“Had a beer, but I don’t think I’m gonna sleep,” he said, as he slid into the middle seat and stuffed down a tattered backpack. “I never sleep on planes. I hate to fly.”
With a nod and a smile, I re buckled my seat belt. Could he be old enough to drink? When he stopped at my row, I had pegged him as a teenager escaping from the rest of his family for the long flight. Frayed jeans, unlaced sneakers, rumpled tee shirt. Then his breath assaulted me. It was a good bet he had more than one beer.
Across the aisle my husband and kids were settling in. Blankets, pillows and iPods arraigned. An argument over who got the laptop first ensued. My shift sitting by the kids, and playing referee, had been on the flight out. It was my turn to relax.
I resumed my Sudoku puzzle. It helped empty my mind. I needed to sleep in the next eight hours. Unpacking, laundry and grocery shopping awaited me at home, and the cough I’d had for the past two weeks had drained my energy and patience. A family trip was not a vacation, even if it was two weeks on Maui.
“You’d think a sailor wouldn’t mind flying. I’ve been in mighty heavy seas--no problem. But a bumpy plane ride, that does me in. Every time I fly, it’s bumpy, too.”
His elbow knocked my arm just as I was completing the top row of a five star puzzle. I glanced over and smiled again, then leaned to the other edge of the seat. I found my airplane seat confining; he barely filled half of his. He fiddled with a watch that enveloped his meager wrist. It reminded me of when my son tried on my husband’s. His two-generation-old game boy was in front of him, along with a scarred cell phone an a generic mp3 player.
“Yes ma'am, I never had a good flight. Going to basic--bumpy all the way. Out to Oahu, like a roller coaster and I never could ride a roller coaster. This afternoon, over to Maui, all we did was bounce.”
He pulled out the backpack, dropped in his cellphone, elbows and knees splayed, and shoved it down. The final 5 in my middle box became a lightning bolt. I leaned further over, then back again, as the flight attendants whisked down the aisle, hands gliding on the overhead bins.
“When do you think they’ll give out the sodas and peanuts?” he asked and looked around.
The occupant of the window seat had her eyeshades and earplugs on, and a jacket pulled up to her nose. Smart woman. This time I had to answer him.
“They’ll wait until we’re up and the seat belt sign is off, then bring out the drinks and snacks. They don’t give out peanuts anymore, though, and there’s a charge for everything.”
He looked at me hard, a frown blooming across his brow.