We watched her pre-board.
She tightly hugged a woman who could have been her mother and waved as she went toward the gate with the gate agent. Once she was out of sight, the woman turned to walk away. But she didn’t get far before the little girl came running out full speed.
“Auntie! Auntie! Wait!”
The woman, whom we now knew was her aunt, realized why her niece was back. She took a canvas bag off her shoulder and handed it to the girl before walking her back to the gate. The girl hugged her aunt again and with her head held high, marched out of sight.
We boarded and guess who my daughter sat beside?
At first, the little girl avoided our gaze, but my daughter finally caught her attention and they began a conversation. The girl shared her name, but didn’t give her nickname until after she’d vetted my daughter with a flurry of questions: what’s your name? how old are you? where do you live? why were you in Baltimore? where are you going? do you like planes?
When my daughter reached in her bag for a stick of gum, the little girl reached in her bag for her own stick of gum. When my daughter put her bag back under the seat in front of her, the little girl put her bag under the seat in front of her. When my daughter unwrapped her gum and stuck it in her mouth, the little girl did the same. When my daughter looked at the girl, the girl asked her if she liked to color.
Next thing we knew, the girl had ripped a page out of her coloring book and directed my daughter to color in Pluto (or Donald Duck, if she chose to turn the page over.) She showed her which crayon to use because that’s what seven year olds do. Ultimately my daughter colored in Pluto “wrong,” but her little friend was forgiving.
Throughout the one and a half hour plane ride, this self-possessed almost second grader took control of my 19-year old daughter’s time. Granted, my daughter allowed her to do this, but the little girl thought she was running the show.
They colored. They took selfies. They played games on the cell phone. They asked each other questions.
My daughter asked the girl if she’d ever been to another country. “Well,” said Little Miss, “I did tell you I’m from Maine. And I went to Chicago.” Then the girl paused for a minute and said, “And I went to French.” My daughter gently corrected her and said, “France?” The girl nodded. “Where in France did you go?” my daughter asked. “Oh. To the first town,” said the girl. “No. No. We went to the second town.”
The little girl was a genius at improv. She had answers for every question. Some of them highly unlikely to be true but adorable, nonetheless. She also voiced all the things we don’t say, but are thinking, as the plane taxis in to the gate. Why can’t we take off our seat belts? Why do we have to go so far? Why can’t we get up already?
Once we left the plane, the little girl behind us with one of the flight attendants, the girl said goodbye to my daughter. A few times. My daughter and I talked about how sweet the girl had been despite the tall tales she spent most of the ride telling.
As we walked into the airport from the gate, both my daughter and I looked up at the same time. A youngish couple was standing a few feet in front of us, facing our direction. In a quick flash, we heard the little girl call out “Daddy!” and watched as the face of the man of the couple opened up into the most beautiful smile. He bent down, opened his arms, and the little girl flew into his embrace. The woman of the couple joined in the hug.
My daughter and I passed by them, looked at each other, then headed down the hall toward the airport exits.
Clearly, my daughter’s work here was done.
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