Let me start out by expressing how much I hate flying. Three years ago I had a bad experience falling from a cliff while on vacation, leaving me with an almost paralyzing fear of heights.The following summer, I boarded a flight from Dublin to Atlanta while one of the decade’s worst storm systems raged along the east coast of the United States. The plane rose and plunged through countless air pockets. Some passengers shrieked during the worst drops. A few vomited. Upon landing more than nine hours later, the plane did not stop teetering dramatically until seconds before the wheels touched the ground. The cabin erupted into applause as we rolled to the gate. Now every time I board a plane I pump myself up with anti-anxiety medication and several ample glasses of wine.
In this nervous and drugged state I waited to check into my flight from Beauvais, France, to Cagliari, Sardinia. I sat in front of the RyanAir counter, sick with hunger and fatigue, as a man in a beret tapped me on the shoulder. “Eh, ma scusa, vai per casso in Sardegna?” I understood Italian well enough to know that he was asking if we were waiting for the same flight. I nodded and showed him my ticket. “Sai a che ora arriviamo?” I sighed and replied, “Alle undici meno venti, credo.” And that was the extent of my grammatically correct Italian. He made a face, asking where I was from. When I told him, in Italian, that I was from the States, he looked delightedly shocked, then, waving his hands in the air, yelled, “AMERICANA?! Ma che cazzo fai in Italia?” It was then when I realized that our only language in common was, of course, Italian. He spoke rapidly, completely nonplussed by my inability to comprehend. After rattling on about something I could not understand, he insisted on telling me about his girlfriend. She was beautiful, a girl from Spain. Oh, wait, she was actually French and lived in Paris. No, he meant she was waiting for him in Sardinia. Actually, they were separated and not currently together. By the time he finished his rant, the kiosk opened to check in and he insisted on carrying one of my bags to the counter.
After leaving the counter, he bought me coffee and a sandwich. We sat at the cafe tables, where he briefly scanned through a Parisian magazine left behind by the previous occupant. He suddenly shot his hands in the air: “GUARDA! SONO IO!” Excited, he pointed to a picture from a restaurant review. Apparently, it was his, though none of the people in the photo resembled the man in front of me. I pretended to be extremely impressed.
I took out my phone to check the time. Wide eyed the man asked if he could see it, as he claimed he had never seen such a contraption. Under the nauseating florescent lights of the airport, I watched, fascinated and exhausted, as he immediately found the camera and took over a dozen pictures of himself with my smartphone. He subsequently took several more of me sitting across the table, my head resting heavily in the palm of my hand, eyes sandbagged under glasses. Unphased, he then pulled up a chair next to me, laid a smelly arm around my shoulders and took another ten pictures of the two of us. I sighed, took my phone, and gestured that we should head to the security line.
By the time we boarded the flight, he had unsuccessfully tried to buy me more food. I also vehemently declined a slew of offers to stay at his home during my stay in Sardinia. I chose a seat, and he plopped down next to me. As the plane began to fill, he spoke to everyone that passed, yelling across the aisle to people he had never met before. He knew all the flight attendants and blatantly hit on all of the females. The doors closed soon after and the plane began to ascend. I became increasingly uncomfortable and paranoid, shaking and close to tears. Looking at me with sympathy, he touched my arm. He held my clammy hand throughout the entire flight—something for which I am strangely grateful.
Ever so often he would check to make sure I was alright. I nodded each time with a strained smile, muttering “Si, grazie.” The wind was in our favor, and the journey was quick. As we descended, he stared intently at my cheek, at one point sliding a rough finger down its side. I exhaled hard, clenched my teeth, and turned the other way, too tired to be uncomfortable. I watched the city become more detailed, ground lights brightening. We landed, and I lightly shook away his damp hand.
As we strode toward baggage claim I asked him how to say ‘suitcase’ (la valigia). I then explained to him in my best Italian that when I find my friend, I would leave with her and, cazzo, do not follow me. Despite protests, we picked up our bags and we went our separate ways, but not before he hesitantly looked back at me, a glance which I promptly ignored. I suddenly paused without turning around, and realized I had forgotten to say thank you.
Hannah Griggs is a recent graduate of Loyola University New Orleans with degrees in English literature and Spanish.