Bonnie was on a plane, 36,000 feet in the air, nervous about the flight, seated next to a man in a black suit, thin black tie, and a white shirt. He looked nervous as he white-knuckled the briefcase that was sitting in his lap. Bonnie noticed that the man had immediately grabbed his briefcase from under the seat in front of him as soon as the plane was in the air, after they announced that it was ok to move about. Bonnie kept glancing over at his grip on the briefcase. She wondered if she should speak to him, given his state. She decided against it for now, and instead she opened her package of gum, put a piece into her mouth, and closed her eyes. She tried to put him and his briefcase out of her mind and focused on the deep breathing exercises she read about in an online article on how to deal with fear of flying.
After a short time, the flight attendants began distributing drinks and pretzels. The man with the briefcase asked for a water. Bonnie asked for a cola. The man, keeping a tight grip on the handle of the briefcase, lowered his tray and drank his water in a series of quick gulps. Bonnie took her time with her small bag of pretzels and cola, laughing to herself as she glanced over at the man’s death grip on his briefcase. He had left his seat upright, nervously looking out of the small airplane window watching the clouds, all the while hanging onto his briefcase with both hands. Bonnie decided to attempt a conversation with the man.
“I’m glad it’s nice weather out today. I hate flying in bad weather,” she said.
He looked over at her and mumbled, “Yes, the weather is nice today,” then turned back to the window.
“My mother always told me to try to travel in good weather. I always wondered how she thought I was supposed to know if good weather was coming up, when I had to book a flight weeks ahead of time, but I never asked her. Now it’s too late. She died last year,” she sighed. She paused and looked at him “Is this your first time flying?” she said.
“Um, yes. Yes, it is. Not your first time, I’m guessing?” he replied.
“Oh, no. I’ve flown a lot. It still makes me nervous though. I used to take pills, or drink a few, in order to calm my nerves. But I stopped all that. Trying to be healthy, ya know.”
“Mm- hmm,” he nodded, clutching the handle of his briefcase a little bit more.
“I could teach you some of the relaxation exercises I learned, if you want,” she offered. “You look a little nervous. I mean, you know, I don’t want to be rude, or anything. I’m just trying to help. You look like you could use some advice. Want some gum?”
“Oh, I have gum, thank you, “he replied curtly, shifting his body, and briefcase, a little closer to the window.
“You seem a little tense. Are you going to a business meeting? You have that old briefcase in a death-grip. I haven’t seen one of those briefcases in ages. My dad had one when I was little. Or maybe it was my grandfather,” she paused to think. “It must have been my grandfather. Those are really old-style. I like them, though, don’t get me wrong. The metal latch with the little lock. The square edges. The hard material. Yeah, when I was little, I used to play drums on my grandpa’s. Until he would hear me, banging on that briefcase, and then he would yell at me to stop. He would always say he had “important documents” in there, “as she put her fingers in air quotes, “then when he was asleep, my grandma would let me use the briefcase as a second floor for my miniature dolls. Yeah, I’d pretend like they had a big house with a second floor, and all. They’d go out shopping and come back to the briefcase mansion and cook. Ha ha. It was great fun.” She paused to reflect, looking at the seat in front of her.
“Are you traveling for business? You look all dressed for business.”
“Umm, yes, in a way” he replied.
“So, you got a bunch of documents in that briefcase? Like my grandpa used to say?” she laughed as she glanced over at him.
“Sure, yeah,” he replied. Just then the plane started to dip and jump, and Henry grabbed the handle of his briefcase tighter as he sat upright, looking around nervously.
Bonnie shifted in her seat. She laughed and said, “Oh it’s ok. Just a little turbulence. Happens all the time. Nothing to be afraid of. We should do those breathing exercises. What’s your name, by the way?”
“My name is Henry.”
“Nice to meet you, Henry. I’m Bonnie. Now will you let me teach you those breathing techniques? I think it will really help. And if not, it won’t hurt anything,” she looked into his eyes and smiled.
“Alright.” He took a deep breath but continued his grip on his briefcase.
“Ok, so first take a deeeep cleansing breath. Count to eight for the inhale, and eight for the exhale.” She watched him as they both took a deep breath. “Good. That’s a good start. Now close your eyes.” He looked over at her with an expression that let her know he wasn’t interested in closing his eyes. “Ok, well, when you’re ready, you can close your eyes. We can breathe with our eyes open,” and she smiled at him. “We’ll do some more breaths counting to eight.”
As they continued breathing, Henry noticed that he did, indeed, become a little more relaxed. He continued to hold onto the briefcase handle, but not with the white-knuckled grip that he was previously using. There was something about Bonnie that reminded Henry of some old-time actress, someone who may have played a gangster’s girlfriend. It was the rhythm of her sentences, the way she chewed her gum, and even something about the way she carried herself that made her seem like an actress in a gangster movie. But Henry didn’t feel nervous around her. Her mannerisms somehow made him more comfortable. He decided to find out a little more, “So, what about you, Bonnie? Are you traveling for business or pleasure?”
“Me? Oh, pleasure! I’m on a trip to go see some sights, eat some good food, hang out. All that, you know,” she replied, still chewing the gum she had at the beginning of the flight. “What kind of business are you in, if I may ask?”
Henry answered, “I’m an accountant. I’ve got a seminar to go to, but I’m also going to see my girlfriend on this trip,” he paused, “I’m going to ask her to marry me!” He didn’t expect to tell Bonnie all this information, but she seemed like a nice young woman, so Henry found himself opening up to her.
“OH! That’s wonderful! Tell me more! Tell me more! How long have you been together? How are you going to propose? Oh, proposals are so exciting!! I wish I could be there to watch! Does she live in St. Louis? Why aren’t you living in the same place? Oh, long distance relationships are so hard. Are you sure you want to do this if you’ve been doing the long-distance thing? I mean, you never really know the other person when it is long distance. That’s what I’ve learned, anyway.”
Henry laughed a little. He was warming up to Bonnie. She was so sweet and seemed to be very interested in what he was saying. She reminded him of his little sister, always so helpful. She really talked a lot, though. Lots of questions.
“Ha, ha! Ok, um. So, yes, she lives in St. Louis. She did live in Delaware with me, but she was offered a job in St. Louis six months ago. We’ve been together two years, but we’ve only been apart for the past six months. I have an interview later this week. But I’m also going to propose. I know she’s the one. Sometimes you can just tell, you know?”
“Yeah, I guess when it’s right, you just know,” Bonnie replied. “So, did you bring the ring? Do you have it with you now?”
“Oh yes, I have it,” as he unconsciously tapped the briefcase with his fingers. Bonnie noticed his fingers moving, as he said the words. What Henry didn’t mention was that he had packed the ring, box, and all, in the briefcase because he thought it would be safer that way. He had one key in his wallet and had even mailed a copy of the key to his girlfriend’s house, just in case. He didn’t want to put the ring in his luggage, because he had heard that sometimes things get stolen from luggage. He had considered keeping it in his pocket or even attached to a chain around his neck but didn’t want to risk it losing it. After all, he had saved money for over a year to buy the ring.
“Ok, I see,” Bonnie said, deliberately looking away from his bouncing fingers. “Well, I hope you aren’t carrying it in your pocket because, you know, pickpockets hang out at airports all the time. Ha, ha, ha,” she laughed.
Henry laughed as well and replied, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ve already thought of that. The ring is in a safe place. No worries.”
“Oh, I’ll bet it’s beautiful. You look like a man who has good taste.”
“Oh, thanks,” Henry laughed with slight embarrassment.
Just then, the pilot announced that they were preparing for landing and asked everyone to stow all their belongings and secure their tray tables. Henry put the briefcase under the seat in front of him and then placed the toes of his shoes onto the briefcase, so that he could feel if the briefcase moved at all. Bonnie was peering out the window that Henry was sitting next to, and he also turned his gaze to watch as the city houses, streets, and cars came into view while they descended. The plane landed uneventfully and as soon as he could, Henry grabbed his briefcase and waited in his seat, briefcase in his lap. Since Bonnie was in the aisle seat of the two-seater side of the plane, she was able to get out into the aisle first, and she took a slight step back to let Henry go in front of her. They had to stand and wait for a brief time until the line began to move, then followed the crowd out into the airport.
“It was great talking to you, Henry. Have a great visit. Good luck with your girl!!” said Bonnie as she headed toward the women’s restroom.
“Nice talking to you, too, Bonnie. Thanks for everything.” And with that, Henry walked off to find his way to the baggage claim. On the way, he saw a store with flowers for sale and stopped to buy a dozen roses, reached for his wallet, and…. nothing. His wallet was gone, nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, in the women’s restroom, Bonnie stands in a stall, counting her new-found cash. She notices the small, shiny key for the old briefcase and smiles a little. Henry was such a sweet guy. His fiancé is really lucky, she thinks to herself. She then begins texting the numbers of the credit and debit cards to her boyfriend, Carl, in Wisconsin. He took down the numbers and immediately started paying their utilities and rent online, something that Bonnie disagreed with, telling him that it would be easily tracked. But Carl told her that he wasn’t ready to be kicked out of their place. “Besides, Carla, your name isn’t on the lease, or any of these other bills. When will you be home?”
Bonnie answered, “Tuesday, Carl. I’ll be home Tuesday at 4. You gonna pick me up, like you said?”
“Yeah, baby, I’ll be there. I love you, Carla.”
“I love you, too, Carl,” said Bonnie. She always tried to think of a name that started with the first letter of the boyfriend she was about to snag, so she could keep them straight.
When Bonnie left the restroom, she stopped to eat at an airport restaurant, using Henry’s cash to pay the bill. “Men” she mumbled to herself, laughing, and shaking her head. Then on to her next destination, Dallas. She is looking forward to this upcoming flight and has a feeling it will turn out to be more profitable than the one she just landed from. She was quite ready to see William, anyway. He was her favorite “boyfriend” of them all. Wendy and William. She kind of liked being Wendy. And as long as her five current beaus knew nothing about each other, it didn’t matter to her if they wanted to pay their rent and utilities with her new-found credit cards. Her name wasn’t on any of the bills, anyway.