The descent was bumpy. “Why is it so bumpy,” murmured the woman in the window seat, “when the trees below us aren’t moving?” It was bumpy enough to make me feel nauseous and I clutched my arm rests, even checked for the folded bag that has been part of airline travel throughout my lifetime. I’ve never used one, but it’s nice to know they’re still there.
It had been an uneventful trip from Tampa, the plane relatively empty, so passengers had plenty of personal space, with middle seats largely left vacant. I was tired, good-tired. Happy because I’m always happy when my plane is Balitmore-bound. Tired (good-tired) because I had spent four intensive days at a writers conference, part of a faculty that had bonded with the accelerated intensity that I thought vanished from one’s life after summer camp and freshman year in college. I was lost in my own thoughts and happy to be there, when the woman in the window seat, a striking African-American woman about my age, tugged at my sleeve.
“Look,” she said. She extended her toes, bright with red polish, and pointed to the shoes she had slipped off. They were black loafers with white stitching, just like mine. “Look,” she said, pointing to her jeans — using her beautifully manicured finger now — her watch, with its black face, silver trim and black band, a double for the one I wore. I slipped off my shoes and showed her that my toenails were painted, too, if not in the same shade. And I had put on a white blouse that morning, just like hers, before I had decided I would need the double layers of T-shirt and sweater to make the transition from warm St. Petersburg to chilly Baltimore.
“What do you know?” she said. “Ebony and ivory.”
When’s the last time that a stranger made you smile?