Seating Assignment

I’d been praying, walking down the aisle, my carry-on black Adidas bag held out in front of me so as not to whack passengers while I pass, that the other seats in my row, at least one, would be empty.

I look up at the seat numbers posted on the overhead. 56B. Yup, that’s me. I shove my bag into the storage bin, then say, “Excuse me,” as I attempt to wedge myself in.

I can’t. I look down at the woman sitting in C, and I can tell by the expression on her face that she, too, had been praying no one would sit between her and the guy at the window, Mr. A.

“Sorry,” I say as she gets up with a loud exhalation of heated air, making her unhappiness known to me just in case I hadn’t seen it in her face. The slumped shoulders, and the body language of the put-upon also had given me a clue.

With Ms. C in the aisle, allowing me out of her good graces to now wedge myself into seat B a little more easily, I do so.

Mr. A looks up, a blank expression on his face. If he’s upset I’m sitting there, his competition for the armrest, he’s not showing it. His hand is fumbling for something in his pocket, and I wonder for a moment if he might be playing with himself, and therefore too preoccupied to give me his look of disgust.

Of course, I sit down on my seatbelt straps so have to struggle to grasp them. While I’m wrestling with them, Mr. A pulls his hand out of his pocket, then turns and looks out the window. A farewell tug to Hawai‘i? Who knows?

Finally locking the belt, I give a huge sigh of relief. Ms. C turns to give me a “don’t give me the sighing routine” grimace, she telling me that if anyone deserves to sigh it’s her.

Begging to differ, because I have come in a little hot myself, I say to her, “I’d selected an aisle seat when I bought my ticket, but for some reason, it didn’t show up just now. I had to wait until everyone with a seat was onboard for them to find me, hopefully, an aisle seat. But everyone showed up, so I’m screwed.”

I purposely choose the word screwed to try to annoy her. If I were extremely po’d, I’d have said I was fucked, but I save that kind of verbal drama for even more heightened moments of personal vexation.

She sneers at me, I swear she does, and returns to her zombie-like gaze at the back of the seat in front of her.

Already the competition for the armrests has begun. Mr. A had used the absence of a center sitter to lay his forearm across the entire extent of the one that now lies between us like a territory each wishes to appropriate for expansion of his kingdom. I edge my elbow in behind his. It’s only a wee bit of a resting perch, and I want more.

I push my elbow in further. Surprisingly he gives up the entire prize, placing his hand in his lap. That was too easy, I think. What’s this guy up to?

Now with my left forearm commanding the no longer shared armrest, I turn my attention to the zombified Ms. A.

She’s reaching into the bag under the seat in front of her. Pulling out a pair of headphones that could silence the trumpeting of the second coming, she adjusts her monstrous headset and proceeds to fiddle with her phone.

Speaking of fiddling, I glance at Mr. A again to check on what kind of music he’s making. He’s got his left hand in his pants pocket again, and he appears to be fumbling for something. Again. Hmmm.

A flight attendant comes down the aisle, closing each overhead bin. I lift my hand to flag her down. I know they don’t really like you hitting the call button unless it’s an emergency. This isn’t, but it almost is.

“Yes, can I help you?”

“I was supposed to have an aisle seat,” I say, “but for some reason, it didn’t show up on my ticket. By any chance, is there an aisle seat available anywhere on the plane?”

“I’ll check as I go along,” she said. “This is a pretty full flight, but you never know.”

I thank her, am thankful that the zombie couldn’t hear what I was talking to the attendant about, and I know the fumbler is too busy to notice due to doing whatever it is in his pocket.

The pilot’s announcement to the attendants to take their seats comes over the speakers, and I despair of any reprieve from this atrocious seating situation.

And then, just as I’m about to curse to high heaven, like an angel descending, the flight attendant flutters to me.

“Hurry, Sir, I’ve found you a seat. It’s further back.”

I free myself from my seatbelt and spring to a standing position. I notice this phases neither the fumbler nor the zombie. The attendant taps the zombie on the shoulder. The zombie lowers her listening helmet, hears the request, and with another audible sigh of disgust, comes reluctantly to her feet and tromps into the aisle.

Passing her, I smile my sunniest smile and mentally scream goodbye.

And there it is. My aisle seat. I thank the flight attendant profusely. Now, I know, my long flight to O’Hare will seem shorter by half.

When I head down the aisle as we deplane, I notice the fumbler is gone but the zombie, still enveloped in her cone of sound, sits there stone-faced. She’s one of those who doesn’t like to deal with the crowded aisle scene, and for a moment I can relate to her. My heart goes out to her for a brief instant.

I’m heading down the hallway for my connecting flight to Heathrow when I encounter several airport security guards rushing past me. Curious, I turn to see where they are headed and if they’re pursuing someone.

They, as well as several others coming from the opposite direction, head into the gate from which I’ve just emerged. Now very curious, I walk back in that direction.

There’s lots of activity now. Actual police officers have arrived, and all of these representatives of the law are bustling in and out of the ramp leading to the plane.

I have time, so I stand there watching all the activity. Shortly, some paramedics arrive bearing a stretcher. After 15 minutes or so, they emerge with the zombie under a white sheet.

More officers go into the plane along with what must be detectives. Finally, the crew emerges. I see the flight attendant who helped me with the new seat and walk up to her.

“What was that all about?” I ask.

“Oh man,” she says. “You know that woman you were sitting next to?”

“Yes, sure, I saw her coming out on the stretcher.”

“Well, it seems she was stabbed multiple times. She may die. We’re pretty sure it was that guy sitting by the window, so they’re tracking him down.”

“Oh my God,” I say. “That’s horrible.”

I feel for the zombie, and I despise the fumbler for what he may have done.

“Yes, it’s awful,” says the attendant, “and just think. It might have been you he stabbed.”

I think about this. It’s true. I could be dead.

“Do you know of any way I can guarantee that the seat I choose when I buy my tickets will be the one I selected? I don’t like hoping one will be available.”

She looks at me, says nothing.

I can tell by the expression on her face that this may not have been what she would have expected me to say.

“So do you think there’s a way to guarantee it?” I ask again.

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