My routine was normal: I arrived at the airport a few hours early and checked in at the ticket counter. I was stopped and searched at security. I am always stopped and searched at security. Something about the way I look compels security to stop me. I then chose a restaurant, stood in line, ordered food, and found a quiet spot to eat and read until my plane boarded. Like I said, it began as a normal trip – everything was routine.
The woman behind the counter at my gate indifferently spewed forth instructions as I savored my final fry. In response, like sheep we all made our way to the pillars displaying boarding numbers. I was passenger A33. Although this was going to be a most unusual flight, the staff did not seem alarmed. They were as calm as always, stumbling through the motions.
We herded smoothly down the walk way to the plane, moving out of one line and into another. As was routine, I wondered what could be done to cut back on the incessant lines. “Isn’t one line enough? A line at the ticket desk, a line at security, a line at the gate, now a line to get in the plane; why do they move us from one line to a next? Lines, lines, lines. Someone should fix this,” I gripped as I assured myself that if I were in charge of this outfit people would move straight from ticketing to their seat. No superfluous lines.
The flight was not crowded. I had my choice of seat. I selected the fifth row by the window, retrieved my book from my bag, sat down, put on my best Don’t-Talk-To-Me-You-Weirdo face, and hoped no one would sit next to me. As people in the aisle approached I could feel them sizing me up. Smiling toward me to see if I might accept them into the row I had claimed ownership of. One elderly woman glanced at me hopefully but I deflected by scowling into my book. A young couple, foolishly attempting to hold hands and navigate their carry-on bags at the same time, slowed neared my row. In anticipation I slipped off my sandal, raised my bare-foot to rest on my knee, and exaggeratedly dangled it into the middle seat. If I owned a sign that read, “Don’t even think about it!” I would have hung it from my big toe.
Then there was the mid-thirties mom with the toddler. She had a desperate look in her eye. I could tell all she wanted to do was find a seat. This was a night flight. It was clear that the young child had been pushed to the limits of his sanity. She spotted the two empty seats and I was forced to take drastic measures. Before she could reach me I lifted my backpack from where I had rested it below the seat in front of me and I place it on the cushion next to me. Then I stealthily inserted my ear buds.
Undeterred she stopped in front of my blockade and asked, “Excuse me sir? Is anyone sitting here?”
I completely ignored her pretending to jam out by bobbing my head to an imaginary beat. She sighed and moved on. I decided it would be safest to leave the backpack in place.
You might think of me right now as a horrible person, but I don’t care. I don’t care what you think. Two hours of my life is a big commitment. People spend a whole year producing movies which last less. Two hours is valuable and if I can spend it not sitting next to a snot nosed three-year-old or a discussing things I care nothing about with complete strangers who I will never see again, than I will do so. I will do anything in my power to make that happen, two not waste my two hours. People are difficult and I already have enough of them in my life. I don’t need more, thank you. Especially not ones I might meet on an airplane.
My salvation came in the form of a thin man in a beige suit. He may have been a light skinned African or a dark skinned Arab. It’s difficult to tell these days. I liked his watch. It was adorned with Roman numerals and a nice black leather band. His nose was sharp like a beak. All he carried was a laptop case. He, I decided, was an acceptable row mate. He would not try to carry on a conversation with me or kick me as he crossed his legs. He would leave the middle ground unoccupied. He would ignore me. I returned my backpack to the space in front of me. He, in turn, correctly interpreted my signal and took the seat in the aisle. If only I had known what was to come, I would have kept my backpack exactly where it was. I would have depend my scowl, flaunted my bare feet, and maybe even faked a cold; anything to not have experienced those next two hours of insanity.
At first normalcy continued. We exchanged nods to acknowledge one another’s presence. He sat quietly while the plane pulled away from the gate. I notice he wore a silver wedding ring and I tried to image what his home life was like. This is a game I like to play with strangers. I make up back ground stories for them. Quickly I decided from the quality of his black leather laptop bag that he was wealthy, probably some sort of successful salesman, that his wife was beautiful and also professional, and that they had no kids because they were focused on their careers. Happy with my narrative I once again fought to enjoy my spy novel.
When we hit 30,000 feet the man reached down and retrieved his laptop. I smiled, satisfied with my choice of row mates. As I smugly congratulated myself for being awesome, it happened. A small puff of light brown hair and two large eyes arose from his jacket pocket. At first I tried not to look directly at the creature, but just to glimpse it out of the corner of my eye. “The shadows are playing tricks on me,” I thought. The cabin was dark so passengers could sleep. But I could no longer stand the curiosity so I ventured a quick direct glance.
The creature peered back at me from the man’s pocket. It’s eyes were perfectly round, far too large for its head, and fiery blue. The man appeared to be completely unaware of its presence. He continued to pound away on his laptop as if nothing was happening.
I tried to ignore the eyes. “Don’t engage,” I told myself. “That’s our one rule. Don’t engage. Just read your book and mind your own business.”
I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and looked over again. The creature’s head was now popping out of the man’s pocket. It had the face of a shiatsu but with an explosion of hair bursting from the top of its head. A mischievous grin fought its eyes for dominance of its face. I could see its tiny fingers clinging to the man’s pocket for support. It couldn’t have been larger than a common dinner spoon.
Suddenly without looking up from his laptop the man pushed the creature back into his pocket with his pointer finger.
I realized I was gawking but I didn’t care. “What in the hell is that thing?” I asked the man bewildered.
“Excuse me?” the man responded with confusion. “You mean my laptop?”
“I know what a laptop is,” I said already frustrated by the man’s stupid game. “No. I mean that little bugger in your pocket. What in the Hell was that thing?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” he said with believable earnestness and he went back to banging on his laptop.
“Oh! Okay!,” I replied sarcastically. “That’s fine. But whatever the hell it is it better not get me sick or I’ll sue you.”
For the next five minutes I wondered if I had imagined it. I hadn’t been sleeping well lately. Maybe there really hadn’t been anything there. So I ventured another glance and there it was, grinning at me again.
“Snarky-snarky-snark,” the creature barked in a high pitched voice.
“What the Hell!” I exclaimed, but the man continued to type like nothing was going on.
The creature extended its muscular furry arm from the pocket, pointed at me and angrily exclaimed, “Snarky-snark-snarky-snark-snark!” Frantically I looked around for corroborating witnesses but everyone else was asleep.
Then just as before the man broke his typing and pushed the creature back into his pocket with his pointer finger. As it unwillingly descended it let out a disappointed and muffled, “Snaaaark.”
“Come on!” I loudly whispered. “What in the hell is that thing?!”
“I have no idea what you are talking about sir.” He did not look up at me or break from typing.
Bewildered with my mouth gapping open, I sat and stared at him unsure of what to do. I could see the thing now rustling around in his pocket. “Should I wake someone up?” I thought. “He got the thing through security and ten other lines so how dangerous could it be?” The rustling became more intense, but then the man pretended to cough covering his mouth with his left hand while smacking his breast pocket with his right. I thought I could hear a quiet snark of protest. The rustling stopped.
I stared at the pocket for another ten minutes at least. Nothing.
“That looks like an entertaining book. You might enjoy it if you were to get past the first few pages,” the man threatened without breaking his typing. Unsure what other choice I had, I took his advice and began to read again.
He was wrong. Over an hour and seventy-five pages passed but I didn’t find the book anymore interesting. I glanced back to the man. He was asleep. “That can’t be good,” I thought. “How do you sleep with a freak show in your pocket?”
Then I looked up and there it was, standing on the peak of the chair in front of me with the same mischievous smirk. Its arms were oddly long, stretching almost to its feet and it hunched like a chimpanzee. It’s feet were unusually large and hairy.
“Snar-ark. Snar-ark,” it chimed with a mocking tone.
“Are you teasing me?” I asked.
“Snark-snarky-snark-snark,” it sang as it flipped me the bird.
Usually someone giving me the finger would launch me into a rage, but I couldn’t get angry at the little thing. How should one respond to a mythical freak of nature when it hurls insults toward you? I was completely unprepared for the situation, so I simply sat with my mouth wide again, gawking in horror like an eight year old who had walked in on his parents having sex. I whacked the man in the arm with the back of my hand hoping to alert him to his escaped pocket convict. He let out a loud snot and then turned his body from me.
My attempt to rat out the creature to the authorities made it mad. It moved to stand on all fours and began to growl and quietly snark at me.
Our eyes locked I sat perfectly still. Even though it was tiny, I wasn’t sure I could take it in a fight. “Am I going to die now?” I thought. I’d never been in a fight with a full-sized person much less a tiny creature with relatively huge muscles. The closest I’d come was kicking my neighbor’s puppy or batting around my sister’s cat. Completely clueless I decided to play statue.
The creature could sense my fear and utter hopelessness. It could see it in my eyes. Smell it radiating from me. In response it leveled at me the greatest insult it could muster. It began to laugh.
“Snarky-snarky-snarky,” it chortled gleefully. This was no giggle either. The creature rolled on its back and pointed at me. “Snarky-snarky-snarky-snarky!” Evidently my cowardice was the most hysterical stand-up routine the creature had ever heard. After what felt like an eternity the little jerk straightened up and hung its legs over the side of the chair. It spoke apologetically still trying to gain a hold on its laughter, “Snark. Snark. Snark. Sna-sna-arky-ark. Snark,” it said rocking back in forth, holding its gut, working hard not to burst into hysterics again.
I whacked the man next me to again and glared at the little thing.
All laughter disappeared and it glared back.
I hit the man again. Harder. He began to stir.
The creature deliberately reached back with one hand, grabbed a handful of hair belonging to the elderly sleeping woman in front of me. Then it cocked its head at me issuing a dare. The challenge was clear. We were in a game of chicken.
Like gunslinger waiting at attention for the twelfth gong, our eyes were locked. The creatures owner muttered something in his sleep and rolled back toward me.
I grinned with confidence.
The creature shot back a definite glare.
My grin blossomed into an assured smile.
The creature’s glare transformed to panic.
I punched the man as hard as I could in the arm. The creature yanked the woman’s hair hard. She screamed in pain. The man snapped awake. She grabbed her head with both hands and rocked forward. The man sprang up and grabbed the creature tight with both hands. The creature let out a loud painful snark. The woman spun around to find the offender. The man jumped up from his seat and hustled to the bathroom. The woman in confusion and pain, tears streaming from her eyes, mouthed to me, “What? Why?”
I shrugged, shook my head, and pointed to the man fleeing down the aisle. Then I gave her my best That-Man-Is-An-Insane-Lunatic face. “I have no idea why he would do that ma’am,” I said with sympathetic bewilderment. “He just reached up and pulled your hair and then ran away. I’m so sorry.” I oozed empathy and compassion.
She wept and rubbed her head, but not knowing what else to do she thanked me and sat back down.
I smiled to myself satisfied with my victory over the horrible creature. Fifteen minutes later we landed and I exited the plane.
As far as I know the man in the beige suit is still hiding in that airplane’s bathroom. He didn’t return to our row and I didn’t stick around.
I still see the creature though. Almost every night in my nightmares it laughs at me.
And I consistently catch myself uncontrollably staring at suit pockets for rustling and movement.