The passport swept through without a second look. I held my face like stone through various checkpoints. No reason for alarm, no lingering glances. I’d cut my hair and shaved my beard to as instructed, I walked like a man distracted, like them. not like a man who’d only been on a plane once before, so long ago that he could only remember scattered pieces of how he’d gotten to this strange land.
With my father. I still felt his strong hand my shoulder. The rumble of his many prayers. He’d thought he was doing the best thing for his family. His heart was pure.
I’d said my own words to God. Cleared my mind free of the jumble of the airport. Brisk men and women, hunched over, stumbling over one another in their distraction, mere herds of cattle struggling under the weight of their own apathy.
Boarding. Shuffling in the aisle. Knees, elbows, sneezes and coughs. I thought about my mother and brother. How I never said goodbye. My hands flopped around in my lap, fingers crawling along one another when a feather fell out of the herd and into the seat beside me.
I nodded to her, quickly, and tried to turn away but found it impossible to avoid such wonderful eyes, eyes that matched the thick of the forest after a good rain.
“Excuse me, do you have a pen?”
Her face leaned in to her question. I found my pack and my neck burned. Ants crawling down my back, biting, skittering down my spine. I handed her the pen.
“Thank you. Are you nervous about the flight?”
A man in front of us turned around. He smiled then faced forward. Suspicion grew in my temples. Maybe he thought it was funny that I was nervous around the beautiful girl. Maybe he was worried about her scarf, my skin, the two of us on the plane. Our strong accents. Or maybe he thought she was talking to him.
“My name is Kinah,” she said.
The way she said my name, like a warm, clean sheet on my back. But we went on, both speaking this wretched language, her in a way that made it bearable.
“So, what is it you do, Samir?”
“I’m, a student.”
A small smile. “Oh,” she said. “Me too.” She held up my pen. “Journalism.”
Instructions. Then the plane moved. Slow as it turned around. Outside the men scattered, moving luggage and hoses and equipment. Kinah asked what I studied. I blurted out engineering. Like I’d told father. He said I was too young and naïve, like Saalem.
Kinah’s eyes seemed to watch my memory. The plane rumbled, I closed my eyes and saw my father as we raced down the runway and into the sky. Kinah set her hand against mine.
Great things had been planned and instructed. Things that were now out of my control. I was to train and return. But Kinah was a distraction. An intensely beautiful distraction. Her voice made me forget about war. Her eyes led me from hopelessness. She smiled again and I was strong in her gaze. Confident. A scholar.
She talked to me through the flight. Flying over the clouds, the ocean below our feet. We soared, over the world, like the crowned eagle above the great body of water and I wanted to stay in the sky. I wanted to fly forever.
But the pilot came over the speaker. Approaching. My stomach rolled. Kinah smiled and I took her face in, picturing it on the other side of a booth, a plate of food between us in a strange country. Her smile and her soft laughter filled me warm with hope and desire. But the plane was approaching, making a rapid descent towards the land, to the two men at the airport who would guide me the rest of my way.
The lights and dings. The herd stood at the same time. Brushed off their close and spoke of the rain. Kinah handed the pen to me. “It’s been really nice talking with you Samir. I wish you well on your journey.”
We pushed forward. Towards the terminal and training. I wanted to tell her I was going to Syria. That we could go together. But then she was lost in those heads. It the apathy. I looked for her eyes but our paths became jumbled and I said the words over and over again….And You….And You….until I saw the two men coming for me. One took my bag, the other my arm. The beautiful stranger was gone, and my journey would continue…