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  • It was four and a half hours into the third flight I’d taken that week when she started.

    I closed my eyes and tried to close my ears to the sobbing in the seat next to me, but it was no good. Her keening grated the inside of my head. I could hear other passengers huff, shifting in their seats. I could see their glances, my glances of disapprobation at the mother - us too irritated to feel guilty, too tired to feel selfish. My face flushed in annoyance, in anger. It is one thing to be robbed of money, its another to be robbed of peace... particularly when the perpetrator is a pint sized person in a pink, flowery jumpsuit.

    I was on my way to speak at a conference, having just finished an intense three days of consulting, before which I had said goodbye to a long time friend, a man I love on the final leg of his own journey. Exhausted, depleted and stuck in silence, the girl was too much to bear. As the mother awkwardly walked her child up and down the aisle, the bundle of taut muscles, brown hair and contorted limbs shrieked and shrieked. I gripped the arm rest of my chair and clenched my teeth.

    I hadn’t know what to say to him, to Patrick. We might as well have been two strangers, meeting on the road with no shared language, no sense of direction despite our many shared years. If we live our lives walking backwards, able to see the past thought not the future then Patrick, well, Patrick had turned around. It was clear as we spoke that our paths were diverging quickly, me describing a landscape I could not yet see, only imagine, him staring off into a very clear future - one that didn’t stretch very far.

    Sitting stiffly in my seat, my whole body burned. I didn’t want to be thinking about these things - couldn’t, not there, not then. But every wail of the girl felt like a heavy knocking on my door, a visitor demanding to be let in: loud booming images of my lips voicing ineffectual words, his eyes that held a vacant stare, our cold fingers locked together across the table, the tangled goodbye.

    Though the mother had tried there was nothing that would placate the crying girl – not toys, not smiles from other passengers, not the soft rub of her mothers hand on her back. There had been nothing that would reach him either. Caught in them, caught between them my hands and tongue started to feel absurd - absolutely ridiculous, fleshy instruments that had long worn out their use. Swallowing nails with every gulp of air, I coughed. I coughed so as not to cry, so as not to scream like her, desperate for I-don't-know-what... seeking something that no one could give me.

    The mother and child sat down again beside me. The girl continued to wail.

    I took a breath, steadied myself and turned to her, warbling, “Its very late isn’t it.”

    She nodded from behind her tears. We looked at each other for a moment. She rubbed her eyes and puffy, tear stained cheeks. I pushed my own leaking soul back.

    “You know,” I said with a small smile. “It's ok to cry... sometimes I feel like crying too.”

    She smiled sadly and nodded, hugging a Paddington to her chest. We sat there together, recirculated air blowing on our faces, turning our wet orbs dry.

    "I'm just tired," she said.

    "So am I," I replied. "Maybe we should go to sleep."

    She nodded again, pulling the bear tight to her chest. The intercom crackled, announcing the start of drink service. A few passengers brushed by. We closed our eyes to be set free: first her, then me.
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