He was sleeping as she sat down next to him. His hands rested on the tray table in front of him. Next to them lay an uncapped pen and a page of neat handwriting – a letter perhaps. She could have read it, but she dared not.
She watched his hands instead. They weren’t the kind to fidget, she decided. She thought that there must be a calm mind controlling them, a mind at ease with itself and at ease with life. She looked down to her lap where her own hands lay trembling. She imagined lifting one of her hands and lacing her fingers through those of this stranger, but she dared not.
The engines roared. The plane surged forward. Gravity’s unseen hand pushed her into her seat. Fear overwhelmed her. She gripped her armrests. She could not breathe.
She did not relax until the fierce engines lowered their voices and the plane levelled out.
He slept as the plane lifted off the ground. His hands, those comforting hands, did not hold hers, did not give warmth to her, did not provide safe shelter for her.
She turned her head to look at his face and realised that she was already in love with him. She told him this as he slept. She told him that he was her safe place in a time of trouble. She spoke softly, her voice hidden beneath the sound of the aircraft.
His eyes opened then, and he smiled at her: the kind of non-smile one stranger offers another. She thought she would say hello, but she dared not.