At tens and thousands of miles up in the sky, their gaze met for the umpteenth time. She smiled at him. In his mind, he felt that her smile was wide and therefore, warmer than what she gave to the rest of his fellow passengers on that flight. Being his normal reserved self, he felt his smile, in response to hers, was somewhat wimpy. Then again, she was an air stewardess and smiling was part of job.
But he could sense the genuine warmth emanating from her, which was starkly different from the tens of air stewardess’ smiles he had experienced. It was something special.
It all started with the inflight entertainment on board the ageing (but possibly sturdy) Russian (or perhaps from the Soviet era) plane. They were showing the performance at the Children’s Palace and he hadn’t the chance to buy the DVD as a souvenir. So just as she was walking to him whilst checking on the passengers, he motioned to her and asked if they sold the DVD on board, slowly in Mandarin.
He remembered her furrowing her brows for a moment. He speculated that what he said wasn’t slow enough for her to grasp what he meant. He repeated his request. He knew that she understood this time because her brows loosened and a bright smile appeared on her face.
“Please wait,” she said slowly in Mandarin.
Moments later, she came back and told him how much that DVD cost. He did a mental calculation in converting the price which was in Euros to the amount in his country’s currency.
“I would like to buy it”, he smiled in response.
He was drifting off to sleep when he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. Thinking that it was the middle-aged man who sat behind him, he turned around. He was a little shocked to see that she had settled on a seat behind him, unbeknownst to him. From all his travels, air stewardesses he met on board would throw a “you’re only our customer” look at him. So it felt weird to have her seated behind him and wanting to start a conversation.
They chatted in a mix of Mandarin (must speak slowly) and English. She was trying to be more conversant in Mandarin since the nature of her job was that she would need to converse more with passengers from the PRC. For him, having been denied the opportunity to converse with her countrymen and women (beyond his two guides), he enjoyed the chat.
Perhaps in her mind, he was this passenger who loved children (and their innocence) enough to have asked to buy that DVD. Perhaps she loved children as well. It was an opportunity which she took.
Because of their conversation, a fellow passenger showed her some photos he took during the trip to her country. He could see her eyes lighting up whenever a wonderfully taken photo pops up on that guy’s iPad. He found out more about what being an air stewardess was like for her, how she loved her job and where she learnt her Mandarin. She asked what his country was like.
“Is your country beautiful?” she asked, barely disguising her desire to want to visit it.
“Well, yes”, he replied. “You’ll see it when the plane lands later. Is this your first trip there?”
She nodded with that characteristically warm smile that was missing from the rest of the cabin crew. He found out later that the crew was not allowed to step foot in his country.
As time ticked closer towards the plane’s eventual landing at the airport, his heart beat faster. He knew that the chances of him seeing her again were close to being impossible. Even if he were to take the same flight from this airline again, there was no guarantee that she would be part of the cabin crew. Only the elite and privileged class from her country were allowed an e-mail address and an international mobile service.
“Can I take a photo of you?” it was almost 30 minutes before the plane was to land when he mustered enough courage to ask. It was a culmination of the number of times their gazes met and their exchange of smiles.
A 30-second pause ensued during which he observed that she was considering his request in her mind.
A shake of her head confirmed his fears.
The announcement for the passengers to belt up was made as the plane made its gradual descent. While it was a different air stewardess who sat in front of him when the plane took off (he was seated near the exit), he was pleasantly surprised when it was her who took the seat.
“Is this intentional?” It was a question that ran in his mind many times over as they continued to exchange smiles, which became increasingly less awkward as time passed.
He knew that their time was up as the wheels of the plane hit the tarmac. The foreboding sense of separation grew.
She left the seat and went to the front of the plane. Before she got up, she flashed him a smile that he thought was warmer than the ones she gave throughout the eight-hour flight. It could have been her “farewell” smile to him.
Then, the wave they exchanged as he got off the plane and walked on the skybridge. Unless Fate and Divinity intervene, it would possibly be the last time they met.
And in his heart, he whispered a prayer that she would find happiness and an eventual mate for the rest of her life.