Among crowded serpentine rows in the terminal giving seat to many languid flyers, whose clothes contained fleshy bodies, their vests and collars embellished with turquoise bolos crested below dozens of cowboy hats perched proud, there sat reading a man of dissent.
He wasn’t a sad man, nor angry, but complacent in a placid opposition.
As an intercom voice droned over the 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 through the overcast outside. Uneven clouds textured the boring bright sky. Pavement stretched flat west until a half-ring of vegetation set a horizon.
A man in a cowboy hat munched peanuts. Another man, donned in a similar 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 the left. She had yet another solemn face, and another of dissent. The brown girl was of maybe twenty years, wearing a university sweatshirt and a small banjo in her arms which she peacefully plucked. A knapsack and tote bag rested at her 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 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 into the mix. A loud clucking of hard shoes on harder marble echoed with pride over the soluble chatter. The man looked left at the open walkway, catching a glimpse of a joyous girl much younger than the halcyon musician, bouncing through the crowd. She held the immediate cuteness of chic parents, with a fashionable pink blouse and matching leggings. Her golden-yellow bob haircut danced as she hopped. The quick cluck-cluck reflected her outward vigor.
As the banjo’s sound glided along the murky environment and this new adoring sight, the man pressed a genuine smile, unhappy with the surroundings and his situation but at peace.
She ran back and forth for some time, drawing both frustration and warmth from pallid onlookers. 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 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 closer on her sound.
All he registered 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 worthless ground. Her small belly hit first, her knees not yet touching. Her head hit less than a heartbeat after, face full smacking into the hardness in a whipping lash that tussled her hair. Adults gasped. The child did not stir, stunned but conscious, before the pregnant 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 panicked mother rushed to aid.
People covered their mouths and looked on in fascinated despair. The banjo stopped and the young woman craned to witness the scene.
The man did not pull his eyes away. Despite the chaos of this anxious congregation, where 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 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. Another man spoke in surprise about the amount of blood. It pooled aggressively and the man agreed.
The voices were now hushed under steady wailing and the child was lifted into her mother’s arms. Adjusting her feet to support her, the parent stepped forward into the red mire, slick on the once-polished veneer so that her balance deceived her, then down 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.