This is for the daily prompt titled Cliffhanger.
“Introducing the first high performance line of underwear” my son is reading in his best Sylvester Stallone/Vin Diesel imitation from the SkyMall magazine as we sit waiting to board a flight from Charlotte to Hartford, CT. “Only $18.00 a pair, mom. I definitely need these.” Normally I would find this funny, but I’m feeling overheated and grumpy and tired.
I’ve been flying my whole life but I still feel an unpleasant clench in my stomach when I am told my flight has been delayed due to a mechanical problem. My brain immediately plays a lightning fast montage of plane crash news stories from over the years. “It was determined a loose screw was the cause for the right wing engine to fall off the jet bound for Chicago, sending the dc whatever plummeting to the ground” a male newscaster voice says solemnly. I always scan the faces of the flight crew for signs of nervousness when I board these delayed planes. “It really is fixed, right?” I want to ask them, but don’t.
And the flight to CT has been delayed for just such a problem on this sunny winter’s day. The gate is packed with holiday travelers. The flight to Miami at the gate next to mine has been overbooked and they are calling for people to give up their seats for free tickets. I fidget in my chair and give my son a non committal response. He puts the copy of Skymall in his backpack.
I try to relax by playing mah jong on my smart phone.
Some mindless matching is just what I need to keep from picturing a mechanic standing under the plane scratching his head, on the phone with tech support saying “I guess it’s fixed….yeah. Although there should be one more screw. Huh. Oh well, good enough!” And it also distracts me from what awaits me in cold snowy New England.
I sense someone has sat down next to me and feel a light touch on my arm. I turn in my chair to find a pair of worried brown eyes staring into mine. They belong to a black woman, in her thirties if I had to guess and dressed for a warmer day. She begins speaking what sounds like Portuguese, gesturing with her hands that flutter about like birds. I tell her in English I’m sorry but I don’t understand her. She looks around the gate nervously and then, undeterred, starts again, a rapid torrent of what could almost be Spanish but with more Sh and Ow sounds. I shake my head. She pulls out a piece of paper and shows me a phone number with an area code I don’t recognize.
I try my rusty college Spanish and ask her if she wants to use my phone to call that number. Yes! She gestures to my phone. I hand it to her.
She hands it back.
I hand it back again saying “It’s Ok”. It’s the one phrase a Spanish instructor once told me everyone in the world understands. She seems reluctant but slowly dials the number. She appears unsure, as though she doesn’t often handle smart phones. We wait while it rings.
Someone answers and she begins speaking Portuguese, but after a minute or two thrusts the phone back with an almost desperate look on her face. I put the phone to my ear.
I hear a man’s voice, with just the slightest hint of foreignness
“Hello! Can you please tell me where you are?”
“Um, I’m at the Charlotte airport.”
Yes, but where exactly at the airport? Were you on the plane from Rio?”
“No, no, I’m at gate C13 just waitng for a plane to Hartford and this woman-”
“Listen, I’m going to come to where you are. You must not move and do NOT hang up. Please!”
They’ve just announced that anyone who needs special help may begin boarding flight 1523 to Hartford. I turn to my son who, despite all this excitement, has incredibly fallen asleep with his head tilted back, Gilligan hat pulled over his eyes.
The woman, who I have now come to think of as Brazilian, stares expectantly into my eyes as though I alone am going to determine her fate.
“You are still there?” the man’s voice asks.