I'M NOT ALWAYS LIKE THIS
by Irving Kenneth Zola
After the porter had pushed my wheelchair to the departure lounge, I tried to read my latest Amanda Cross. But I kept having the feeling that she was trying to catch my eye. Maybe that wasn't true. Maybe I was just aware how much everyone else was trying to ignore her.
From a distance of ten feet, she looked to be in her forties, short, stocky, all in black as if in mourning. Her tear-stained face reinforced my impression. At first I couldn't make out what she was saying, but gradually her repetition got through.
"Are you sure the flight from Houston is all right?" she asked to anyone who would listen.
People seemed only to shrug their shoulders or look more closely at their newspapers. And that's when she caught my eye or at least, as I said, I didn't turn away.
Before she even reached me, the question was once again on her lips, "Do you think something happened to the Houston flight?"
"I don't know," I answered honestly, "Why do you think something did?"
"Because it's a half-hour late and they won't tell me why."
"That doesn't mean that something went wrong," I began, but before I finished she lost her balance and plopped into the seat nearest my wheelchair. Now I could smell alcohol on her breath, and wondered if this had made the others turn away.
The near fall seemed to jar her stomach and she belched.
"Oh, I'm sorry, please forgive me . . . I'm not always this way."
"I'm sure you're not," I answered reassuringly.
"It's just that it's been so long."
"Do you know what it is to wait for someone you love and then be afraid you'll lose them?"
"Yes," I gulped, recalling something out of my own past.
"Maybe that's why I'm so scared . . "
"Because I've waited so long for her to come and now I'm afraid she won't . . . Oh God, if she died I'll . . ." Her eyes filled once more with tears and she leaned toward me and perhaps without realizing she put her hand on mine.
"That's why I had to take a few . . . you know."
"Yes . . ."
"I don't usually . . . but this time it felt different."
"You know it's been nearly ten years and we write but it's not the same . . . You know I really do love her . . ."
"I believe you." I said, but my tone must have been too strong because she immediately pulled back her hand and sat up straight. "I don't want you to think that we are. . . you know. . .'cause we're not."
"I didn't think you were." I said equally defensively.
She slumped again into her seat. "I know she doesn't love me the way I love her . . She has a family . . . and lots of friends and I . . ."
Just then the loudspeaker announced the arrival of the Houston flight. Up she sprang and ran to the door.
"I'm sorry," said the flight attendant, "We can't let you through. You must..."
"But I haven't seen her in ten years," she pleaded.
"I'm sorry," he repeated, but this time he looked around as if seeking help. "You'll just have to wait here."
She moved what seemed like six inches, as if her immediate presence would guarantee her friend's arrival. Each time the attendant moved, so did she. As he raised an arm, she'd look under it. As he moved to the side, she looked around him. And then I heard a muffled cry and I knew her friend was in sight.
True to stereotype, she was tall as Texas. She stood head and shoulders above the black coated woman, with her fair skin and red hair contrasting even more with her brooding friend.
Everyone it seemed, but me, turned away as this big woman gathered the smaller in her arms.
"There, there, darlin'. I'm here."
"I'm so glad. . .I'm so glad," she continued to sob.
And then as they turned to go she mumbled to her friend and I thought to me as well, "You know I'm not always like this."
Copyright Irving Kenneth Zola