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A mysterious encounter on an International flight betwen Hong Kong and Melbourne, changes two passengers lives forever.
“You’re sitting in my seat young man!”
Jonathan looked up at the middle-aged lady. Her face was flushed and her eyes squinted.
Stupid old bitch. What was wrong with the old system of ‘first in, best dressed?’
Good manners took the better of him and he sat up, looked at his boarding pass and said,
“Isn’t this 21C?”
“No it isn’t. It’s 21A. You’re in my seat.”
So much for the bluffing technique!
He replied politely,
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought they numbered the seats from the aisle. Hang on a sec and I’ll let you in.”
He put on his most engaging smile. She half smiled in return.
“Thanks. It’s confusing when you haven’t travelled much,” She snorted.
He scrambled out, let her in, and then sat in the aisle seat.
Bloody hell, just my luck to pick on a seasoned traveller. I bet she has a weak bladder and I’ll have to get up each time she wants to go during the night.
He opened his book and pretended to read so that he wouldn’t have to make any more conversation. He glanced briefly at her again, his journalistic nature taking in every feature at a glance. Yes, middle aged, greying hair concealed cleverly with blond tips, with make-up carefully applied to cover any wrinkles but used to highlight her beautiful green eyes.
God, she must have been a knockout in her youth.
The green eyes were now suddenly staring at him. Blushing, he mumbled an apology and pretended to read again.
“Would you like a drink, sir?" asked the stewardess.
The seat belt sign had gone off. The aircraft had finally shuddered off and up out of Hong Kong and was nearing cruising altitude for the journey to Melbourne.
“Yeah. A beer will be fine. Have you got Fosters?” he asked.
“Of course, Sir.” The stewardess poured out his beer then went to the next seat. Jonathan took a long gulp and sighed.
“Good to drink something familiar?” asked the lady.
“Yeah. I’ve just spent the last two months in Europe on assignment,” he replied.
“I know the feeling. I’ve been doing some research work in Europe. One of the things I’ve missed has been a decent steak. By the way my name is Marion.”
Their meals were served. They ate, exchanging only the polite pleasantries expected between strangers on an international flight. The meal trays were collected and each of them accepted an extra glass of port. They both sat for a while in silence. The silence was broken as they both spoke together.
They both laughed and Jonathan said,
His laugh flashed a perfect set of teeth and engaging dimples in his cheeks. The dark curly hair shone under the seat light. His deep brown eyes caught her breath temporarily. They were so like John’s twinkling black eyes that had gazed at her lovingly over a quarter of a century ago. The emotion of their separation all those years ago stirred such unhappy memories that she was temporarily overwhelmed. She was no longer on the plane, but in a little village in Italy.
“Lady’s first”, repeated Jonathan.
She was suddenly back in the present again.
“I’m sorry. I was miles away. I’m a writer. I’ve…. I’ve been trying to find more information about an old friend of mine who died last year. I’m writing a book about his life. He was a special man. With little formal education, he became a famous writer…. We were…. friends. We’d lost contact…years ago. I’ve been trying to fill in the gap between the last time we met and when he died to complete my book…I…I didn’t have much success.”
Jonathan saw that she seemed to be thinking of something else once again. She noticed him gazing at her. She did something that she had not done for over twenty-five years. She sighed. How could she tell this nice young man what she had learnt?
Her mind kept flashing back to the village of Chanti twenty-five years before. She was a stranger, distraught, with eyes red from crying. A villager had called out to her.
“Do you need anything?”
The question was asked in English, not Italian as she originally had heard it. It was the stewardess, not the villager leaning across, talking to her. She was back on the plane.
“Er… no thank you. I’m fine just now,” she replied, blushing again.
She turned to Jonathan, trying to appear calm and in control of herself. Underneath she was in turmoil.
“Jonathan, what was your assignment, or aren’t you allowed to tell?”
“I’m a journalist. I was sent to Europe by my Editor to Europe to get more background information about a man who has posthumously won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I…I…didn’t have much success either. I wanted to find out more about his late wife who had died in childbirth. I had no such luck.”
Jonathan had flown out of Rome in a quandary. It could have been the scoop story of a lifetime. He knew that his Editor would give him space for a major article based on his research. But he had learned very little. There had been a strange gap and lack of information. He looked at Marion. She had turned pale.
Marion was mentally in Italy again, all those years ago. She was at John’s front door. The private detective had told her where he lived and that he was back in the village for a friend’s wedding. John had not married. She had made sure that he was at home, before leaving the bundle and the letter at his door. She then fled back to the station and the train, crying all the way. That was where the villager had asked her if she needed any help.
“Hey are you OK? You don’t look too good.” Jonathan’s voice brought her back to the present.
“I’m sorry. I…I’m fine. Really I am. Please continue,” she said breathlessly.
“Well, as I said, I didn’t get far with my research about the late wife; except that I was told that she had died in childbirth. That’s when he moved to another area in Italy with the little baby boy, to try and start a new life. He called him Gianni after his real name. Gianni is Italian for John. John was his pen name.”
Jonathan stopped talking. How could he tell a stranger, when he doubted whether he could even write about it for the magazine? Those beautiful eyes were staring at him again…those eyes…. They seemed to be compelling him to talk…He couldn’t explain why, but he had to tell her more…everything. He continued.
“The truth is that he was my dad…Hey are you OK?”
God, she looks terrible!
He went to push the call button, but her hand stopped him. Those beautiful green eyes were now staring into his.
“So Jonathan is not your real name?” she croaked.
“Jonathan was easier to use than Gianni. I decided to use Jonathan when I migrated to Australia and started work as a journalist. It’s sort of stuck as a permanent fixture.”
Marion’s mind was in a whirl. Of all the aircraft in the world and all the flights, I happened to pick this one. She leaned over close to him. She had to find out more…. To be sure… Her voice was almost a whisper.
“Do you know anything about your mother?”
“No! That’s the strange thing. There was no information, not even any wedding photographs. It’s as though someone has deliberately kept her a secret. Dad never liked talking about her. He was always away from home, travelling overseas, gathering information for his books. His brother mainly brought me up. His brother was the local priest. He died a few years ago. The new priest didn’t seem to want to give me any information. The only thing I know is that her name was Maria, she was beautiful and had lovely jade eyes…I…. I…Oh, my God…Marion?”
His mind could only think…. Jade is green…. Her eyes!
“Marion…speak to me…Please!”
He was staring into those green eyes again. This time, they were shedding silent tears down her cheeks. She took a deep breath as spoke. Her voice almost cracking with the strain.
“Jonathan, your mother didn’t die in childbirth. She wasn’t married to your father. They…. They had met in a cafe frequented by writing students in Rome. She was on holidays. He was a writer, she an aspiring writer. It was a whirlwind romance. Her family were Italian villagers who were deeply religious…they would not have approved…In fact, they certainly wouldn’t have approved of her having a passionate romance with a stranger. That is why she used a false name… It was only two months after he had left that she realised that she was pregnant… She was so happy… but sad…torn between her recent love and…. and … loyalty to her parents. Her parents would never know. They wouldn’t have spoken to her again. She went back to England
to finish her scholarship at the University and had the baby. Her excuse for not going back to Italy to see her parents during this time was that she was busy studying. They never knew. They are both dead now…
“How could she just leave me like that? Why didn’t Dad look for her?”
Marion took a deep breath and replied,
“Please let me finish… please…. Your father only found out about you when you were left at his doorstep with a long letter explained everything to him… The letter did not reveal your mother’s real name. That’s why your father could not tell you any more… I…. The local priest in the village where your father lived… gave me this letter, to use as I saw fit. I’d like you to have it Jonathan…”
“Me? Why… me?”
“Jonathan… I…I… wrote that letter years ago. Marion Maid is my pen name… My real name is Maria. …Maria Vincenti… We are both writing about the same person… John Pascoe… John Pascoe…was my lover …your father! Please let’s keep talking together. Maybe one day you may …understand…. And… forgive me.”
They talked all night, exchanging information and chatting as old friends would at a reunion. The middle aged lady and the young man. A mother who had found her lost son through a chance encounter. The generation gap forgotten in reminiscences of things long forgotten and the knowledge of things previously unknown. The only other noise in the darkened interior of the aircraft was the rush of air outside and the muffled roar of the engines as the plane sped on into the night, towards the tinges of dawn appearing on the horizon ahead.
© 1999 Wendy Laing
Site: Wendy Laing
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