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A Girl of Few Words

1. Boarding the Plane

I had boarding pass C12. The plane was mostly full. It was going be hard to find a seat like this which had enough room for my backpack in the nearby overhead bins. There was a middle seat available in Row 2.

 “Is that seat taken?” I asked the woman in the aisle seat. 

“This one?” the woman asked, pointing to the seat next to her. I smiled and nodded.

“I don’t know, there’s this …,” and she held up a box of Kleenex that had been sitting on the empty seat. A young girl was sitting alone in the window seat, engrossed in a video on an iPad. The woman thought the Kleenex might be for someone who was with the her. 

I leaned over and said to the girl, “May I sit in this seat?”

She turned her head, held up her hands, and shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Maybe!” I repeated. The people behind me laughed. 

“Ok… here I come. I’m maybe sitting next to you.”

2. Flying to Austin

When the plane pushed back from the gate, the girl set down her iPad and tried to buckle her seat belt. Clearly she had done this before. She fumbled with the buckle for a few tries, gave up, and returned to her iPad. When we got to the tarmac and the announcement came that we had been cleared for take-off, she tried again unsuccessfully.

“Do you want some help?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I reached down and turned her buckle around.

“Here, try again.”

She did. It worked. She quickly turned back to the iPad.

As the plane accelerated down the runway, I heard her talking to herself, but it was hard to make out what she was saying. Whatever it was, she was clearly unfazed by the whining turbofans and the plane shaking. 

The flight from Austin to Dallas is brief. On this day it was also bumpy. We bounced around. There were no drinks. But the girl was oblivious, setting her iPad down only to change positions.

A few times she looked over, and I tried to talk with her. Had she flown before? Was she going to visit someone? She would look at me and then return to her iPad. 

3. Arriving at the Gate

When we landed, her face was glued to the window, and I heard her mutter, “There’s Austin.” The thrust reversers roared. The breaks groaned. As we turned off the runway, she pulled her backpack from under the seat and put her iPad away. At the gate, she unbuckled her seatbelt in one smooth pull.

A flight attendant came to get her. Since we were in Row 2, within moments they were walking up the gangway. I was behind them. The girl jogged up the slope. The flight attendant walked quickly to keep up, holding the girl’s hand and leaning down to read her unaccompanied minor badge.  

A man was at the end of the gangway, framed by the door leading into the terminal. He had a backpack over his right shoulder. He was smiling. She broke into a run, her pack bouncing on her back. The flight attendant let her go. 

When she got to him, he said, “How you doin’ kid?”

She said, “Fine.”