I was on the overnight flight from Bogota to JFK, the last leg of my 24-hour long journey home after a week of hiking and no showers in Peru. Usually for international flights I make sure to reserve a window seat, so as to have something to lean against, but there wasn’t time nor Wifi this time around, and that’s how I ended up in the last row of the plane, in 38D. There was a man in 38F, leaving a seat between us.
I had already pulled the blanket over my head and settled in to sleep when you sat down next to me. The plane took off soon after. Disturbed by your ruckus, I looked over at you and wondered briefly why you’d been so late, but drowsiness won out. There might have been a meal service, but I was too tired to know what we ate. I do remember that you started watching Skyfall, and made excited noises as you watched, an occasional “OMG!” and wondered with irritation if you’ll continue to do that all night. You didn’t.
The next time I saw your face, it was dark in the cabin, and you were fast asleep — and I was envious. Being small, I fruitlessly threw my weight against my own seat, trying to adjust its angle, without success. It woke you, and I think I said something like, “My seat won’t go back!” in embarrassment. You said, “I think it will, apply more pressure to it,” and it did. There was a reassuring cheeriness to your smile, even so deep into the night.
I don’t know how long it was before I finally slept, restlessly and uncomfortably. When I woke up, your face was inches from mine, and our pillows nestled against one another on our seats, now at level. You were so close that I blushed in the dark, and pulled the blanket back over my head. Later, half-asleep, I heard you shift in your seat, unbuckle and rebuckle your seatbelt, and settle back on your pillow, still facing me, still inches from me. I thought happily but drowsily, that you could easily have moved away, but chose not to. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed your movements were softer, more contained, as if you were afraid to wake me. It was strange, how intimate I felt with you, a stranger.
I had never been so terrified of the immensity of the world, as the moment we walked our separate ways, you to the left, I to the right. I’m far too much of a romantic not to write this, but then I’m not delusional enough to think anything will come of it. You didn’t sound American, and you didn’t go through customs. Chances are, you are just passing through. Chances are, you don’t even know what Craigslist is. Chances are, I’ll never know your name.
I wish I had responded with more than a tired smile when you said, I don’t know which of these pillows is yours. I wish I had apologized for waking you in the night. I wish I had let you know that I had woken up, that I too, had seen how close we were and chose not to move away. But that courage is rarely with me, and I happen to be a writer who never knows the right thing to say.
With this off my chest, I can go to sleep now, since I didn’t sleep well at all in that cramped space, save for the half hour or so when my head rested on a pillow that was on your shoulder. But then you got up to use the bathroom, and soon after, the captain announced, we will be landing shortly in JFK.
When I finally emerged from the subway station, New York was overcast and a little misty, as if there ought to be rain. It was a little bit of love, and it inevitably changed me. Maybe that’s enough.
Photograph by Agnes WästlundHire An Editor