My trip home is not off to a great start. Departure is delayed by weather in the upper Midwest, causing me to fret equally about crashing and barfing. Plus I worry that I’ll miss my connection in Minneapolis – I only have one hour, and I’m scheduled for the last flight of the day to Lincoln.
Finally the gate agent calls for boarding, and I’m five from last in line when I see him eye my purse, laptop and roller bag. I know what’s coming, and sure enough, they ask me to check my bag, even though I’ve seen at least a half dozen passengers ahead of me with purse, laptop and roller bag – one more than the sanctioned two carry-ons. I want to protest, but I am too tired to muster any fight.
I let the elderly lady behind me pass by, and I notice she has three carry-ons, too – a roller bag, a paper shopping bag and a purse. They don’t stop her.
I make my way toward 12D. The elderly lady with the three carry-ons sits in 12C, and I wait as she hoists herself from the seat to let me slide next to the window.
“Do you travel alone often?” she asks, after I’ve stashed my water bottle in the seat pocket and rested my book on my lap. “No, not usually,” I answer.
I open my book. I’m not much in the mood for small talk. But she continues. “This is my first time traveling alone since my husband died in November,” she admits. “I don’t much like it. I feel a little nervous. It feels wrong.”
I nod, understanding. “It’s so quiet, the house is just so quiet,” my best friend’s mom had said to me earlier that afternoon as I hugged her goodbye, flowers from the funeral home still fresh in crystal around the house. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the quiet."
“It’s so hard, isn’t it?” I say to my seatmate, nodding and closing the book in my lap. “But it’s okay. You’ll be okay.” I lean a little closer, because my words sound so inadequate. She nods back. I wonder if her eyes are tearing or just naturally red-watery. I want to pat her arm, but I don't because we are strangers.
I turn back to the window, pressing my forehead against warm plastic.
“Look!” I say, pointing. “Look, it’s a rainbow, a full rainbow – it spans the entire runway!” I flatten the back of my head against the seat so she can see past me and out the window. She cranes forward.
“Oh my,” she breathes. “It is a rainbow.” She looks at me. “It’s a good sign,” she says, smiling. “It’s a sign that the trip will turn out okay.”
I’m not much of a believer in signs. And I’m not sure those who have died and gone before us present themselves that way, to be honest. But glimpsing that rainbow bloom against dark cumulonimbus, arching from one end of the runway to the other, I wonder if it’s a sign from my friend’s dad, a sign of a good trip indeed.
The lady in seat 12C and I talk on and off for half the flight until she dozes, purse clutched in her lap. And then I watch night descend out the window, sinking sun casting a brilliant sheen on the airplane wing.