by Alexander Miller
I snagged the paper towel from dispenser and threw it out in the trashcan. I avoided hand-dryers. They made me hot and they blew the air too slow. I wanted my hands dried quickly. I hated public restrooms. The ones in the airport were more bearable. They still made me want to vomit while I was in there handling my necessaries. I always hoped the smell was going to be the vaguest of memories, but it never was. I hoped it would never stick to my clothes. Feeling flushed, I was always relieved by the rush of cold air-conditioning upon exiting.
I took my seat and waited for my flight. The chairs were noticeably uncomfortable. This set at this airport were clean. I read the New York Times and crossed my legs like a man of considerable respect. Occasionally, I looked around at the people that passed by. I didn’t talk to people that sat next to me, especially when I was on the flight. I thought it was strange and the people were usually older and reeked of public restroom hand soap.
Checking in was usually simple. They never really destroyed my name and gave me a side-eyed suspicious stare for having an abnormally large carry-on. They shouldn’t with a named like Kenny. I made it to the terminal and that was an accomplishment because airports were generally a hassle. Those subtle wait times gave me a nervous tick. I used that time to people-watch, and wonder how I would satiate my sweet tooth in one of those little gas station-like shops. The airport was one of the least enjoyable places so I was frugal with my coping mechanisms.
I hoped there would be good weather in New York. I read a magazine filled with celebrities and opinions about their wardrobes, and who’s the most attractive with no make-up on. I could care less. But I needed to pass the time with the crass entertainment of a magazine composed of people who had edited their body better than Photoshop could.
I nibbled at a snickers bar with tortoise-like speed and ate shortbread cookies with peanuts before I was forced to. It was the highlight of my miserable flying routine. I hoped someone wouldn’t worsen for me. An overtly friendly traveler was the aggravating circumstance. I did a poor job at hiding I was upset. I looked up at the TV screen to see the wait time until they began boarding passengers for my flight. With relatively thirty minutes remaining I had more time to delve into celebrity insecurities. The man next to me stared at me through his bifocals. He had little hair on his head and he smelt like mothballs. I was surprised he made through security with the unnecessarily oversized coat he wore. He set me off and I struggled to dilute my attitude by covering the sight of him with the magazine.
The robotic female voice chirped over the intercom to let everyone know it was time to board the plane. I rose from my seat, feeling pain that wouldn’t let me forget that I sat there in the first place. I walked slowly, lugging my one carry-on bag to the line where other passengers stood. First class had already bolted for the plane. My head wandered and I nearly overlooked the visage and figure unmistakable to my memory. I noticed my old friend, Cristine. She was walking passed the line in which I was standing. She had a surprised look on her face as well. Her wide smile showed a well-taken care of set of teeth and gums. She approached me with a subtle pace, hands in her jacket pockets.
“My gosh, is that you, Kenny?”
“Yea it’s me.”
We embraced and time seemed to slow down. It wasn’t the usual embrace followed by soft pat on the back with fingertips. That was the hollow hug you gave to a fellow church member. We squeezed each other with a satisfaction that acknowledged the good fortune of the moment. The line for the flight remained at a standstill and people waited patiently.
“How’ve you been?” she asked.
“I’ve been well. How have you been?”
“I’ve been well too,” she said.
It felt like there was much to say. But little was actually said. The awkwardness of a hiatus between old friends held our tongues and our convoluted stares could not be undone. I marveled at her. Her hair was uncombed and leaned over to one side as if it had been. It didn’t distract me. I had never seen done except in a photo. Her straight smile and the smooth uniformity of her brown complexion made it condonable. She made me nervous. I had no control over my smile when I was nervous. She seemed to enjoy it, returning a smile to balance the equation.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“New York,” I said
She nodded as if to ask of my intentions.
“I’m goin to visit some family and perhaps a few friends if there’s time.”
“Oh okay, that’s nice.”
I didn’t ask where she was going. She was a college athlete so she always traveled.
“I’m doing grad school in Arizona, so I’m just flying back for spring practice. I just took a little vacation.”
“Still kicking that ball around, Cris?” I said.
She smiled and chuckled, leaning forward with weak-kneed laughter. She played soccer as long as I had known her and it showed. She put her bags on the floor and rested her hands on her hips, signaling she soon aimed for the meat of the conversation.
“Yea, it keeps school paid for,” she said.
She tapped playfully at my chest with the back of her hand, looking at me from head to food, retaining her smile.
“You’re looking good,” she said.
I was shocked. I had a shabby beard that needed shaving. I was relieved that she complimented me with sincerity. I tried to be subtle in returning my physical analysis of her looks.
“You’re looking good too,” I said. “We won’t get into how good but you look very good.”
I spoke too fast. She laughed again, blushing. I tried to keep my eyes on her face and eyes. Her jeans couldn’t hide the toned thighs as ample material for judging her physical maturity. Her smile was equally captivating. It was the very thing that halted me to say hello. Most acquaintances I passed in public, but not her. At that moment she became the exception. Her clavicle retained a thinness of her upper body and a fragile femininity that made me want her in the airport. An inappropriate gaze at her figure would have been overwhelming for this meeting.
The line shortened and I regained brief focus. People inched along like cattle and herded toward the entrance to the corridor that went to the plane. I looked over at the line and then back at Cris.
“Let me take down your number,” I said.
I stole steeling another glimpse of her figure as I looked down at my hand squirming in my jeans pocket, looking for my phone. She had her phone ready. We exchanged numbers. The gleeful feeling was hardly manageable and I couldn’t keep from smiling further.
“How weird is this?” she asked.
“That we bumped into one another, here of all places?”
“I don’t know. We haven’t seen one another in years. I guess that’s an odd thing within itself.”
“How so?” she asked.
“Living on opposite ends of town, we had a mutual friend that I’m sure we both spent time with. There was no real reason we never hung out as much. Maybe it was just as simple as having different circles. Good friends can get lost in them.”
“Yea, you’re right.”
I picked up my bag, fiddling with the shoulder strap.
I didn’t want to part from her gaze.
“I guess this is it,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well you are leaving now and I’m going back to school in a whole other state.”
“That why I took down your number.”
She smiled at me and leaned to one side, the way women wait, pushing her hip out. It was endearing to watch her body speak to me.
“So you want to talk to me?” she asked.
She smiled with anticipation for an inevitable answer.
“I do,” I said. “I’ll call you, and I’ll think about visiting you.”
My nervousness had left me. I maneuvered my bag over my shoulder to make my walk more comfortable.
“You’ll think about visiting me?”
My grin was narrow, and I nodded.
“And who said you could, visit me? You don’t even know where to go. Florida is a long way from Arizona.”
I smiled back at her and walked backwards slowly towards the entrance to the terminal. I handed the attendant my ticket. She was still in my view, standing in the same spot looking at me.
“I’ll talk to you in a few hours,” I said.
She stood there, still. It was like we were in junior high. I had never smiled while I was at an airport. The routines of flying were wretched. Somehow on this day neither of us could seem to let go of our smiles. I turned my back as I made my way around the corner. I was nearly on the plane.
I took my seat next to the usual stranger. I shoved my bag above me as usual. I eased my head back into the hard seat cushion and smiled. It was going to be an unusually good flight.