It was only the second time I’d flown alone, but already I felt careless and free. Normally the idea of chatting to a stranger would be terrifying, but this wasn’t normal. I was on a plane, heading somewhere different, alone. If I was brave enough to get on the plane in the first place, I would sure as hell be brave enough to talk to a stranger for a little while.
The girl besides me was short, and wide, and had long black hair down to her shoulders. She looked stern, irritable, but compared to her mother, who I’m guessing was the woman sitting next to her, she looked positively beaming. The mother was short and wide with that same black hair, but she had a lifetimes more wrinkles and a dusting of hate in her eyes. She glared at me as I sat down, silent. So, I thought, I won’t be talking to the mum. The daughter, though, was about my age, and looked just about uncomfortable enough to be the sort of person I get along with. Maybe some kind of conversation could start there.
I was feeling brave, but not brave enough to just up and speak to her. Instead I had to come up with a plan, a seamless way for a dialogue to start without ever actually starting the dialogue, as such. I decided to try and lock eyes with the girl, and smile when we finally noticed each other. It was a friendly move, right? It showed I was open to interacting in a hopefully vocal capacity, and it would be impossible for her to pretend she hadn’t noticed me. When two eyes lock there is an unavoidable sensation, as I’m sure you know, and I was thinking that once she had felt that sensation, she’d absolutely have to say something to me. Of course, I quickly realised how strange it looked as I bobbed my head up and down, left and right, trying to let our eyes meet naturally. It wasn’t working, I either looked creepy, or insane.
Okay. I wasn’t out of ideas yet though.
I rose a hand to my mouth, and coughed quietly. I wiped my hand on my knee, and then turned to the girl, took a deep breath in, and spoke. “Sorry” I said. There was a pause. She glanced at me, no doubt processing my word. This was it. I had begun communication, small talk activated, lifelong friendship achieved.
She turned away, staring blankly at the back of the seat in front of her.
What the hell. I had given her the perfect opportunity, every chance she needed to start talking to me. I mean, Jesus, what was she thinking? She wasn’t thinking about making this easy, that’s for sure. “It’s alright” she could have said. “Everyone coughs. Hi, by the way. My names Matilda and I like the same things you like. Let’s discuss!” But no. Stony, cold silence was all I could squeeze out of her. She was quiet as a rock, and not the sort of rock you find at the beach, where rocks talk. I was going to need to draw on all the bravery I could muster.
I pulled out the safety sheet from the pocket in front of me. I studied its cartoonish drawings, the orange inked diagrams of life jackets and air masks. Make sure you fasten your own life jacket before helping anyone else with theirs, it said. I laughed to myself, loud enough for the girl to hear. “Oh” I exclaimed, looking up, feigning embarrassment. “It’s just this sheet, it basically says save yourself before anyone else. That’s weird, right?”
Her eyes betrayed nothing. She was an enigma, a mystery. What was going on inside that skull of hers? What would be her reply? She must, of course, reply. Nobody can hear that and just turn away. She might think me stupid, might say as much, but she had to say something, anything.
My heart was pounding. I was stupid. Who laughs at safety sheets? What kind of freak tries to make eye contact with a stranger? What lonely idiot gets on a plane by themselves anyway? Why did I ever open my stupid fat mou-
The girl turned suddenly away. Her eyes settled firmly against the back of the chair in front. I stared at her, open mouthed. Did I just not hear her reply? Had I somehow missed it while lost in the flood of my thoughts? Or had she really, truly, honestly just ignored me again?
“What’s so interesting about the back of that chair anyway” I hissed. My jaws slammed shut the moment the final syllable had escaped. My cheeks flushed a bright and hateful red. I looked at the girl, who looked at me, and I whimpered. My eyes drifted further back, then, to the mother. She was scowling, eyes pointed and sharp, burning into me like Superman’s heat vision. I flinched from the pain, my whole body flooded with pure, physical awkwardness, until finally, finally, I turned away.
A fly landed gracefully against my arm rest. He eyed me with bulbous precision. I felt judged, and ashamed, so I turned away. I studied the fabric on the chair in front of me. It was rough and worn, and held a vague patchwork pattern. I didn’t see what was so fascinating, personally, but I continued to stare. A loud buzzing erupted next to my ear, and a blurred black shape shot past my vision. I felt it land on my nose, and I froze. Tiny legs danced wildly against my skin.
“Er is een vlieg op zijn neus” the girl beside me laughed. The mother began to chuckle, as I sat frozen against my chair. “Er is een vlieg op zijn neus” the girl said again. “Hij weet niet eens weet dat het er is!”