It turns out that your neighbor on the plane/bus/train (or the person sitting at the next table at the coffee shop) is a very, very chatty tourist. Do you try to switch seats, go for a non-committal brief small talk, or make this person your new best friend?
Hoping for the best, Millie made her way down the aisle toward her row. She knew she had a middle seat. She didn’t mind, really, as long as the people on either side weren’t enormous, or didn’t smell bad. She could even tolerate a chatty person. There were ways to deal with that, when you didn’t want to talk any more.
Okay, here we go. Row 28, seat D in the center section. It was apparently going to be a full flight. Most of the seats were already filled, and people were still filing onto the plane.
Oh dear. Both her neighbors were already in their seats. She was going to have to climb over the little old lady sitting to her right. She looked too frail to move much. Millie stowed her carry-on in the space overhead, and smiled down at her seatmate.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry I’m going to have to climb over you. I’ll try to be careful.”
She got no response, not any indication that the lady heard her. Millie thought that was odd. Maybe the lady was deaf. Gently, she touched the frail shoulder that was covered by a soft pink sweater. Startled, the lady looked up at her through coke-bottle lenses, seeming to be a bit frightened, even. Millie smiled.
“Hi, I’m Millie. I’m in the seat beside you, and I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to climb over you. I’ll be careful.”
“Well,” thought Millie, “I tried!” She bent across the lady and stowed her purse under the seat in front of hers, then carefully stepped past the lady and sat down. She got her seatbelt buckled, grabbed her book out of her bag, and prepared to enjoy a good read.
She glanced at the guy on her other side, and found him to be sound asleep. His head lolled to his left, and his jaw hung open. No snoring, thank goodness!
She began to read, enjoying the light comedy/romance for the relaxation it was intended to provide. After a few minutes, she felt a tentative tap on her arm. She glanced up, her ready smile already blooming, when she noticed the tear trickling down the wrinkled, powdered cheek.
“Oh dear! What’s the matter? How can I help?” asked Millie, wondering what on earth she was dealing with.
“I’m so sorry, dear. I’m embarrassed to ask, but you see I’m nearly blind, and I don’t hear very well, and. . .well, I need to use. . .you know. . .and I don’t know where it is.”
“Oh, please, don’t feel bad about asking. I’m very glad to help you. I’m afraid we’re going to have to wait a few minutes, though, because we’re about ready for takeoff and the seat belt lights are on. Will you be ok for a few more minutes? If you’re really in trouble, we can ask a stewardess for help.”
“No,” sighed the lady. “I’ll be fine if it’s not too long. Thank you so much. I’m Adelia, by the way. What did you say your name is?”
“I’m Millie. It should be about five minutes, and then we can get up and find the restroom.”
Adelia blushed. Millie thought it was adorable that her new friend was so shy about having to use the facilities. She didn’t think anyone was embarrassed about those things any more
Millie waited, wondering if Adelia would have anything more to say, but she remained silent. Takeoff went smoothly, and after about five minutes, Millie leaned over and asked if Adelia was ready.
“Yes, dear, but I can’t seem to undo this seat belt. Can you help me?”
“Of course.” Millie expertly flipped the buckle, and then undid her own. “Do you need help standing up?”
“No, thank you, dear. I can stand, but I’m a little unsteady on my pins. If you could just stay close and maybe hold my hand?”
“Sure. Come on, we’ll find the restroom.”
Millie and Adelia had passed four rows of seats when a young man suddenly stood up and stepped right in front of them.
“Grandma! What’s going on? Who’s this woman? Are you ok? I knew I should have insisted on trading seats with whoever was next to you!”
“Oh, Jeffrey, calm down! I’m fine. This young lady is my seatmate. Her name is Millie, and I asked her to help me find the. . . the. . .um. . . .restroom. She’s been very sweet. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Jeffrey didn’t seem so sure. Millie assessed him pretty quickly as a take-charge kind of a guy who wasn’t going to let some stranger mess with his grandma. She smiled, held out her hand, and said, “I’m Millie. I’m glad to help your grandmother, but if you’d like to take her the rest of the way, I’ll just leave her in your hands and go back to my seat.”
Jeffrey took her hand, holding it in a firm grip while he made his own assessment. She wondered what he was thinking as his gaze traveled from her eyes to her smile, feeling a flush spread up her neck and cheeks as the seconds crept by.
“No, that’s ok. I was just surprised to see her with a stranger. Thanks for helping her. She’s important to me.”
Millie waited by the door while Adelia tended to business, and then, holding hands, the two women made their way back to their row. Millie went in first, guiding Adelia back into her seat and helping her with her seatbelt. Settling back and buckling her own belt, she glanced at her other seatmate and was completely startled to find herself staring into the very much awake blue eyes of Adelia’s grandson.
“I made a switch,” Jeffrey said. “Hope you don’t mind. I felt like it was a good idea for me to get to know a person who was so kind to my grandmother. So, where are you headed?”