Day 4 of 5, 9 June 2020
Frame Ambition Writing Challenge
The task: Consider someone – anyone – you’ve encountered in a place away from home. Write about what about them you remember, what stood out about your encounter, what you’d like to do/say if you did get to see them again, anything else that comes to mind.
I have a note on my phone, where I list all the strangers I’ve had great encounters with while on my travels. I don’t know most of their names, but I will always remember them. In fact, I hope to write a book of short stories, 1-2 pages per stranger encounter, to document them.
I have written about encounters with strangers before. Here, I wrote about Baki, a middle-aged Turkish man that I met on Khaosan road in Bangkok. Today, I write about another stranger, whose name I do not know
It was 2017 or 2018. A South African Airways flight. To or from where I do not remember. All I remember is that I was dog-tired on this flight, and I needed to sleep.
I have some pro-tips that I usually employ when I want to sleep on flights: they involve window seats to rest my head against, a comfortable travel pillow, self-dehydration so that I do not wake up to pee (I know, bad) and occasionally an antihistamine that will make me drowsy (I know, also bad)
On this particular flight, I had missed my usual window seat. I’d got an aisle seat instead, which is truly the worst seat if you are trying to catch some Zs. Not just any aisle seat either. But the aisle seat in the middle section of the plane in a 2-3-2 seating configuration. I turned restlessly in my seat, contorting my neck, and trying to find an appropriate position to sleep in. No luck.
There was a white middle-aged – maybe even senior citizen – Afrikaans man sitting to my right. The middle seat. He kept looking over at me and smiling. I paid him no mind, but I also mumbled an invocation thanking God that I didn’t have his seat.
“Here, lay your head on my shoulder”.
“You seem like you need it. Please, have my shoulder”
I did not think twice about it. I lay my head on his shoulder and had the most-needed drooly sleep. I woke up when the plane touched down, said: “thank you and goodbye” and we both disembarked and went our separate ways.
I didn’t think much of it then, but I still think fondly of that interaction. I sometimes romanticise it, thinking about what the headline would have been had this happened during racial segregation in the US or even more recently and relevantly, Apartheid in South Africa. “Old Afrikaans man offers a shoulder to tired black woman”.
This man had a worse seat than me and was older than me, yet offered me his shoulder because he saw that I needed it. It was a beautiful gesture and I will carry it with me forever.