Thursday, October 13, 2011

Five minute friend

He straightened the rack of magazines, putting a Woman’s Day back in its place from where a careless customer had misplaced it on the Vogue stack. It was only a small airport newsstand, but he intended to keep it neat. After all, his stand was the last stop before gates 21 and 22 Delta in the Boston Logan International Airport.
The morning had been quiet so far, but a movement at the front of the store alerted him into action. Since working there over the past 5 weeks, he had trained himself to watch for the sticky fingers of travelers walking by.
The movement turned out to be a young woman inspecting one of the novels he had carefully arranged on a display table just outside the store. She looked to be about 16, but when she turned a bit more in his direction, her full figure told him otherwise. He could tell she was experienced at taking care of herself by the way she watched him from the corner of her eye intermittently and squeezed the straps of her black shoulder bag closed with her free hand. Seeing her smile at the writing on the dust jacket, he suddenly wished that his English weren’t broken, that he had read all the books on the table so that he could talk to her about them.
When she put the book down carefully on the top of the stack, she made her way inside.
“Hey, there.” She grinned at him before inspecting the selection of drinks in the freezer.
“Hello,” he spoke the word carefully, shifting on his feet.
She selected a bottle of Disani and turned to the counter.
“Where you are destined to?" His accent wrapping around every word, choking what little clarity he had.
She raised her eyebrows in question and leaned forward. “Where am I flying to?” she attempted to interpret.
He nodded, swallowing hard with embarrassment and straightening a box of book lights on his counter, as if her answer weren't important.
She laughed digging one hand absently through her bag. “Atlanta. Can't wait to get home.” As she turned her full attention to digging for her wallet, he stifled a laugh, imagining her tiny body falling into the depths of the bag that was nearly as big as she. He looked away when she came up with the wallet in hand.
“How much?” she asked
She turned around and eyed the snacks on the wall, and grabbed a bag of chocolate covered pretzels.
He took a deep breath. “You could buy 2 pack at price of $6.00.”
She cocked her head “How much is one?”
“3.57.” He grinned, proud to have remembered. He had memorized the price of every item in the store.
She shook her head, pushed the bag of pretzels and bottle of water toward him, and pulled out her debit card. “These airports’ll rob you blind.”
Unsure of how to reply to that comment, he swiped her card and waited for the receipt to print. “There you are.” He laid the receipt on the counter and handed her a pen.
“Thank you.”
He watched her name appearing on the line under the pen.
She passed the receipt back to him and smiled one last time. “Keep up the good work.”
It was her wink that made him want to keep her there, to talk to her. Instead he watched her grab the snack, hike the bag on her shoulder, and sashay out into the flow of people.
He walked out from behind the counter and pretended to straighten the books on the display table, but he watched her walking away to board a plane bound for the place that she had acquired her accent. When he looked down, he saw that he was still clutching her receipt. Jessi, he read.
For some reason he couldn’t wait to get home and call his mother to tell her—-tell her what? There was nothing to tell. Just someone who didn’t stare or frown at the coffee color of his skin, his dark hair, and dark eyes. Someone who didn’t refuse his smile, but mirrored it. Finally, someone who didn’t treat him as if his very proximity to a plane might instigate disaster. Someone who seemed as if she would have been excited to hear about the new life he was making for himself here in the land of equal opportunity.

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