I noticed the plane man because he noticed me.
He wasn’t the plane man yet: sat there on a 6am barstool, one seat separating us along a lonely row of them. But he would be defined by the plane. By the way he walked with assuredness onto it and settled with solemnity inside.
I was accustomed to my invisibility. A flimsy persona made of fifteen years’ worth of manufactured thinness was splintering—my body solidifying as my sense of self disintegrated. So I was perplexed when he sat down. When he chose a seat close to me rather than far away. We never spoke.
At some point, I left. The moment feeling as anomalous as his beauty. When I saw him again at my terminal gate, I was surprised. Some temporary blip of serendipity registering like a tired beat on a heart monitor. Granted, only a handful of flights were scheduled for a pre-dawn Tuesday morning, but I’m not sure that makes it any less providential.
I noticed him because he was still.
The flight was delayed, displaced passengers pacing in front of the gate. They flattened footprints into the gray carpet and sighed at wristwatches and cellphone screens. Their restlessness like red flares.
But in the growing disquietude he was placid geometry. Leveled shoulders bisected by the sharp line of his spine, waist arrowing into knees bent cleanly at ninety degrees. His movements were similarly economical. One arm lifted, one hand reaching into an inner coat pocket. One thumb flipping open a small plastic case, two fingers pincered to lift a white earbud to each ear.
He seemed to exist outside of time. Static. Or perhaps, more aptly, only used time when it was necessary: to stand, to take up space, to move toward the gate entrance. I was terrified by his solidity.
On the plane, he was seated one row ahead of me on the opposite side of the aisle. Only once during the three-hour flight did I see him move, inclining his head toward a passing flight attendant. I couldn’t hear him speak, only her response: “Do you want that on the rocks?” He answered but his reply was swallowed by the gap between us.
I saw him in fragments: the quarter profile of his face, a shoulder sharpened by an expensive wool coat, an unblemished camel-colored oxford. The hem of his jeans was cut short, his anklebone bare and vulnerable.
When the plane landed, we exited our rows at the same time. Standing directly behind him, I heard an echo of the music escaping from his earbuds—it was brutal and cacophonous. I wanted to block the sound. I’d learned something I knew I wasn’t meant to, a forfeiture of some indefinable cost.
At the end of the ramp, I stopped to look at the departure screen for my connecting flight. When I turned, he was in front of me, about a yard away. He looked right at me and paused for a beat.
I walked past him, toward my gate.
First draft written in December 2017
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