It was one of those nights. Scattered patches of turbulent weather, just bad enough to foul up nearly every flight coming in and going out. Periodically the rain would let up just enough to let another plane land, and a weary band of travelers would file down the ramp and onto the brightly lit, purple carpeted concourse, clearly glad to be home.
"There he is!" shouted a little girl. "Daddy!
Daddy!" Breaking away from her harried young mother, the child tore across
the terminal and bulldozed her way through the wall of travelers. She headed
directly for a tall man, overcoat slung casually over one shoulder, a briefcase
in one hand, whose face, at the sound of his daughter's voice, had erupted into
a delighted grin. Oblivious to his fellow travelers, the man dropped to one
knee, his free arm outstretched to the joyous child.
Four people, strangers, sitting in close proximity to the
gate, waiting patiently for the newly arrived plane to be readied for its next
flight, looked up at the first sound of the child's voice. As the affectionate
little tableau unfolded in front of them, each smiled a bit wistfully, looked
away, then looked back.
The young wife reached her husband's side and giving him an
affectionate kiss, she took hold of one arm. The little girl promptly grabbed
hold of her father's free hand, and began chattering happily as the trio walked
away, heading towards baggage claim.
One by one, each of the four who watched, caught the others'
eye and they smiled again, only a little self-consciously this time.
A few moments later the last of the arriving passengers had
finally straggled off, and the terminal was all but empty. It looked as if these
four were the only ones booked on the outbound flight.
The terminal had that timeless, empty, impersonal glare.
"Wouldn't it be nice if kids stayed small?" asked
one of the four, conversationally.
"Wouldn't it be nice if they stayed happy to see you?"
added the second, with a grin.
"Wouldn't it be nice if they continued to like you?" said the third with a laugh.
"Wouldn't it be nice if they just continued to speak to you?" said the fourth with a sigh.
"You too?" asked one, arching
"Welcome to the club," said another.
"Don't feel like the Lone Ranger," commented the
"My little girl stopped speaking to me when I couldn't
make it home for her 16th birthday," said one of the men softly,
speaking to no one in particular. He gazed out the window at the rain spattered
"I was traveling on business," he said, almost to
himself. "I promised her I'd be back in time. But I wasn't just in another
city, I was in another country. On another continent. I had my reservations
to be back right on schedule for her party, but at the last minute the client
asked me to postpone my departure for just one day. There wasn't really any
choice. No way my company was going to let me leave right in the middle of negotiations
to fly halfway around the world for a child's birthday party. I called her at
her mother's house, apologized, tried to explain. My daughter didn't want to
hear it. I've called. I've written, there's nothing but hostility there. It's
been ten years now. Ten years. She got married. I wasn't invited to her wedding.
Her stepfather walked my little girl down the aisle."
"There's no way to describe how much that hurts,"
No one spoke.
After a moment the distinguished looking black man spoke. "Sixteen is a tough year," he said. "That's when my son stopped speaking to me. I promised my boy a car for his 16th birthday," he said. "Promised Tyrone since he was ten years old that I was going to get him his own car when he turned 16. When he was fifteen his mother was diagnosed with cancer. We had her with us for eight more months. Six of them were good months. But the last two " his voice trailed off and he shook his head sadly. He took a deep breath. "Between the medical bills and the funeral " He shook his head. "I had three younger children still at home. No one to care for them. There was no way that car was going to happen."
"Tyrone stopped speaking to me. Ran away from home at
seventeen. I never heard from him again. It liked to break my heart. Goin' on
twelve years now."
"I pray for that boy every night."
Silence echoed in the shadows.
"I promised my daughter a kitten," the petite blonde
woman said. We picked it out and brought it home and she named it Puff. I never
saw her so happy. Her stepbrother turned out to be violently allergic to it.
He couldn't breathe. I called 911. We had to rush him to the hospital that same
night. The attack was so severe the doctor said there was no choice. The kitten
had to go. I told Jeanne we couldn't keep Puff, we'd have to find another home
for him. She exploded, said I was only doing it to hurt her. She called her
father. Her Dad and I had been divorced a couple of years earlier. Jeanne and
the kitten went to live with my former husband and his new wife. Jeanne was
twelve. She's never spoken with me again. Not even once. Wouldn't return my
calls. Her father said it was my own fault because I had broken a promise to
her. He told me he had no intention of telling her to call me. Said it was my
problem, not his. It's been eight years since my little girl has spoken to me."
"I guess her Dad just didn't want her to understand."
In the distance a cleaning crew switched on a vacuum. No one
spoke for several minutes.
"My son stopped speaking to me because I couldn't pay for his college education," the woman in the cream colored silk blouse said finally.
She gazed out the window and absentmindedly tugged on a single strand of pearls. Blue lights were blurred reflections on the rain slick runway.
"His Dad and I had been divorced for a number of years,"
she said softly. "I remarried. My husband and I had a small business and
we were fairly comfortable. The college my son and his father chose was horribly
expensive and nobody consulted me, but since he had a partial scholarship, I
didn't want to disappoint him."
"Towards the end of his freshman year our home burned to the ground. An electrical short. Almost everything we had went up in smoke. Fortunately nobody was hurt."
"The insurance ... " She laughed ruefully and shook her head.
"The company told us they hadn't received the premium, and that our policy had lapsed. We weren't covered."
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes for an instant.
"It was ghastly," she said.
"The first year totally drained our savings. One week all we had left to eat was a loaf of bread and half a jar of peanut butter. There we were, two grownups, rolling pennies to buy food for the cat."
"I couldn't qualify for the following year's student loan,
of course. My son transfered his scholarship to a reasonably priced state university
and his father paid the tuition. Even though I'm still paying off a student
loan the size of a mortgage, it seems I'm officially guilty of reneging on my
promise. He hasn't been home, and he's refused to speak to me for nearly four
"I miss my son terribly," she said quietly.
Total strangers. Slightly embarrassed. For no apparent reason,
they had just voiced to each other a pain which cut so deeply they could barely
voice it to themselves.
Overhead, the speaker suddenly came to life. "Flight
5326 now boarding."
Four sighs. A quiet flurry as coats, briefcases, purses and
carry-on bags were gathered and tickets produced. No one spoke as they boarded.
Each sat alone, sharing a seat with their memories, as the
plane climbed heavily into the lonely velvet night.
About the author:
Cynthia Gurin lives in South Florida. Send Mail