I was already starting to miss my children. I always feel a pang of regret when I have to get on a plane without them. The two empty seats next to me on my early morning flight to Juneau, of course, didn’t help. I stared out the window as the crew loaded bags into the cargo hold and I thought about how they were probably still sound asleep, back home in bed.
I was suddenly pulled away from my thoughts by two passengers joining me in my row. I quickly adjusted my bags to make room for them and looked up to see who my companions would be.
To my surprise, it was Clara and Lydia. Or at least, it was as close as I could get. A serious 8-year-old girl with shoulder length brown hair was neatly arranging herself in the aisle seat, and her boney-armed elfin younger sister was unfolding herself in the center. They were deposited in my row by a woman that appeared to be their grandmother. I made eye contact with the woman for half a moment and said, “Oh, would you like to have my seat so you can sit with them?” But she quickly looked away and retreated to the back of the plane as if she didn’t hear me.
That should have been my first sign.
I smiled politely at the two little girls. They leaned towards me and narrowed their eyes.
“Hi?” I said. But they said nothing, scrutinizing my beard and evil looking eyebrows. I raised my eyebrows and tried to look less threatening, but it only made their eyebrows drop even further. So, I slowly turned to look back out the window, trying not to be weird.
The younger sister was constantly moving in my peripheral vision. She had mismatched clothes of contrasting colors and appeared to be involved in some form of airplane yoga. She was repeatedly folding herself into a paper swan and then into a ball. She folded herself longways and somehow stuffed herself under the seat in front of her. Then she was a swan again. I blinked straight ahead and tried to ignore this cosmic parade of impossible contortion. I was sitting next to a human kaleidoscope. When would it stop?
During takeoff, the little girl tore open a Lunchable from a pink backpack and ate the brick of sliced yellow cheese in one loud bite. Loud enough to be heard over the rumbling of the wheels as we careened down the runway and launched ourselves into outer space. Her sister rolled her eyes and scolded her.
“Why do you do that, Lia?”
“It’s the only right way to eat it,” the elf replied, oblivious to the fact that we were now airborne.
I chuckled to myself and leaned my head against the window. Her sister even called her “Lia”. That’s what my boy calls his spritely sister, I thought, as I slowly drifted off to sleep.
It was probably five minutes later that I felt someone deliberately tapping on my arm.
I opened one eye and looked to my left.
“Do you know how to play any of these games?”
“What?” I blinked around, unsure of where I was.
“This!” The little swan pointed to a deck of cards on her folded down table. “Maybe, the one with a fish on it.”
“Oh, I… um… yeah. I guess so.”
“Good.” she slapped the box of cards and then held them out towards me. “Tell me how to play.”
I sighed and then shrugged. “Yeah, okay. Let me see it.” I found instructions in the box. “Okay. Here’s how you play Go Fish…” I paraphrased the rules for her.
She listened attentively and then as I finished she grabbed the cards out of my hand and said, “That’s good. But that’s not how *I* play Go Fish.” and she started dealing me a large pile of cards three at a time.
At this moment a flight attendant leaned into my row and said, “Sir, would you like to have any coff-”
“YES! Yes, please give me coffee now, please. Thank you. Coffee. Yes.”
Two very strange games of Go Fish, and one very odd game of Crazy 8s later, and the little girl was now showing me her favorite chapter books, and explaining her favorite characters. Her sister, joined in to make periodic corrections, as every big sister should. And then she said to me, “You know. You are not scary at all. We thought you were scary at first, but you’re not.”
“Neat. Thanks,” I said. “You know, I actually have two girls at home that are almost just like you. So, you probably could sense that.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Probably. But we like you. Usually, in this kind of situation, we would be yelling Stranger Danger. But not this time.”
“Yes,” they agreed, “We would be like,” and then they started to yell, “STRANGER DANGER! STRANGER DANGER!”
“Whoa! No no. I understand.”
People five rows up started turning around in their seats to see what was going on.
“STRANGER DANGER!” the two sisters sang in harmony.
“Okay, I get it. You can stop yelling now.”
They smiled, “But we wouldn’t do that with you.”
“Neat.” I had already shrunk into the arm of my chair, and my eyes were half closed as if to shield me from my fellow passengers.
“Would you like to play another game!” they cheered.
“Anything. Just stop yelling Stranger Danger.”
“Okay, then let’s play Monopoly.”
I glanced at my phone. “Okay, yeah. Why not. We have 15 minutes before we are going to land. Why not start a game of Monopoly on an airplane with an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old. That sounds like the kind of nonsense that my life is designed for.”
I emptied the dregs of my coffee and crushed the cup in my fist. “I call the boot.”