Dropped at the Ft. Lauderdale airport an hour before my flight, everything from my trip was in the carry-on slung from my shoulder. No need to check a bag; if I hustled, I would clear security with time to spare. As I approached the escalator descending to the flight gates, a large group moved from the Southwest check-in counter. Led by a tall, dark man with dreadlocks falling almost to his waist, they stepped in front of me. Three adults—two men and a woman—five children, was this a single family?
After spreading his arms to guide the others, the tall man leaned down and took one of the children’s hand. “When we get there,” he said, “you’ll see what I mean. It is a wonderous place.” His accent, a faint hint of Jamaica, was mixed with the nasal sound of Brooklyn.
The child nodded. The woman on the tread below smiled so brightly her perfect white teeth seemed to light the passage.
“Can’t wait, Dad,” another of the children said.
At the gate level, the tall man stepped aside and again gathered his group. In front of me, while waiting to pass the desk where a bored gray-eyed woman checked each passenger’s boarding pass and photo ID, I heard him say, “When we get there, Johnson, you’ll see things you never have before.”
The children lifted their heads, and looked wide-eyed at him.
“Your Grandma will take you to the market,” the woman said, and closed her eyes. “The spices. I remember—”
I smiled at the children. Two of them smiled back.
I didn’t hear more about the place they were bound. When the woman at the desk saw TSA-Pre on my boarding pass, she directed me to a much shorter line where I quickly cleared security.
Twenty minutes later, while I sat at Gate 5 waiting for the call to board the Buffalo-bound jet, I looked up from my book and saw the tall dreadlocked man ushering his family down the wide concourse. One arm around the woman, his other holding the hand of the smallest child, he led them toward a distant gate. The colorful clothing they each wore looked even brighter beneath the florescent lights. Was he still telling of the delights found in the place he grew up? Was he schooling the children in a culture neither they nor I have known?
I glanced at the seats surrounding Gate 5. The hundred people in those seats seemed to be dressed in gray and black. They, like I, were normal beings waiting to fly to a northern city where we’d resume our normal lives. I dog-eared a page and closed my book.
Why not follow that family, I thought, talk to them, learn of where they’re going and what they’ll see?
When I began to rise, I glanced at the black and white screen of the Departure Board. If I followed those people my flight might be called and leave without me. But, would returning home on time weigh more in my life than meeting new people? Different people?
I could take a later flight, I thought, I’m sure there’s one.
Or perhaps I would so enjoy the company of these strangers, I would purchase a ticket for their flight, wherever that flight might go. Once there I would meet the grandmother the woman spoke of, and learn of the spices and island breezes that fill grandma’s home. I could make of today’s strangers tomorrow’s friends. I might become a different person, trade my gray apparel for bright tropical colors.
I lifted my carry-on case to my shoulder, and walked toward the concourse.
“Southwest Flight 4343 is now ready for boarding,” a loudspeaker announced.
Down the concourse, my fantasy entered the waiting area of Gate 9.
The loudspeaker called, “Passengers with boarding positions one through thirty please line up—”
Turning my back on Flight 4343, I stepped into the concourse.
“—Passengers with boarding positions—”
I looked over my shoulder at the lines waiting to board at Gate 5, then glanced down the concourse at the sign that read Gate 9. One of the brightly clad children peeked around the corner of the gate’s waiting lounge. When I smiled, he hesitantly waved then seeming embarrassed, disappeared back in the lounge. I hefted my case higher on my shoulder. My decision made, as the loudspeaker announced the final boarding call for flight 4343, I moved quickly in the direction I knew I had to go.
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Susan Lynn Solomon lives and writes in Niagara Falls, NY. Among her other short stories, Sabbath, published in a Kindle edition of Prick of the Spindle, was nominated for Best of the Net, and Abigail Bender, was an honorable mention in a Writers’ Journal short romance competition (2007). Her recent publications include Ginger Man (Imitation Fruit 2012), Elvira (Imitation Fruit 2013), Second Hand (Literary Juice, 2012). Ginger Man and Second Hand have been reprinted in the short story anthology, Queen City Flash. Her novel, The Magic of Murder has been released by Solstice Publishing.