2021-2022, Short Story, Writing

But I Didn’t; or, the Woman in the Pink Beanie

By Anka Chiorini, ’23

On the flight from Chicago to San Francisco there was a woman sitting diagonally in front of me. She was wearing a hot pink beanie, which is completely irrelevant to the story, but is very relevant somehow. Anyway, before the flight took off, I could tell something was going to go down with this woman. Apparently, she had a few gifts as carry-ons, which were in the overhead compartment and she was very worried about them being damaged by other people’s luggage, so much so that she went out of her way to tell a guy to put his bag in a different compartment because of her gifts. She even called a flight attendant over, saying that people were putting their bags in wrong and it was damaging her gifts. The flight attendant informed her that they were putting them in correctly and left. And that was only the beginning.

Shortly after, the woman took a FaceTime call– no headphones, full volume– and started swearing loudly about the gift affair. Mind you, she was sitting one seat away from a three-year-old. When someone tried to tell her to use headphones, she swore about him to the man she was on FaceTime with. “Some of us have f*cking psychiatric conditions and don’t want to be triggered like that. A**hole,” she said. I wanted to ask what condition that was, but I didn’t. I kept quiet.

I’ve never been a hero. Or not in the way I want to be, at least. In eighth grade health, my teacher made the whole class line up and then she walked down the line asking “Would you defend someone who was being bullied?” I was the only person who said I wasn’t sure. Everyone else gave a definitive, untrue “yes” (I’d seen some of them bullying others). My answer was more complicated than the wimpy “I’m not sure” I gave, but we were moving fast, so I didn’t have time to explain. What I wanted to say was, “I hope so, but it depends on the situation. What’s the extent of the bullying? I don’t think I would be much help if it were cyber bullying or physical abuse, but I might be able to combat verbal bullying. And who is the bully? Who’s the victim? Did the victim have it coming? Was he an asshole? Was he a raging misogynist who was going to blow up a Black-owned family-run puppy orphanage that afternoon and the next insult that came out of the bully’s mouth was going to be the thing that stopped him? There’s so much context missing in your question, so I’m not sure. I can’t be a sycophant yes-man for your anti bullying fantasies unless you give me all the details.” But I didn’t say that. I kept quiet.

An hour into the five and a half hour flight, the woman finally put in earbuds. Apparently, though, this was a trade off because her mask came off almost immediately after. For the whole flight, she sat unmasked, only putting her mask on when a flight attendant approached. For the whole flight, I watched her because I had nothing better to do and I wanted to see how this all played out. I saw her scroll through Instagram and TikTok and Twitter, where she left comments on every single tweet. At one point, she commented on a news article about a teenage girl who was killed. She wrote, “This angel will forever be in our hearts. Her family will never be the same. RIP.” Her next comment read, “I need a blunt and an orgasm asap lmfaoooooooo!!!”

In my head, though, I am a hero. Everyday, I fantasize about telling people to pull their masks up in the hallways. In these daydreams, I usually tell the person to pull up their mask. They generally protest with some sort of weak, overused line and I scorch them with a wicked comeback. They pull up their mask, and walk away, their worldview suddenly changed. I never act on these fantasies, obviously. It’s nice to think about it, though. What might have been if I was more confident, more self-assured. I guess I’m just not. Or at least, not enough to say anything.

At one point in the flight, the woman took off her sweater and was sitting in her bra and a blanket. I don’t know why. I imagined myself offering to switch seats with the little boy and his father who were sitting next to her, to give them a little more distance. But I didn’t. I stayed put. It wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway, I was only a row behind them.

When the flight landed, the kid threw up. Multiple times. Not on himself, he made it to the bathroom, or at least a paper bag, every time. Meanwhile, the woman was complaining very loudly about how hot it was. She fanned herself dramatically with a safety card saying, “Oh my god, it’s so hot in here.” At one point, she leaned over to the little boy and congratulated him on how well he did and said that she was so proud of him. When stripped of the context, this was almost a sweet moment. However, her tone immediately shifted and she asked the boy if he was hot like she was, clearly trying to prove her point. I wanted to ask why she cared about this kid so suddenly when at the beginning of the flight, she regarded him with the indifference and disregard of a person who has probably fallen into clearly marked ditches while walking and scrolling through Instagram.

It took a long time for people to get off the plane. During this long time, the woman took a phone call with whoever was picking her up. She complained about the flight and the heat and how she didn’t know where the baggage claim was going to be, even though it had been very clearly announced less than a minute earlier that it was going to be in Terminal 1. “How hard is it to get your sh*t and get off?” she asked everyone who could hear her.

Finally, when it was her turn to gather her belongings, she took her sweet time, taking down two large, gift wrapped boxes, a suitcase, and a blanket from the overhead compartment. She spread the items out over a row of seats, mumbling about how her gifts were probably damaged. After a minute, she realized that everyone was waiting behind her and stepped aside. As I passed her, I wanted to ask her “how hard is it to get your sh*t and get off?” But I didn’t. I said nothing, mentally flipping her off as I passed and got off the plane, secretly hoping her luggage got sent to Timbuktu.