at the airport

I’m in a small southern city and my flight’s delayed. There is one other person at security when I’m going through. The metal-detector handler asks me how I am today. I was better, I tell her, until I found out my flight was delayed two hours. The woman at the end of the conveyor belt overhears me while she’s bent over putting on her shoes. She straightens up. “You going to New York too?” She’s the age of a young grandmother, with thick cornrows and librarian glasses. Her shoulders are rounding down, gravity weighs heavier on her flesh than on mine.

“Yeah, New York. Are you going home or visiting?”

“Oh I’m from here,” she says, “a real little town.” We go our separate ways, but a couple hours later I meet again near the gate. Without realizing it I’ve settled into a seat across from her.

I’ve got some chocolate, what else can you do with three hours in a tiny airport? I get halfway through it and she looks up. “Whatcha got?”

“Chocolate,” I say, holding it up.

“You wanna share that?” she asks me. It’s a game, not a demand, the way a child might approach another child.

I get up and hand her the rest of it. “Here save me from eating it all.”

She takes the candy happily and says, “I always do that. I mean to eat a little and then whoosh! It’s gone.”

“Me too,” I tell her.

“Well, you’re young,” she admonishes. I can’t tell if she means that I don’t yet know any better, or that I can somehow handle excesses better than she can.

She sinks back into her airport paperback, squinting over the tops of her glasses and tracing small circles on the side of her thigh. After a while she gets up and walks over very slowly, with difficulty. “You know, I went to the health food store and got all these pecans and healthy business for the trip, but I’ve got a passion for chocolate. That was just right. I guess virtue doesn’t count as virtue if it only lasts until you get through security, hm?”

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