Taking off from an unknown departure port, darkened dusky skies outside, we begin to cruise at an altitude not quite optimal, and yet I am not afraid.
Before this, however, a man in a short-sleeve plaid button down shirt sits next to me just as the plane launches into its race towards the edge of the runway. I am by the window and he in the aisle seat. I glance over at him and notice he is the type of man who has decided to shave his head rather than go bald — he reminds me of a young Ed Harris, but with bad intentions.
Cupping what I gather is peanuts in his palm, he looks over at me and attempts to buckle his seat belt with one hand. He pops the nuts in his mouth and says, “They’re not wasting any time, are they?” He means the men in the control tower. Or, perhaps the men in the cockpit.
I smile in response. I haven’t decided yet what I want to offer this stranger. He, however, offers me a stick of gum.
“What flavor is it?” I ask. He wrinkles his forehead, almost withdrawing the stick.
“Spearmint. Wrigley’s,” he says.
“Okay.” I pull it out from the pack and unwrap the silver. Pop it in my mouth.
It is indeed Wrigley’s Spearmint. This is a certainty, if a wearisome one.
* * *
Later, the skies are darker still and we seem to be skimming over land that is lush with plant life. I see tall buildings in the distance and understand we are far from the intended connecting city of Greenville, North Carolina. We are approaching L.A. instead and this is reassuring to me even though it’s unexpected. There is someone I love in L.A. Someone who loves me. If only I could remember her phone number.
* * *
Something else happens on this flight before it is over, but it is not yet explainable. It will be explainable only in the future when they invent the uninvented electronic device I am pretending to work on so I might have extra time to decide whether the man next to me is good or bad.
I untangle the snaky white headphone cord and place the buds in my ears, but cannot decide whether or not to plug in. The electrical connector for sound is not on my arm rest, but on a panel at the end of the row of seats and I will have to reach over the man sitting next to me in order to insert it. Furthermore, I have a hunch that introducing the jack to the hole will mean unprecedented access to my brain. I am not ready for this, even though it’s become acceptable practice. I am not ready for this, even though my acceptance is unavoidable.
* * *
Finally, the man pulls a navy blue coat from the overhead compartment. He stuffs the cushy light down jacket into his armpit and stands in preparation for deplaning even though we haven’t yet landed. I stay seated. I follow the rule I have always followed, which is to remain in my seat until an announcement indicating we may unbuckle and rise.
The man, however, has decided this is where he is getting off. I am both irritated and impressed, and conclude this man is neither good nor bad, simply average.
An average man.
“Hmm,” I think, but don’t say and turn to look out the window.
I see the storms now in the distance. Thunder has taken shape. It was a good idea to land in L.A. even though it means my journey will last that much longer.
I look back over towards the aisle. The man has gone. The lights are still dim in the cabin and I am still seated, still unafraid.