Have you ever clicked with a perfect stranger and even though you know you’ll probably never see that person again beyond those few minutes, you feel afterwards as if you have a friend, a kindred spirit, wandering out in the world with you? I met someone like that once. His name was Tom. And he was from Manchester.
Last summer I spent a month travelling on the mainland visiting family and friends who live in different corners of the country. I believe I was flying to Atlanta to catch a connection to take me out west. My plane was delayed (no surprise there) and I was worried that my connection flight would leave without me (which wouldn’t have been a surprise either). It was a bad year for flight plans and lost luggage, to put it mildly. Needless to say, I was more than a little stressed out as I wobbled down the 12-inch aisle in my unsensible summer wedges with my bag full of books whose number I can’t seem to decrease no matter how many times I fly. And that’s when I saw him. Sitting next to my empty seat. Twinkling blue eyes, a friendly smile, and a “hello” spoken with an English accent.
Soon after I sat down by the window looking out at the sweating pavement, I knew I had a friend. We had both pulled out books to read: I with my Faulkner, and he with something I can’t remember. But somehow neither of us read for the entire flight. We chatted like old friends the whole time. I loved listening to his voice (I always am a goner for the British), as he talked about his work and asked about my writing. He told me about his home in Manchester and how I’d love it there. He even introduced me to the work of Isabel Allende, a master storyteller whom I’ve enjoyed reading since then, and told me he would check out my website.
When we finally landed in Atlanta, I felt like the stress and the delay didn’t matter anymore because for once in my life I had a decent travelling companion. Most of the time it seems that my fate in flight is to always sit next to either cavemen, honeymooning couples, business men with newspapers, or old ladies who think they need to change my life. But as I ran (or rather, stumbled) down the corridors of the terminal to board my plane (which I did not miss), I felt grateful to have sat next to the Man from Manchester.
And in case you are wondering if this had any romantic connections at all, I must say you are sadly mistaken, considering that the M from M was approximately thirty or forty years older than me and decidedly out of the question. It was an hour of friendship, nothing more nothing less.