Kenji snuggled down under his airline-provided blanket, a mask over his nose to keep out the germs and to rehumidify the dry cabin air. What a way to spend Christmas.
He’d tried to impress his American girlfriend by showing up on her doorstep on Christmas Eve, but his “girlfriend” turned out to be a 300-pound trucker with a wife and three kids. Kenji had collapsed in shock, and then the littlest one sneezed on him and spilled some apple juice on him, accidentally. Kenji regretted those hours on the internet, building up a fantasy future full of love and happiness, only to have his heart dashed to pieces and drowned in a toddler’s fluids. So, now, he was back on a plane – expensive first class, because the economy seats had all been full.
He’d be home by New Year’s Day, and have to explain to his mother why he was in debt up to his eyebrows, and still unmarried at the ripe old age of 31. He asked the stewardess for a bottle of wine, but was informed that no alcohol could be served until the plane was in the air and at cruising altitude. Damn.
La Guardia was cold and snowy, and there were tiny icicles hanging from luggage carts and fuel trucks that dashed along the icy tarmac. The only thing worse than going home to Japan in shame was having a delayed flight. He turned away from the tiny window as a leggy blonde sat down beside him. She wore dark sunglasses, but her platinum hair was unmistakable. Babette Lawson, star of stage and screen, was sitting beside him. Great. As if he didn’t have enough social anxiety in this one day to last for a life time, now he had 15 hours in which to make a fool of himself with a famous, gorgeous woman. He grunted and turned toward the window, disdained the dismal weather outside, and slammed the shade shut. Maybe he could pretend to be dead.
But no! She tapped him on the shoulder. In that sultry voice that melted men’s hearts across six continents, and probably seven, if you counted researchers in Antarctica, she said, “You aren’t sick, are you?”
She talked to him. It was his miserable fate to be dragged even further into humiliation today, so he resigned himself with a sigh and pulled down the mask. “No, it’s just that the air gets so dry on planes. I have a couple of extras, if you’d like to try one,” he said.
To his horror, the woman burst into tears. She waved her hand weakly. “Don’t mind me. I’ve had such a horrible, scandalous week. I’ve been corresponding with someone on the internet.” Probably a fan, Kenji thought. Ms. Lawson continued, “Then, then, I found out he was a Nigerian prince with three wives and a tiny baby. Good lord, I’m such a fool!”
Kenji pulled out his masks, and inserted the wet cotton into the special pockets for her, then handed it over. She gratefully accepted. With her eyes covered by black sunglasses, and her lower face covered with the white mask, she looked completely alien. She completed the look by draping her airline blanket over her head, and huddled, like some 21rst century E.T. Kenji pitied her. “Not so foolish. The internet is hard.” He sighed. “Love is hard.”
She patted him on the hand, and he felt a little spark leap from him to her. Static electricity, he told himself firmly, but his heart was pounding anyway. She faced him, those large glasses looking like bug eyes, but in such a vulnerable, manga-like way. “Oh, really?” she said. “You sound like a man who knows.”
Fifteen hours on a plane from La Guardia to Narita. There was still time to turn away, to save himself. Instead, he found himself saying, “When we get up to cruising altitude and I get a few bottles of wine in me, maybe I’ll tell you about it. What will you do in Tokyo?”