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MUSED Literary Magazine.
Non Fiction

Familiar Strangers

Miriam Thor

Floor lights. I lost half a day with my parents and inconvenienced a friend because of one panel of floor lights. It was the Thursday before Easter during my sophomore year of college, and my friend Hannah was driving me to the airport in Charlotte. On our way there, I received a text letting me know that my flight had been delayed by an hour. That wouldn’t have mattered, except that it would cause me to miss my connecting flight in Houston. Unsure what to do, Hannah parked in the short-term lot and went with me to talk to the airline.

After I explained my situation, the woman behind the counter told me she could get me on a straight flight to New Orleans at ten o’clock that night. It seemed like a good deal to me. Yes, I would get home a few hours later, but I would get to fly straight there. Not a bad trade off at all.

I offered to wait at the airport, but Hannah convinced me that she didn’t mind making another trip that night. We went to her house and killed time until it was time for her to bring to me to the airport once again. After she dropped me off, I made it to my gate with no issues. Then, I sat down and observed my fellow passengers. Several of them were wearing LSU attire, and I knew that they too were headed home. I didn’t say anything though. It takes more than supporting the same football team to make an introvert talk to a stranger.

There were also several cute guys in the crowd.

Maybe one of them will have the seat next to me, I thought, trying not to get my hopes up. When I flew, I always hoped a cute guy would end up sitting next to me, and although it hadn’t happened yet, I figured statistically it was bound to eventually.

We started boarding the plane on time. When they called for my zone, I located my seat and was only faintly disappointed when a middle-aged woman was in the one next to mine. I sat down, stowed my carry-on bag, and waited.

And waited and waited. The flight attendants walked up and down the aisle, whispering among themselves. Just when I was getting really concerned, one of them picked up the microphone.

“We’re having a problem with a panel of floor lights,” she said. “We need all of you to exit the plane while they fix it.” Suppressing a sigh, I grabbed my carry-on and followed the other passengers off the aircraft. Silently, I sat down in a chair just outside the gate.

Glancing around at the frustrated faces around me, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of camaraderie. With one announcement, we had gone from travelers with nothing in common but a destination to a group united by a common enemy: a panel of floor lights. Feeling comforted that I wasn’t alone, I settled in to wait.

At eleven thirty, one of the employees announced that we would be unable to fly out that night. Instead, we would all receive tickets for a flight the next morning at seven. As the crowd looked even more disgruntled than before, she added that the airline would be paying for everyone to stay in a hotel near the airport. Looking slightly mollified, everyone headed toward the service desk to get tickets and vouchers.

Since I had no desire to stay in a hotel by myself, I called Hannah, and half an hour later, I was in the car with her and her mom. I slept on an air mattress in Hannah’s room that night, and before sunrise the next morning, she’d dropped me off at the airport yet again. To her credit, she never complained once.

Since it was so early, I made it through security with no issues and quickly made my way toward my gate.

“Good morning,” a dark-haired woman said as I walked up. She too had been on the plane last night. “I hope they checked the floor lights this time.”

“Me too,” I said with a smile.

“Yeah,” a short-haired woman chimed in. “You know those floor lights are vital to the plane.”

That drew chuckles from several of us. I looked around at the familiar faces, much less lonely than I’d been the previous night. It was nice “knowing” people at the airport.

The good-natured banter continued even as we boarded. I found my seat and looked out the window, thinking this might turn out to be the most enjoyable flight I’d ever experienced. I turned when someone sat next to me. It was one of the cute guys from the previous night.

Yes, I decided, definitely the most enjoyable.

We took off with no complications, from floor lights or otherwise. The guy and I talked for most of the flight, and I was almost sorry when we taxied to the terminal in New Orleans a couple hours later.

“Nice meeting you,” I told the guy as I gathered my stuff.

“You too,” he said, heading down the aisle. I stood up, careful not to hit my head on the overhead bin, and followed suit.

“We made it,” the short-haired woman said, walking away from the gate.

“Best of luck to you,” the dark-haired woman told me as she moved toward baggage claim.

“Thanks,” I said. “Bye.”

As I watched them go their separate ways, I felt a twinge of sadness, knowing I would never see these people again. Even if I did, I knew I wouldn’t recognize them. Our camaraderie had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. And yet, I felt grateful for that temporary bond. It had made the delay worth the inconvenience it caused. As my fellow passengers disappeared, I said a brief prayer of thanks before going to meet my parents.