Stranger on the Plane

Janet Garber


“Chance favors the prepared mind” – Louis Pasteur

The plane’s been delayed an hour, but we’re finally allowed to board.

My husband, Carl, in the adjoining aisle seat, opens the large cardboard box he’s brought onto the plane. “What did you get for us?” I ask, eager, leaning over him to glance inside. “Pizza?”

He nods.

“Oh, this is going to get nasty,” I say.

He looks away and mumbles, “I forgot the napkins too.”

In answer to my withering look, he adds, “That’s all they had,” and slides the box onto my lap.

With the plane delay, I’m hungrier than anticipated. I manage to fork bits of the still-warm dough, clumps of tomatoes, and dripping sauce into my mouth without getting any on my new white pantsuit. I pass Carl handfuls, bright red chunks, which he devours.

He pauses to come up for air. “I’m so hungry I could eat a house.”

“With all the people in it?!

He winks. The devil!

“Carl, the expression is ‘I could eat a horse.’”

“Yeah, whatever. Thanks for correcting me. Again.”

Oh great, now he’s sulking.

We’re sitting in absolutely the tiniest most squashed seat we have ever parked our tushes in before, and we’ve done a lot of parking of tushes in our travels over the years. I do my best but it’s almost impossible not to elbow the attractive young lady sitting near the window in our three seater 13A-C. As I focus on feeding Carl I feel her eyes on the box. What’s the etiquette when you’re this close to a stranger and you’re chowing down and she’s not?

I feel her at my side, hovering. I ignore her which works until she sits back in her seat. Cradling her cell phone, she desperately whines to an unseen party, “J’ai faim! J’ai faim!”

I can’t take any more of this. Though still hungry, I turn towards her and gesture toward the box. She nods, and greedily accepts my offer of what is by this time a unsightly mess of red sauce, onions, green peppers and dough.

“Hey, I was still eating,” Carl complains in my ear. “I did not get my fill.”

“Shh. I’ll explain later. Here, take my pillow and catch a few winks.”

He’s not content but, as always, obedient. Now I can concentrate on my other seatmate.  I study her big hair, highlighted orange, the huge curls cascading this way and that. Her 5’4” body is wedged satisfactorily into stylish blue jeans and she’s chosen a pretty print top, orange and brown, to complete her outfit. Her makeup draws attention to near- perfect features and she exudes a strange but subtle citrusy scent. The skin on her arms is plump and juicy. Yes, she’s getting a bit of a muffin top around her waist— it seems only to enhance her appeal. Hey, who can control their eating these days?

While she’s absorbed in playing with her electrical gadgets, I lean over to my right and whisper to my husband, “Isn’t she the one who stopped us for directions to the gate before we boarded?”

“You’re right,” he says. “Weird she’s seated next to us. Best be careful! Older folks like us are prime targets these days.”

“Yeah, but she’s a pretty one, isn’t she?” I turn back towards her and sneak a look at the screen. She catches me!

“No, it’s okay. Look,” she says as she flashes it my way. All I can make out is several people hovering over an altar draped with a black and red tattered cloth. And before she whisks the phone away, I think I see the word “God.”

Could she be a Jesus freak or simply a born-again Christian or even something more sinister? I decide to probe a little. After all, we supplied her dinner. I learn she’s a hairdresser returning to Texas after a stay in New York. Despite pressure from her boss, she’s decided not to move there. In Houston she has a car and, I imagine, an established clientele. Ever curious, I ask, “Are you married?” I get a noncommittal head shake of her head in response.

We three do our own thing or try to. Carl’s sleeping; his stomach is growling; he’ll need to be fed before too long. I close my eyes but she pokes me from time to time to show me pictures on her cell that clearly amuse her. She makes a lot of calls pleading for a pickup at the airport.

Does she have no money?

I focus on my gardening book, which thankfully takes off after a slow start, and so do we.

I must drift off because the pilot’s on the intercom announcing our imminent arrival. We straighten our seats, kick our hand luggage under the seats in front of us. As we descend my new friend grabs my hand, apparently a nervous traveler, and says, “I’d like you to come to my house.”

I stare at her in wonderment: Is this some kind of honor? “Really?”

“I’m your African daughter.”

Maybe in West Africa, where she’s from, people you don’t know can take a liking to you and make room for you instantaneously in their homes and hearts? But what if she’s playing me? I can be New York skeptical and yet extremely gullible. I’ve taken a motherly interest in her. Weighing all the elements, I decide to go with the flow. I’ve always been more adventurous than Carl anyway. “Okay, I’d love to meet your friends and family.”

She lights up, all smiles, excitedly taking selfies of the two of us, adding animation, something I can only guess at how to do. “I hope you like goat,” she says.

“I’ve never had it.”

She giggles to herself. “You’ll see.”

I tell Carl I’m going with her. “You need to get to the hotel and start practicing your speech for tomorrow. I’ll try not to be too late.”

‘Watch it,” he says. “She’s a stranger, young and strong, and you’re—”

“Don’t even think of calling me an old woman!”

“Look. Don’t get yourself in any trouble. I’ll be too busy to rescue you.”

I wave him off. He’s used to my not listening to his concerns. In my book, he’s always been overly cautious. Timid.  He doesn’t understand how women can bond so easily.

As we exit the plane she’s still holding onto my hand rather tightly. I ask innocently, “Are you being picked up? Or taking a taxi?”

“Oh no, I’m with you.”

“Uh huh.” So she’s using me. “It’s been nice—”

“We are together now.”

I stare at her.  She’s still clutching my hand like a little kid. “I don’t even know your name.”



“Call me Fati. Everyone at the encampment does. Come along please because it is time to be going.” She locates my suitcase and marches out the door.

“Hold on, Fati. Wait.” I grab my tote bag.

I run through the doors to the outside and for a moment my heart sinks.  Has she run off with my luggage? But no, the sweet girl is standing next to a limo. The driver takes my bag, and Fati pushes me into the back seat and climbs in beside me. “We’re late. Hurry,” she says to the man.

“Late?” I don’t know if it’s jet lag, everyday midlife confusion, or the slowing down of synapses, but I’m thrown off balance. What are we doing exactly and where are we going?

Fati reads my baffled expression. “Not to worry, Little Mama. We go to my house, remember?”

Too late I fear to back out. The cab heads in a direction I’ve never been which adds to my uneasiness. I’m cursed with a total lack of direction.

Fati and the driver sneak looks at me and converse in what must be an African dialect. I pick up stray words in French. Agneau. Lamb. Chevre. Goat. Ceremonie. Ceremony. L’elu. Chosen one?

The chosen one better not be me! What are they planning? “Do you know each other?” I ask.

“He’s the boss,” she whispers. Giggling, she puts her arms around his neck and nibbles on his ear. “Kind of a boyfriend too.”

I have no idea what’s going on. Am I falling into some sort of trap? I know I should be choosier when making new friends. Especially strangers. But then I wouldn’t be me, I’d be some other person. I decide not to worry.

I study her and him, in the prime of youth, bursting with that juiciness we lose as we get older. Unless. . . I peek into my tote bag and sigh contentedly. Thank goodness for airport delays and poorly-trained TSA personnel. Lying at the bottom of my bag is my first anniversary present, a silver knife, all shiny, on the ready. I shouldn’t be having a meal again so soon, but these two are beyond tempting.

I’ll need to bring home a few slices for Carl.

“Would you mind pulling over for a minute?” I ask.



Janet Garber received an MA in English from the University of Rochester. For many years she earned her keep as a Human Resource Executive while moonlighting as a writer. She has had her articles and essays published in the Wall Street Journal’s Vertical Network, The New York Times, The New York Post, Working Mother Magazine, HR Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul and elsewhere. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in a score of literary journals such as Forge Literary Magazine, Tigershark and RavensPerch as well as several anthologies. Janet’s published two books, I Need a Job, Now What? (Silver Lining Books), and more recently, a comic debut novel, Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager. Dream Job was a Runner-Up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Awards and a Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. She lives on the outskirts of NYC with hubby #2 (a keeper!) and two emotionally-challenged rescue cats and is fond of live blues and folk music, hiking in the “Gunks,” and mixing up weird ingredients. She welcomes visitors to