AS I board, I wonder whom my seat-mate will be this time. I am delayed at the gate due to a missing coupon I wasn’t issued, so the flight is already full. My seat-mate is engrossed in his book, and doesn’t look up. I don’t speak either.
Within minutes, he is asleep with his open book on his lap. I sneak sideways glances, then openly stare and check him out. He is perhaps a little older than I, nothing particularly inspiring in his looks. No wedding ring. Now I wonder about his reading material, but can’t see without leaning over into his space. He snores quietly.
Because we’re traveling internationally, one could guess a language barrier since he doesn’t talk, but when asked chicken or lasagna, he speaks English as well as I. At the sound of the food cart, he awakens again, but merely reads until the meal arrives. I am also reading, but still curious. We eat in silence, good at ignoring each other by now. And when the meal is over, we pick up our books and read--then he falls sleep again. We still have about sever hours of flying together left.
He never asks me to get up--just waits until I do, then leaves his pillow on my empty seat and heads for the toilet. I am back and waiting--checking out his book which seems more intense than my own novel.
When he returns, he makes no eye contact and doesn’t gather his pillow from my seat. I toss it to him as I sit, then pick up my book and continue reading.
He sleeps again--more snoring, but at least he stays on his side. The day is progressing; people around us are conversing or watching a movie. I get much reading done, then switch to knitting. He awakens and continues to read, now making notes and underlining in his book.
During one of his siestas, the flight attendant comes through with immigration forms. I take one for him in case he hadn’t gotten one earlier. When he awakens, I hand it to him and say it was for him, but he hands it back and shakes his head. Well, thanks anyway.
When about to land, I return to my seat and discover he has put on my seatbelt by mistake. I have to break our code of silence and tell him. He mumbles a reply. When we touch ground, we are informed our gate was not cleared due to maintenance of a plane there, so we sit on the tarmac for another 30 minutes quietly waiting. We continue to read, though I am getting obviously agitated thinking I might miss my connection.
After eight and a half hours on board, we finally land and are at the gate, and as I stand up to retrieve my bag above, the stranger asks where I have been and where was I going, then goes on to initiate a rushed two-minute conversation about my vacation until it is my turn to leave the plane.