People

She always flew Southwest because it was cheap—well, that and you can pick your seat. On a tiny flight like this one—which wouldn’t be full—she knew that if she sat in the very back of the plane say—seat 23b—the chances of having a seatmate were practically zero.

She was just settling in, tucking her tote under the seat in front of her—also empty—when she was interrupted by the intercom announcement. “Unfortunately,” came the cheerful disembodied voice of the flight-attendant, “We’ve just detected a fuel leakage issue. Please remove your bags from the overhead containers and exit the aircraft. A new departure time will be announced shortly.”

The woman sighed and reclaimed her tote.

Back in the terminal, she located a group of empty seats and strategically placed herself in the middle. She dropped the tote—leopard print with faux gems—on the seat to her left and draped a jacket over the seat to the right, effectively insulating her from all possibility of neighbors.

She then proceeded to rummage through the tote, piling the contents next to it on the empty seat—two sensational romance novels, six tubes of chap stick, a half-eaten snickers bar, a phone—and finally a bottle of bright cherry-colored nail polish. She turned the nail polish over, considering.

Then, she held a hand out in front of her and looked at her nails for a long time. They were already painted bright blue like the sky. But after reflecting, she unscrewed the cherry, and applied a stroke of red along the edge of her thumbnail, all the while ignoring her phone as it buzzed insistently on the seat beside her.

“That’s funny,” said the little girl two seats down, who had been watching her intently. “My mama says you have to take off your first color first.”

The child’s mother smiled apologetically, but the woman only applied another stroke of polish.

The child continued undeterred. “I painted my finger nails yesterday. See?” She extended her chubby little arm over the empty seat, showcasing her messily painted cotton-candy colored nails.

The woman nodded, and blew two tiny puffs at her thumb.

“Look!” protested the child.

The woman finally looked. “Very nice,” she said, and looked back down again quickly.

“I hope they’ll reimburse us if we miss our connection.” The child’s mother attempted in a conciliatory tone. “Do you have a connecting flight?”

“Orlando.” The woman answered.

“We’re on our way to Charlotte,” the mother explained. “I like Orlando, we were there just last year—” her voice trailed off.

“I paint my nails when I’m stressed,” the woman declared abruptly.

“I’m sorry,” the mother offered.

“Why are you stressed?” asked the child.

“People. People stress me out.” She shivered just thinking about all the people in the airport, and then the ones on the plane, and last of all the people on the other side waiting for her at luggage claim—she shivered again thinking how she didn’t want to see them either.

“Oh.” said the child. And she didn’t speak for a while.

The woman’s phone buzzed again.

“Who’s calling you?” the child asked.

“People,” said the woman.

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