At eight o’clock in the evening I climbed briskly up the ladder to the plane at Istanbul’s airport that was going to take me back to Kuwait. A stewardess smiled at me and I smiled back while checking the boarding pass to see what seat I had been assigned. The number—E 11—remains etched in my memory. I reached my row and saw a young girl sitting next to the window. She was curled up in a ball and had her coat pulled up over her head. To be fair, the temperature inside the plane was rather low. By the way she was dressed, one would be justified in saying that she could not afford to have a sense of style. She had African traits.
The girl briefly turned her face toward me, allowing me to catch a glimpse of her eyes. They looked red. It had to be either stress or exhaustion. I sat down in the seat next to hers. My heart was pounding quickly. With bated breath I asked myself, “What’s going on in her head right now?” If truth be told, she didn’t look particularly stressed out. Why the red eyes, then? What might she be up to? What country did she hail from? She might even be Ethiopian!
I had heard there was a tribe in Ethiopia that slaughtered people and offered them to their gods as a sacrificial rite. The girl sitting next to me could very well be a member of said tribe and be immigrating to the Gulf to work there. She was clinging tightly to a small book and looking straight ahead. Perhaps she was attempting to avoid meeting my eyes because she felt uncomfortable with me sitting next to her and would loathe to feel pressured to smile at me like the stewardess had just a moment ago out of respect for social conventions. That was probably why I had presumed that she belonged to an Ethiopian tribe—because of the lack of manners she was showing by denying me the courtesy of looking less menacing.
Then I felt the urge to pray. However, soon after I started to offer up my prayers, my concentration fell dramatically. For the life of me, I couldn’t keep my gaze from raking over her. Suddenly, I started feeling as if she was imitating my movements. Was she trying to mock me? Could I have annoyed her from the start with the way I had been moving?
I turned to my husband and said to him in a calm voice that was intended to mask my vexation, “Looks like the plane is half empty. If you don’t mind, I’d like to sit somewhere else. I feel it is a little bit too tight over here.”
I thus stood up, grabbed my book, and walked to the back of the plane, where I sat down in a spare seat. Shortly afterward, I started to have second thoughts about my self-imposed isolation, so I returned to my assigned seat. A stewardess had just started to hand out some forms for us passengers to select the meals we wanted to consume later. One could choose between a salmon and a chicken dish. I turned toward the girl, who was now sitting next to me once more, but she had fallen deeply asleep. She didn’t even wake up after the food was brought to us to have a sip of a drink or a spoonful of something to eat.
Meanwhile, I spent the whole flight dozing off and waking up at the squawks of the stewardesses time and again. Whatever the reason, my fears started to subside as the aircraft started its descent and I, in adherence to the instructions delivered via the speakers, put my seat back in its full upright position. My African neighbor had woken up and was looking out the window, minding her own business. I gave her some gum for the pressure in her ears. She accepted my offer with a smile. The view from the window of Kuwait illuminated at night was simply breathtaking. I suddenly felt the urge to take a picture of her. I asked for her permission and she consented.
She then told me she was visiting her sister, who lived in Kuwait. This was going to be her first time in the country. In full disclosure, I felt relieved to hear that. Subsequently, she tried to reach her sister on the phone. However, her phone was not receiving a signal. I lent her mine, she spoke to her sister, and we landed. We all stood up to make a beeline for the outside. As we were about to disperse after disembarking, she approached me and asked, “Would you be so kind as to show me where I should be heading now?”
I told her where to get her passport stamped and where the baggage carousels lay. She thanked me and walked away with a smile on her face. Suddenly, it struck me that she had probably felt as scared of me as I had been of her for the entire duration of the flight. When I reached the passport control post, I had a revelation: prejudicial judgment—it’s a sin!
Written by Eman Abderrahman Alonaizi.