“What? The flight’s delayed? Delayed for six hours??”
I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the announcement over the public address system at the airport.
Grabbing my backpack, I went to the nearest TV screen to check if I misheard the annoucement. I blinked twice when I saw the new flight time. It was indeed six hours later, at 4.18am. That meant a total of eight hours roaming around the airport because I had to arrive two hours than the earlier flight time to complete my check-in procedures.
I was looking forward to a good sleep on the plane after a long tiring day of endless meetings with my client. The business class bed was calling out to me, the warm blanket was waiting to wrap me in its warmth and the fluffy pillow was ready to cushion my head. Plus, my phone was low on battery. I meant to charge it on board during my long flight. I sent a quick text to my family and boss, informing them of my flight delay. In the nick of time, the angry red battery indicator blinked and the phone shut down. Now, I could only count down to the moment I get on the plane.
I headed for the boarding gate, just to convince myself that the flight was truly delayed. Maybe my ears and eyes were playing tricks on me after a long day of meetings. The scene at the boarding gate confirmed my fear. There were numerous disgruntled people. Some of them were pacing back and forth, some were making calls to see if they could change their flights while a few of them found suitable spots at the rows of chairs and prepared to sleep until it was time to fly.
Resigned to my fate, I decided there was no point hanging around the boarding gate, hence I went to the shops. Fortunately some of them were still open. I read somewhere that retail therapy had a lasting positive impact on a person’s mood and I needed that right now.
After half an hour, I got myself a magazine and a book. It had been ages since I last touched a book and I thought tonight was the perfect opportunity to pick up the reading habit again. I found a cosy row of chairs at the viewing gallery, plugged in my earphones and began leafing through the book.
Some time later, I felt someone tapping my arm.
It was then I realised I had dozed off while reading. So much for trying to pick up the reading habit again. The stranger, a young woman with blonde hair, had folded my scarf neatly and placed it on my backpack which was on the chair next to me. I remembered seeing her at the boarding gate earlier on. Her sharp Asian features and blonde hair stood out among the crowd. She had a look of arrogance and appeared rather unfriendly when talking to the staff at the counter. Despite that, she was definitely good looking in a plain short sleeve top and skinny jeans.
I pulled out my earphones and stood up, meeting her eye to eye.
“Your scarf and backpack fell onto the floor.” Her voice was gentle and it contrasted with her arrogant look.
“Thank you. I must have dozed off while reading,” I replied appreciatively.
She peered at my hand, attempting to see the title of the book I was reading. I held it up for her.
Freakonomics – A Rouge Economist Explores The Hidden Side of Everything
“Bought it from the bookstore because it was one of the best sellers. Instant remedy for insomnia,” I said, trying to crack a joke.
The corner of one side of her lips lifted up, resulting in a half smile. “Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll be going. See you later.”
“See you later.” I waved and smiled. She was definitely a Korean though she spoke in American English earlier on. The security tag on her cabin bag stated that she was flying to Seoul, on the same flight as me. I wonder if she was heading home for going to Seoul for a visit.
Looking at my watch, I realised I still had a long way to go. After giving myself a good stretch, I decided to take a walk to keep myself awake. Most of the shops were closed by now. Spotting a Starbucks further up, I made a beeline for it. Caffeine in my bloodstream would help to keep me awake.
I guessed everyone had the same thoughts as me. There was a long queue and I could recognise some of my fellow passengers in the line. Fortunately for me, most of the people ordered take-away so the line was moving at a reasonable pace.
At the end of the line, the queue was split into two counters. I noticed my line didn’t seem to be moving at all. The customer at the counter was taking quite a while. Curious, I stuck my head out and saw a familiar back view. It was the same stranger who woke me up earlier on. She appeared to be quite distressed.
I stepped up next to her and tapped her on her shoulder. She was frantically digging into her wallet.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m short of some loose change. I used up most of my dollars here,” she replied in a worried tone.
“Sorry, I’ll cancel my order. I don’t have enough change,” she told the cashier.
As she was about to leave the counter, I tugged at her arm. “It’s alright. I’ll pay for her drink. How much is it?”
I ordered an iced coffee and pulled out a few notes to pay for both drinks. She was embarrassed and insisted on paying me Korean won, the only other currency she had in her wallet. I shook my head and nudged her towards the collection area where we waited for our drinks.
“It’s only a cup of coffee. Take it as a thank you drink for helping me pick up my stuff earlier on,” I said, smiling.
“Thank you,” she said gratefully.
We picked up our drinks and sat at a high table.
“Are you here for a visit or living here?” I asked in Korean.
Her face lit up immediately. “I didn’t know you could speak Korean. I’m visiting a friend who’s studying here. What about you?”
I laughed. “Do I look like an American-born Korean? I’m here on a business trip.”
She blushed. “Your English has a strong American accent so I presumed you lived here.”
The way she smiled and how her cheeks were turning pink made her look rather adorable.
“I’m Taeyeon, a Korean. Nice to meet you.” I stuck my hand out for a handshake.
She took my hand and it felt cold. I wished I could rub her hand with my palms to warm them up but I didn’t. “Jessica. Pleased to meet you.”
“Now you sound more American than me. Plus you have an American name!” I teased.
Jessica giggled and the sound of her giggles caused a burst of warmth in my heart.
We chatted comfortably and it felt like I was talking to an old friend. We shifted from the high table to a cosy sofa turned in a corner. I found out that Jessica’s workplace was just a stone throw’s away from mine. We made it a point to meet up when we get back. Unfortunately my phone was dead and we had to scribble our own numbers on napkins and exchanged them on the spot. Sometimes, the good old way was the better way when technology failed.
Sensing that there were people who were waiting to take our seats, we left the cafe and walked towards the boarding gate together. Passengers were starting to fill up the seating area as it was closer to flight time. We sat side by side on one of the numerous rows of seats.
Sleepiness overcome me. I hugged my backpack and prepared to take a short nap while Jessica plugged in her earphones and was playing games on her iPad to idle time away. When I woke up a little later, I felt a weight on my right shoulder. Turning my head, I noticed Jessica had fallen asleep and she was leaning on my shoulder. Perhaps she sensed my movement, I saw her curling up and rubbing her arms.
It was quite chilly since it was in the middle of the night. Snores could be heard everywhere as passengers took naps before the flight departed. I pulled out my hoodie from my backpack and threw it over her body to keep her warm.
Jessica, in a half-dazed state, pulled my hoodie over her before leaning back onto my shoulder.
“Thank you,” she said very softly before she fell asleep.
“You’re welcome,” I whispered.
When it was finally time to board, I gently woke her up. Her disheveled hair paired with the half-opened eyes were quite a sight. I wanted to laugh but it would appear too rude.
“Goodbye Jessica. Keep in touch in case I don’t see you when we land.”
“It’s not a goodbye. We’ll meet again. We have each other’s numbers. I prefer the words ‘See you later’,” Jessica explained.
“Haha, see you later,” I corrected myself.
Jessica gave me a quick hug just as we boarded the plane. Then I saw her rushing off to her seat in the economy cabin while I had arrived at my business class seat. I thought I saw her cheeks turning pink again as she ran off.
After more than thirteen hours, the plane finally landed at Incheon. I woke up, feeling refreshed after a good sleep. I wondered if Jessica managed to sleep well since the space at the economy cabin wasn’t good.
I decided to surprise her by waiting for her as we leave the plane. Since I was in business class, I would be able to get out of the plane earlier than her. My anxiety was building up as I saw people exiting the plane but there was no sight of her. I was worried she might still be sleeping and wondered if anyone would wake her up.
Finally, I saw a familiar blonde along the aerobridge. I tried to contain my happiness at seeing her again. Thirteen hours felt like a long time.
The moment our eyes met, Jessica’s eyes lit up and she skipped towards me.
“Hello, we meet again!” Jessica exclaimed, coming to a stop in front of me.
I chuckled. “Yes we meet again.”
Jessica was still wearing my hoodie and her hair was tied up in a ponytail, revealing her long and fair neck. Boy, she did look attractive no matter what style she wore.
After picking up our luggages, we bade each other farewell and promised to catch up soon. She assured me she would wash my hoodie before turning it to me. To which I told her there wasn’t a hurry since I had other hoodies in my wardrobe.
I saw a younger girl with jet black hair waving to her as Jessica exited the terminal.
I turned my head in the direction of the voice. My best friend, Yuri was here to pick me up. She happened to stay just one block away from me.
“The flight delay must have been terrible!” Yuri commented as she took my luggage.
“To be honest, it isn’t. In fact, I think I have to thank the delay in the flight.”
“Oh? Why?” Yuri asked, puzzled by my odd comment.
“I’ll tell you about it another day. Time for some nice budae jigae,” I said, patting Yuri’s back.
As Yuri walked away, I paused and turned around to see Jessica and the younger girl walking away merrily.
“See you soon, Jessica.”
= THE END =
A/N: Based on the prompt “Terminal Time” from The Daily Post.