So I just got back from Las Vegas last week, and no, I didn’t get the red feather there. It did not drift away from a showgirl’s boa.
I flew from Roanoke to Chicago and from there to Vegas. As I got to my seat on the flight from Chicago I noticed that there was a young African-american girl sitting in the window seat. There was no-one in the middle seat and I had the aisle. She was young, in sixth grade as I found out later which would make her around eleven or twelve. In my experience kids in the States don’t have ages, they have grades.
She looked at me. “Can I sit there?” She gestured at my seat.
I laughed. “I need it so I can stretch my legs.”
“What about that one?” She pointed at the middle seat.
“I guess. Why?”
“I’m scared of heights.”
I debated a bit with myself. A middle-aged white guy. A scared black girl. She reminded me very much of my own daughters. “Sure.”
We talked. We talked a lot. She talked a lot. She was scared of heights, but not exactly of flying. She was flying by herself from Akron to Las Vegas to live with her dad for a year, after living with her mom for a year. Her aunt was in the hospital having a baby (or babies) as we flew. Her dad worked with planes and had his own (really?). Another aunt had lost a leg in a plane accident. She was so nervous and anxious that she had puked in the bathrooms after her flight from Akron. She was being monitored by the flight attendants and I presume being met in Vegas. They checked on her with a second glance at me. “That’s your seat at the window, honey.”
“She’s scared” I replied before stopping to think through what they were really asking.
She wrapped her arm around mine as we took off and tightened it ferociously.
She fell asleep.
I never knew her name. The flight attendant mangled it when checking on her.
I told her about my daughters. My youngest who loves basketball. The eldest who loves singing.
We talked about the plane. I told her all about how they couldn’t just fall out of the sky, how they work with only one engine, and how air could be bumpy. That wasn’t nearly as effective at distracting her as my being exaggeratedly grossed out by her tales while we were landing.
She told me about her dad.
Near the end she showed me a cut on her foot where she’d stepped on some glass her mother had broken in the kitchen. It looked like it needed some care.
“You didn’t see a doctor?”
She’d not been good in school, she told me with a bit of a shameful grin, as if I shouldn’t really like her, nor enjoy her company.
She showed me some beautiful paper flowers she’d made, and I met her imaginary friend.
My mind filled in too many blanks.
When the time came, we parted with few words. I left her on the plane. She looked in her bag of random things and quietly gave me the red feather as a keepsake.
I put it in a safe place.