The woman set to sit in the row behind me asked if she could swap seats. I couldn’t understand why. Her row resembled mine pretty much in the weight and size of the other passengers. We were ahead of the exit row so our seats only went back a fraction. The overhead bins above both were stuffed full with cabin baggage, there were no babies or drooling adults. We were both in middle seats so there was no comfort advantage. So I asked: “Why?”
She cut her eyes at the man in the aisle seat and then back at me. I raised my eyebrows and waited: “I don’t feel comfortable”, she said leaning into my neck. “Comfortable?” She stared, she knew I knew, but I wasn’t letting her off the hook: “Ja, sorry, please swap with me.” I did. More for the man’s sake than hers. I would have been entirely happy to call her out on her racism, but it could have hurt his feelings. When I asked him to let me in the row, he smiled broadly at me, stepped out of his seat, stowed my bag in the locker and let me pass. He then sat down and went back to the Koran he was holding. Reading his prayers. I read my Vogue. We didn’t talk.
When we landed, he took down my bag, stood back and handed it to me. “Have a lovely weekend”, he said. “I will”, I replied, “you too”. He smiled: “Inshallah”. As I walked down the aisle I wondered if he had heard any of my conversation with the woman. And what he had made of it.
She caught up with me at the luggage claim. “Thanks for swapping with me.” she said. I looked at her and nodded. Too tired to get into any kind of debate. She stood there for a minute, then said: “It’s just that they are killing people everywhere.” I couldn’t ignore that and turned to face her: “So, here’s my question”, I asked,”What exactly did you think he was going to do to you on an airplane? Behead you?”
She stared: “Fuck you,” she said loudly, “Fuck You”.
The man next to me asked: “What was that all about?” I told him briefly, “She’s got a point though, you can’t tell these days. If Ebola doesn’t get you, the ISIS could. One just never knows.” He smelt like stale beer. I looked him in the eye: “Or my boyfriend could “mistake” me for a burglar and shoot me four times through a toilet door. One just never knows.”
So it is happening. We have got our tar and our brushes out of storage, and we are setting to work in public. We never bloody learn.