[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
the flight didn't start off on the best possible foot.
i was trying to focus on my entertainment weekly fall movie preview guide, but was driven to distraction by the screaming child throwing tantrum after tantrum in the waiting area. i'll admit that my tolerance for screaming children is pretty low, but, still, this child was really screaming. and...tantruming. a lot.
as they called for my boarding section, i was relieved to see that the mother did not get up.
as i make my way to seat 12e, i realize that i've been given the dreaded center seat. on an overbooked flight. this does not please me.
five minutes later, i am even less pleased as the aisle seat occupant and i must vacate to allow the window seat occupant to sit down. with her diaper bag. and her tantruming child.
before we have even pushed back from the jetway, the child has left an adorable baby gap sandal print on my pants. before the engines have started, she has thrown her bottle on me, literally dousing me with milk. my shirt. my hair. my face. even my ankles. i am covered in milk.
as i'm wiping my face, doing my best "no, no, it's fine. really," i notice the young men who have boarded the plane.
there are five of them.
my heart is pounding.
i've flown plenty of times in the almost two years since 9/11. it's not as though you can really forget what happened that day...especially when you're standing in a mile-long security line with your shoes off and your cute little up-do undone because your hair clips have metal in them. but, i don't let it keep me from flying. i'm not someone who sees a passenger of middle eastern descent and feels compelled to run for the door. it's just not me.
but on this day, when i see their faces, i can't shake this feeling. it's a tight, gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.
something is wrong.
three of the men sit in the row immediately in front of me. two in the row immediately behind me.
from almost the moment they sit down, they are huddled together, talking. it is the one in the center seat -- the one directly in front of me -- the one who i can't really see -- the one whose eyes seemed coldest, whose eyes locked on mine -- he is the one who scares me.
there is no other way to say it. no way that sounds less dramatic. less paranoid. less ridiculous.
he scares me.
i am scared.
halfway through the flight, they are still talking. not in english, but in hushed tones. they are all leaning over the tray table of the man in the center seat. the man in the aisle seats stands up. he is counting, holding up his fingers to his fellow seatmates.
he sits down and they continue their conversation.
i crane my neck to see.
and then i see.
it is four rows.
four rows to the exit door.
i reach into my carry on bag and pull out my cell phone. i slip it into the pocket on the back of the seat in front of me. the seat where he's sitting.
the woman to my left notices it. she leans over to me.
"you feel it too, don't you? something isn't right," she says.
i can't breathe.
to this point, i have convinced myself that the lack of sleep in the preceding week has left me paranoid. that somehow i've become one of the xenophobes quick to be suspect of anyone who doesn't look like me. i chuckle at the irony...after a week in florida, my own brown skin and nebulously ethnic features might cause someone else to be suspicious of me.
but now it's not so easy to dismiss. it's not all in my head. not all imagined. she feels it too. something is wrong.
"i said something to the stewardess," she continues, her voice low and her eyes still looking straight ahead. "but she said that there wasn't anything to worry about. that they've flown with them before, or something like that." she managed a smile. "i told my husband -- that's him over there with our two kids -- to be ready...just in case."
i looked across the aisle at her husband. he was reading to his son who was next to him. the boy looked to be about six. his little sister, about four. they both had beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair that had been bleached platinum by the florida sun.
be ready. just in case.
i knew the flight attendant's words were a placebo. i had been paying attention. they thought something was wrong, too.
the shorter of the two attendants -- the brunette -- had been watching the men like a hawk since take off. and the taller of the two -- the blonde with the pearl drop earrings -- had spoken to them every single time she passed through the cabin. without fail.
"how is everything?"
"do you gentlemen need anything?"
"i have some extra snacks, if you're interested."
i thought about how much time i might have. the phone calls i would need to make. my parents. my sister.
i also thought about the fact that i would be one of the first. one of the first to notice something happening. one of the closest to them. one of the first to have a chance to maybe stop them.
then, the man in the aisle seat reached into his bag. from it, he took a bandana that had been folded into a headband. he tied the headband around his forehead and stood up. as he reached toward the overhead bin, he looked at his fellow traveler in the row behind me.
and nodded his head.
but, before he could open the bin, the man in the center seat spoke to him in angry tones, pulling at his shirt. the two argued for a moment before he sat back down.
then, one of the men from the row behind me got up and joined the three in front of me. they talked for a while, and although they were not speaking english, their gestures and behavior made it very clear to me that they were talking about the plane.
they sent the aisle seat man, with his headband still in place back to the plane's bathroom. when he returned, they stood in the aisle talking, as he gestured back toward the bathroom. his gestures made me think he was talking about the width of the aisle.
i unbuckled my seatbelt.
the woman beside me did the same.
next to me, the young mother was apologizing as her daughter hit me repeatedly with her doll.
i turned to her and smiled. her little girl had beautiful brown eyes. clear and bright. she wore tiny diamonds in her ears.
as the man from the row behind me began talking to the man in the center seat, the man with the headband reached up and unlatched the overhead bin.
my chest tightened.
across the aisle, the brother and sister watched a dvd. their father's eyes met mine, and then his wife's. i noticed his seatbelt was unbuckled, too.
from the overhead bin, the man took down a large blue bag. he unzipped it and took out three smaller bags, handing one to the other two men in his row.
and then they began filming.
with their videocameras, they filmed the aisle of the plane. the man with the headband walked up and down the aisle, filming the plane.
in the meantime, the man in the window seat was also filming. he was filming the wing of the plane. as he filmed, he and the man in the center seat were pointing and gesturing and talking.
they're filming the inside of the plane.
this can't be happening.
for a moment, i felt as though i had slipped into some parallel universe. all of this was so over the top. so obvious as to be ridiculous.
i mean, there are air marshals on every flight into dc. and you have to take your seat for the last 30 minutes of every flight into dc, so this would be insane -- to try something on a flight into dc.
and then i remembered...i wasn't flying into dc. at least not reagan national. i was flying into dulles. the air marshals are primarily on flights into national. the 30 minute restriction is only for flights into national.
and then the pilot's voice came over the speaker.
"folks, there are some pretty serious lightning storms going on in the area. i'm afraid we're being put into a holding pattern. looks like we'll be circling the area for another 45 minutes."
it seemed like hours later that they finally announced our final approach. the gentlemen headed back to their seats.
it was then that the man in the center seat stood up. he turned, looking down at me. his eyes were riveting. cold. unwavering.
without a word, he turned around and sat back down.
they announced the connecting gates as we landed. from their reactions, it was clear the five gentlemen were continuing on to frankfurt.
as i made my way down the jetway and into the terminal, the five of them were standing together. the center seat man locked eyes with me again. this time, he smiled. it was a knowing smile. a quiet smirk. a dare.
i walked into the first ladies room i could find.
i closed the door behind me, sliding the latch into place. i pulled off my jean jacket and hung my bag on the hook on the back of the door.
i sat down on the toilet and wrapped my arms around myself, rocking back and forth and crying.
and, even now, i'm not entirely sure i could tell you why.
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