THIRD FLIGHT TO HOUSTON
Black. The dull throb of a jet engine. They fade to silence.
Lena, mid 20’s, conventionally dressed, has an Indian accent.
Fate happens like this.
I miss my first flight to Houston, the flight I booked early and was late for. I am bumped from my second flight to Houston on which I was stand by and I stood. I am now on a third flight to Houston, going to meet my husband who I have never met before in my entire life.
I am sitting in the middle seat. On one side of me is a very large, individual who has covered his or her head with a blanket. On the other side is a man my age who has not so much as looked at me since he got on the airplane. It would be very nice if he would raise his armrest and give me space but he is too involved with his headphones and his John Grisham novel to engage in any kind of meaningful human activity.
I am studying to be a doctor. My area of interest is pediatric oncology. I will be brilliant at it. I will help children, the world over. I like foreign movies, French food and good wine. I wear thong underwear. I have had three lovers. They all told me I was very good in bed. Why am I sitting in a middle seat, on a third flight to Houston going to meet a husband that I am expected to marry — in coach!?
My seat mate now suddenly realizes that actual human words are being spoken in his very direction and he takes off his headphones, puts down his book and looks at me.
I’m sorry, did you say something?
It’s nice that he apologizes. And so I tell him yet again, that I am on the third flight to Houston going to meet my husband who I have never met before in my life.
In your life? he says.
My entire life.
Ah, he says. It’s some kind of Indian-Pakistani-Muslim thing? An arranged thing? A dot not feather marriage kind of thing?
I am confused. Dot not feather?
(finger to forehead)
(finger to the crown of the head)
I find this culturally insensitive but because I am distressed, I let it pass. It is all of the above, I say.
Have you at least seen pictures?
I get a photo out of my bag.
(she offers the photo)
He is not a good looking dude, says my new friend who has, of all things if you can believe it, freckles and red hair. Any idea what he’s like?
He is finishing his doctorate in chemical engineering which means he has no sense of humor. He is from a well to do family of good reputation which means he is old fashioned and will not share in domestic duties. He comes highly recommended.
By his parents. On the plus side, we are astrologically harmonious. Our birthdays will work, even if we do not.
My new aquaintance thinks a moment. It is a positive attribute that he should think. I was beginning to doubt he had it in him.
You could always say no.
To my parents?
It’s your life.
They gave me life.
They’ll get over it.
No. It would hurt and shame them most terribly.
They should want you to be happy.
They do. Because they are. I explain to him that my parents met just once before their marriage. Two days after, they became separated in a department store. Each was convinced they’d never see the other again because neither could remember what the other looked like.
And they’re still together?
They are like young lovers. And they will tell you that their love is based on mutually agreed upon objectives. And that success in these objectives has sustained their love.
So what are you afraid of?
I am not my parents.
None of us are, he says.
He now tells me that his parents met on a blind date their senior year of high school. They were engaged by September. Married by November. They too, are still together. They finish each other’s sentences. And him? He holds up his left hand. There is a white line on the finger where a wedding band should be. He tells me they were together five years, married for three. She moved out in March. I spent five years, my new friend says, thinking I knew someone, only to find out they were rrreconcilably different from me. So arranged or disarranged… it’s all going to work out… or it’s not.
I was just hoping that fate would perhaps play a stronger hand.
Maybe it’s fate, says this man, this stranger, that stuck you on the third flight to Houston.
We are silent.
What do you do, he finally says.
I am studying to be a pediatric oncologist.
He seems surprised.
And you? What do you do?
I’m a pediatric dentist.
It is my turn to be surprised. I tell him that before I aspired to the vast frontiers of pediatric oncology I seriously considered the splendid field of pediatric dentistry.
So you must like children.
Yes. I’m going to have many someday but I’m going to save the world for them first.
Now that sounds like a plan. My new friend smiles as he says this. It is a nice smile. But then, he is a dentist.
I’ve had three lovers, they told me I was very good in bed. I am aghast that this has popped out of my mouth but there is no way to put it back in.
I’ve had two, my new dentist informs me, and the second one, my ex-wife, told me that I was unimaginative.
I reassure him. Hardly inspirational on her part. I like French food and good wine, I say.
You’re killing me, he says.
I am starting to feel a tingling in my belly. Quickly, I say, tell me a joke and he does and it is a horrible joke and he tells it so badly that the two of us cannot help laughing so very hard and the tingling in my belly is turning to heat which is going in all directions.
He asks what music I like.
Springsteen, I must tell him. The Boss.
He looks at me so very tragically. And then in the sweetest voice imaginable, he sings me the opening stanza to Thunder Road. Roy Orbison singing for the lonely. Hey, that’s me and I want you only.
You are killing me, I say. Because the heat has moved up into my chest where it now threatens to overwhelm my heart.
I am Chris, he says.
I am Lena.
We look at one another for a very long, long time. We talk about many simple things. Before we get off the plane, he kisses me. It is so lovely.
I was on the third flight to Houston when I met my husband who I had never met before in my entire life. He was next to me having been left by a woman he thought he knew but didn’t. But he knew me. As I knew him.