New Encounters

She had booked the ticket last minute and the only seat available had been the one at the back of the plane, in full hearing zone of all the cupboards of food and drinks and God knows what else stewards filled airplane cupboards with to ensure a most pleasant flight.


They had left at midday, the airport tower keeping them for an extra ten minutes on the tarmac as they waited for a late plane to fly out to China. As she had watched it speed up the runway, Linda had felt the blood beat against her temples and the nausea surge up towards her throat. The acrid taste burnt the back of her mouth, and her tongue arched in disgust as she pushed the bile back down, calming her nerves. Once the Chinese plane had taken off, they made their way towards the runway and sped up to take off into the blue-grey unknowns of the sky above.


For several hours now Linda was rattling in the back of the old plane, which felt like it would fall to pieces at the next surge of wind against its aluminium body. Biting her lip, already red and sore from all the biting she had been doing for the past two hours, she pulled the window blind down against the bright light and looked at the person to her right. He was a tough, burly man of around forty years, arms covered in tattoos of the most various sorts, ranging from innocent fairies to the most grotesque and intimidating of devil’s horns and daggers piercing hearts. On his left triceps, Linda could just make out the trunk and roots of a tree, its top disappearing beneath the flannel blue shirt the man was wearing. The tree spread its branches further up his arm towards the shoulder, while the trunk descended halfway down the triceps. An apple hung from one of the lower hanging branches.


The Garden of Eden, Linda realised.


Was this man religious? Did he mock religion? Did he know what the tattoo artist had drawn on his upper arm? Realising she would most likely be caught out for staring too long, Linda whipped her head back, the bones in her neck cracking as she did so, which sent a sudden pang of both relief and a sense of falling through her whole body.


Just an hour to go now. Just an hour to go.


As the flight attendant went past for the enth time checking on her sleepy travellers, Linda hurriedly ordered herself a glass of Rosé, but upon realising she ought to be completely sober and smart-thinking upon arrival at the orphanage – or where it had stood – for that is indeed what she planned to do upon descending from the sky, she anxiously cancelled the order just as the younger woman was bringing it up.


As the expression in the eyes of the flight attendant – Lucy it said on her badge – unavoidably began to change from simple duty to annoyance, the man beside Linda, who she thought had long ago drifted into a sun-enduced sleep, suddenly made movement and requested the Rosé to be passed down to him.


Once the flight attendant had left, shooting Linda another unfriendly glance, the man brought the wine to his lips and sipped the fine pink liquid from the plastic ware. Linda watched in stunned agitation.


“Hmm…” The hmm drifted off into a whisper as the man looked from the plastic glass up into the air towards the air-conditioner which crackled at him at various intervals, and back at the plastic glass again. “Hm, I always wondered what it was that women found so enticing about a glass of Rosé.” His voice was softer than Linda had imagined. She had perceived him a man of gravely, low tones, who spoke only at the utmost necessity, never answering questionings in more than three words, only with curt, disjointed phrases. “Not champagne, not wine, not spirits – but Rosé!” An expression of incredulity mixed with amusement lit his face.


The parched feeling in Linda’s throat gave way to a small wave of warmth as she assessed the older man’s features. He wasn’t truly that much older than her, only aged from weather, the outdoors, a hard life perhaps. Compared to her preconceptions, now, as she looked at him properly, she saw he had a plain, simple, yet earnest face. A face that could tell a thousand stories and yet none at the same time. As he turned to look at her, his eyes glazed over as if he was trying to remember whether they had ever come in contact before, and upon becoming sure of the contrary, they crinkled at the edges. A smile full of kindness. Kindness and the expectation of an answer.


“I didn’t know what else to get.” Linda smiled. It was probably a girlish, childish smile, but she couldn’t help it. Within a few seconds, this man, this stranger, like all the other people on the plane and yet at the same time so unlike any of them, had broken apart the tight bonds that had clenched her jaw and set her nerves on edge. He had penetrated the depths of her worry and despair and driven out what she had forgotten to bring to the surface. A smile. And all it took was a smile… “I never know what to get from those silly little mobile bar things,” Linda spoke, surprised at the perkiness in her own voice. It was as if she had just woken from a long slumber, and at the breath of fresh air, had erupted in a frenzy of activity. “They don’t have a menu. People usually just know what to get. ‘Oh, gin and tonic for me please. Oh, rum and coke for me, thank you very much!’” She laughed as she imitated the people she had heard ordering their drinks earlier on in the flight, not caring whether they paid her any attention. “They just know! And how am I supposed to know what’s on offer?”


The man sitting beside her shifted slightly in his seat, as far as was possible for a person of such muscular form and wide shoulders in the tiny economy row seats of the ancient flying vehicle. His face crinkled into a thousands little friendly wrinkles as he let out the most genuinely amused laugh Linda had ever heard perhaps. Or perhaps forgotten.


“You’re absolutely right, you know that? One hundred percent correct!” He smiled wider, revealing a fine set of white teeth, marred slightly only by the little broken end of his front right tooth. “I’m James, by the way. James Wright. And you are?”


“Linda,” she replied, unsure of her motivations in telling this man who she was. She was flying to Bangkok on a mission. And yet here was James, completely and utterly destroying her anger and fret and desire to scream and shout, and rip apart the plaster on this airplane to knock maniacally on the aluminium skeleton of its make…make as much noise as possible so someone heard her and came to her aid. He had heard her without knowing the commotion in her head. Without feeling her agitation, her anger, her drowning grief.


Perhaps he had seen the little slim sliver of hope that had nestled in her head ever since the fire had burnt the orphanage down. Perhaps it had shown in her eyes, catching his attention. Or perhaps it had been her rather awkward dealing with the victimised glass of Rosé.


As it stood, she knew that this man, this person whose name she had not known up until a few seconds ago, had come into her life, and had almost replaced the present fretting Linda with the Linda of the past, the Linda who perhaps stood a better chance at approaching her mission with a steady hand…a Linda of courage, humour, hope, and will.

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Another very good chapter. What you have done here is take us on a journey (figuratively) as Linda meets someone who seems to be a bit of a conjuror of smiles. He changes Linda's misery to happiness. And like encounters such as this he appears to understand Linda. I wonder is he destined to travel with her or is this a brief encounter on the plane? You have me curious and that is good!