This is an observational piece I submitted for a study unit sometime in 2013. I’ve gone through some of my old assignments to see if any are ‘worthy’ of being posted on here, i.e. not too long, academic or boring. This one seemed to fit into my Unfinished fiction series so I thought I’d include it. I got a Credit for it.
I notice him through the cramped warmth of the airplane cabin. He inhabits the aisle spot next to where I will soon be seated. I am destined to be squished between him and the passenger by the window. We make eye contact and he gets up so I can squeeze past. It is the usual invading-a-stranger’s-personal-space two-step, awkward but necessary. One of my bag straps gets trapped beneath his shiny leather shoe. I consider pointing this out but decide against it.
He seems a very average man, almost unremarkable. His face resolves into the usual crags and crinkles of a middle-aged businessman. Sloped nose. Thin mouth. Thinner hair. Still brown, no grey as yet. The scent of some high-end cologne clings to him. A clean, manly smell that seems faintly familiar. His body expands to fit the seat but only because it is economy and the seat is small. He is not a big man, not small either. He wears navy pin stripe pants and a white shirt. His jacket is probably in the overhead compartment, folded so he still looks presentable when he disembarks the plane. He is a very average businessman on a corporate commuter flight to Sydney. He seems perhaps the very definition of average.
Conforming to my mental stereotype, he meanders through the Fin. Review. Shuffling through papers printed with words like “iron ore prices” and “economic strife”. A suit with a newspaper. My eyes look for more interesting fare so I do not notice the book in his lap until much later. Jasper Jones! I do a double take but there it is, sitting in his lap as yet untouched but there is definite intention in its placement. He is no longer the very average businessman. I do not know why it surprises me that he would have this book, but I am surprised nonetheless. I find myself waiting for him to pick it up and prove that he is not my stereotype, that he is actually reading this book and proving my assumptions wrong. But it was not to be.
I look away at some unremembered point and, when I look back, the book is gone and he is asleep, his seat set to maximum recline (person behind him be damned!). His mouth is slightly ajar and his head rests awkwardly on the side of his headrest, mussing his hair slightly. The newspaper sits forgotten in his lap and then falls with a soft rustle of protestation. I turn away but the soft sound of his breathing remains a constant soundtrack for the remainder of the flight. He does not stir until the plane lands.
Roused by the familiar bumps and jolts of the touchdown, he feels around for his newspaper. We wait in silence as the plane taxis to the gate, fumbling to turn on our phones and connect to anyone in the outside world, outside the plane. While I struggle with my backpack, he slips away. The newspaper remains on his seat but the not-so-average businessman and Jasper Jones are gone.
Image credit: Masterfile