I have the middle seat. The most awful seat on the plane.
Scrunched in the middle like filling in a sandwich cookie, I adjust the seat belt and turn to smile at the woman with the coveted window seat. Cautiously, she looks at me, then loops the strap of her handbag tightly around her wrist, while she presses her fragile little body against the airplane window.
Throughout the flight she dozes in and out of sleep while clinging to her purse and leaning against the dingy white surface of the jet's interior wall. I can't help but to think of every Asian stereotype I've ever heard.
When the snack tray arrives, in broken English, the woman tells the attendant that she would like something to eat. The attendant asks which item on the menu and she points to the boxed sandwich meal.
"Nine forty-nine," he tells her, and from that purse she retrieves a $10 bill.
"Credit card only," the attendant says.
"I have no card," the woman says.
"I'm sorry," replies the attendant. "Would you like a soft drink or some water?"
"I been traveling all day," the woman explains. "I come from out of country and have no credit card."
The attendant looks tired as he looks at the woman.
I reach under the seat in front of me and pull out my book bag. Reaching for my wallet, I tell the attendant that I will pay for her meal.
Shaking her head no, she crosses her arms and leans back against the wall.
"I'll get it," I say handing the attendant my card and she shakes her head even more.
"Passengers pay for each other all of the time," the attendant explains. "Just give her the cash and she'll put it on her card for you."
At this, the woman looks up, nods in agreement and gives me the $10 bill without saying a word. The attendant smiles as though he has just solved world hunger and hands over the ridiculously priced box of food. When I ask if she would like anything else, she shakes her head.
Silently, I resume my Kindle reading and ravenously she eats the chicken sandwich and potato chips that has been scrunched up in the unassuming cardboard box.
When she is finished with her meal, she folds her tiny frame into the back of her upright seat, sighs deeply and closes her eyes.