers down the aisle, led by a flight attendant, whose directions indicate that the woman had somehow lost herself on the way to seat 12B.

She seems to recognize the guy across the aisle from me, a man who could only be described as a “bro.”  Then she turns to me.

“Would you move to the middle seat?”

That’s it.  No “would you mind moving?”, no “I would really appreciate being able to sit next to my friend,” not even a “I met this guy in the airport bar and want to keep flirting.”  Just “would you move.”

I stutter, but can’t think of a way to say no without becoming the jerk in the interaction.  I’m also getting a strong feeling that she would just talk over me, if I were to remain seated in her way.  So I move.

She sprints to the bathroom the minute we’re in the air, heedless of the flight attendant’s chastisement and the “please remain in your seats” announcement that follows.  Later, she cheerfully declines to get out of the way for me, forcing me to awkwardly climb over her knees to exit the row.

She and the bro exchange phone numbers—and names.  They spend the ninety-minute flight flirting in the most blatantly obvious of ways.  They trade headphones to listen to each other’s music.  Sometimes they don’t bother with the headphones, choosing instead to share their music with the whole plane.

I try to drown out their conversation with my own headphones, with limited success.  They have jobs: she’s a mechanic, he’s a civil engineer.  She might have a kid.  They both buy alcoholic beverages from the flight attendant and toast something across the aisle.

It’s not that the instructions from Google Maps are wrong, it’s just that they appear to be filled with a number of extraneous side roads.  In the dark, I don’t care that going from road A to road B via roads C, D, and E shaves off half a mile when roads A and B do in fact connect directly.

Somewhere around road Q, I give up on the map completely and opt for the “I think this is the right direction” approach.  For several minutes, I drive alone in the dark countryside.

Fortunately, I’m right, and a few minutes later I pop out on a major throughway.

My mother has stayed up to let me in, as I knew she would.  I tell her that she’s free to sleep now, that I can take care of food and dishes and bedding myself, but she doesn’t.  We sit at the kitchen counter and I eat and she talks, and I wish I could take some of the sadness away from her.  She misses him—her father, my grandfather.

I miss him too.

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