Among crowded serpentine rows in the terminal giving seat to many languid flyers, whose flannels and shirts contained pale fleshy bodies, fitted vests and collars embellished with turquoise bolos crested below dozens of cowboy hats perched proud, there sat reading a man of dissent.
He was not a sad man, nor angry, but complacent in his placid opposition.
As an intercom voice droned over smug unsmiling faces, the man’s dry eyes glazed over the printed words. The soft jazz from omni speakers distracted him and he peered over the top of his novel, observing the scene as late morning sunlight glowed from an overcast sky just outside. Uneven clouds textured a boring bright sky. Pavement stretched flat west until a half-oblong ring of vegetation formed a definitive horizon.
A man in a cowboy hat munched peanuts, the crunch loud and the expression dismal. Another man, donned in another such hat, read a newspaper. The white bodies were almost total, the area-inspired hats beyond common. The sole brown body he noticed was young and rather round. She curled up by the window in such a way that he couldn’t distinguish the right foot from left. She had yet another solemn face but another form of dissent like that of the albeit white beholder. The brown girl was of maybe twenty years, donning a university sweatshirt and a small banjo in her arms which she peacefully plucked. A knapsack and tote bag rested at her bent knees, and soon the man could pick up the soft but energetic notes. These calmed him. Scores of surrounding dialogue blended into a dull moan of one, a sphere of sound which the young woman’s banjo could so pierce.
Group A for flight AA2217 to Montgomery now boarding, Group A.
Some hats stood up, others didn’t.
A crowd formed a line, and a new sound entered itself into the mix. A loud clucking of hard shoes on harder marble echoed with pride over the soluble chatter. The man pulled his eyes from the young woman to look left at the open walkway, catching glimpse of a joyous girl much younger than the halcyon musician, bouncing through the crowd. She held the immediate cuteness of privy parents, her fashionable pink blouse matching brown leggings. Her golden-yellow bob haircut did the title justice as she pranced. The quick cluck-cluck reflected her own outward vigor.
With the banjo’s sound gliding through the murky environment and this new adoring sight the man smiled a genuine smile, perhaps unhappy with the surroundings and his situation but at no less peace than a man in content.
She ran back and forth for some time, drawing both frustration and warmth from pallid onlooking adults. Her hair bobbed and brushed her soft neck, her bright smile gleaming under full round blue eyes.
cluck-cluck, cluck-cluck, cluck-cluck
Now boarding Group B for Flight AA2217 to Montgomery, that’s Group A and Group B.
cluck-cluck, cluck-cluck, cluck-cluck
The banjo’s smooth notes kept him at ease.
The man continued to crunch his peanuts, the sound loud and annoying. Another spat dip into a browning water bottle. Back and forth she ran, cluck-cluck, cluck-cluck.
A departing plane, huge and close, passed over the hazed sunspot in the sky, causing a momentary flicker in the natural glow. The man became alert. He thought he may have seen the lights flicker but the plane’s soaring boom told him no tricks were played. He met eyes with the banjo player and offered a polite Southern nod for he had no hat to tip. Nor did she; with both arms occupied she could only smile. And she did. He thought she may have begun playing a bit louder, and now focused ever so more intently on her sound.
All that registered with the brain between his ears was the child’s clucking and charm and the musician’s plucking out of sight to his right. Both were happy senses warming his perception from the otherwise opaque and mundane, besetting trouble in boredom and numb discontent.
The clucking was thrown off pace as the child tripped over her own feet, the momentum tossing her headlong like a hero over ground not worth saving. Her small belly hit first, her knees not yet on the ground. Her head hit less than a heartbeat after, face full smacking into the pale hardness in a whipping lash that tussled thin hair. Her legs paused, lifted for a moment then tumbled in an improper contrail. Gasps inhabited the pregnant pause of disbelief. The child stirred not, stunned but conscious, before that pause gave birth to primal screams of anguish, in shock and in pain not yet realized. This newborn moment showed no mercy to the wailing child now bloodied and a contorted mouth exhibiting gruesome new gaps between stained chiclets. Blood from her nose and mouth pooled around floating baby teeth and a mother imbued with panic rushed to aid.
People covered their mouths and looked on in doe-like forlornness. The banjo stopped and the young woman craned to see the source of the ruckus.
The man did not pull his eyes away. Despite the chaos of this newfound anxious congregation, what with muddled hands encompassing the frail creature, the intercom spoke of the next boarding group and so the man rose.
He looked again at the saddened musician but she failed to meet his gaze, entranced as he once was. Stretching his knees the man gathered his belongings and got in line amid the concerned overweight bodies. He approached the gate where the attendant was shaking her head and saying something about a trip to the hospital. She took the man in front and beeped him through. An older man behind him spoke in surprise about the amount of blood. It pooled aggressively and now with attention called to it the man without a hat agreed.
The voices were now hushed under steady wailing and the bloody child was lifted into her mother’s arms. Adjusting her feet to support this new anguished weight, the parent stepped forward into the red mire, slick on the once-polished veneer so that her balance did deceive her, then down too she went poor child in tow. More gasps as the frenzied tangle wailed about, blood obvious, ground hard, and embarrassment less painful than impact.
He passed through with his roller bag humming in tow and he entered the cabin, glum and awaiting yet another seat. After loading and immediately buckling in, his gaze turned right out the window. The slow process of departure carried out. His relentless stare continued projecting through the distance.
The plane ascended and the man watched the Texas desolation rescind beneath him as it all plummeted to the east, escaping a risen sun.