A loud crack, a heart-racing thump and the airplane drops several hundred feet, then catches again. A few passengers let out a quick scream, and the rest gasp in unison. I’m completely freaked out, but can’t seem to move. Frozen to the seat, my hands are clamped onto the arms of the chair. Movement from the corner of my eye makes me turn my head and look out of the window.
A lightning bolt hits the wing of the airplane with another loud crack, we drop again then recover.
“Oh, my god,” I whisper in disbelief and utter fear.
I immediately think of my kids, and guilt rushes over me. Why did I do this? If I die, they will be alone. I divorced their father for a reason, and of course my mom will take care of them, but it’s not the same as them having me. It’s too late in the game for me to do this for myself… isn’t it?
My thoughts and self-scolding are interrupted. Mariano, my plane neighbor, leans in close.
“Are you okay?” His eyes dart to my white fingertips stuck to the edge of the arm rests.
“O-oh yes,” I say, forcing a smile while slowly unsticking my fingers. “That was pretty scary.”
Mariano places his hand on top of mine, which are now nervously folded together in my lap.
“This is Ciro,” he says, removing his hand to point to the man next to him.
“Hi Ciro.” I smile warily, reach in front of Mariano and shake his hand.
“Ciao,” he says and smiles back.
“Ciro heard the flight attendants mention we will all get off the plane in Bari and wait for it to be refueled.”
Off the plane… where? A second later the captain’s voice comes over the intercom:
“Signore e Signori…questo e il vostro capitano. Ho una spiacevole notizia, l’aeroporto di Napoli sara chiuso per 30 minuti a causa della tempest. Noi devieremo all’aeroporto di Bari dove faremo rifornimento all’aereo. Con la speranza che la tempest passi in fretta, ritornereo immediatamente alla nostra destinazoine programmata.”
I can only guess he is now informing the rest of the plane of the information Ciro has already shared with us. Maybe even something about the freaking airplane getting struck by lightning!
It’s almost ten p.m. in Italy and we were scheduled to land in Naples in 30 minutes. I guess I need some excitement even before my feet touch the ground. Suddenly, startled by the loud ding from my phone, I look and see it’s from my friend on the ground in Naples. He’s waiting for me.
Angelo: Are you landing? You should be landing already.
How am I getting service up here? I ponder this quickly, then respond.
They told us we will fly to Bari, refuel and then fly back to Naples.
Angelo: How much longer? I am waiting here at the airport. It is raining very hard.
Yes – there is a huge thunderstorm up here. They are closing Naples airport.
Angelo: Do you think it will be long for you to land here? Or should I just go home if you will not come back tonight?
For a split second, I think about his question and decide to not have him wait. I hate to make anyone wait or be put out because of me.
You should go back home and get some sleep. I will stay in a hotel room in Naples or Bari if the storm continues. Thank you so much for coming to pick me up! I will take the ferry to Sorrento and see you tomorrow.
Angelo: Okay I will go back home. Message me still when you land so I know you’re safe.
I smile at my phone.
Okay, I will.
An hour later, we land. Out of the window I see the storm has not reached Bari and my whole body relaxes into the seat. The flight attendant makes another announcement in Italian, which brings most passengers to their feet, including Mariano. I wait patiently for my turn. When there’s an opening, I catch up with him on the stairs to depart the plane. As soon as I’m standing in the doorway, I look up to the sky. It’s exceptionally clear, the wind is blowing; but warm. This is all so very interesting.
Big bright lights at this little airport make the runway an oasis in the dark night. With a plane full of passengers littering the concrete, and just the strangeness of this whole excursion, it’s very surreal. As my first attempt at travelling alone, it’s already so different to what I imagined.
Mariano points to two large city buses waiting a short distance away.
“We will go inside those, all of us, and wait for the plane to be refueled,” he says, as it’s now our turn to walk down. “No one can be on the plane when they put in fuel.”
I nod, my hair blowing strong to one side as we make our way towards the second bus. The warm fresh air feels wonderful.
Two more people jump onto the bus, with Mariano and myself moving closer together to make space. The doors hiss and close, and create an overwhelming excitement in me to see where this bus will take us. Curious as a little kid, I’m facing the huge window and see close to ten airport men, all working on getting the plane ready. Mmm, the airport men. As we slowly drive past, I see a few that are very handsome. Maybe staying in Bari wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. I smile to myself for such naughty thoughts during what should be and has been a stressful time.
“Why do you smile?”
Oops. I didn’t realize I was smiling that big and Mariano would notice.
“Oh, I’m just enjoying the adventure we’re having,” I say and smile back up at him.
Mariano is a nice man and I can see he was probably quite handsome in his twenties and thirties. But as I’ve come to notice, the majority of men my age let themselves go for the most part. Not all of course, but most. And if I can have men that are in their physical prime… then why shouldn’t I?
When Mariano and I were halfway into our connection flight from Frankfurt, Germany, and just before the storm, we struck up a conversation. We are both divorced and both have two children. He told me how much he loves his two daughters and I told him the same of my son and daughter. We talked, and talked even more; about life, love, being a parent and travel. We shared photos and even a sandwich. Yes… he’s a very nice man, but I can’t help feeling he wants more from me than just a conversation.
We circle the plane and small airport one big time around and the two buses come to a complete stop in the same spot we started.
Inquisitively, I look up at Mariano. “That’s it?”
“Yes. We will board the plane again.”
We carefully maneuver through the open doors of the bus. Hmm. So, it looks like I’ll be staying the night in Naples.
Elated to adjust myself back into the seat on the plane, I take out my phone and message Francesco, my other friend. He just so happens to live in Naples.
Hi! It looks like I will need to spend the night in Naples due to the storm. Is there an inexpensive hotel you know of?
Francesco: Hi. I will find you one now. Wait.
Okay, thank you so much. I am in Bari still, but will be leaving soon.
The plane taxis down the runway. I’m sad I won’t be dinner and dancing with my friend from Sorrento, but now I’m excited to dinner and drink in the big city. I’m also extremely proud of myself for making contacts before I got here. I message Angelo.
We are just now leaving Bari.
Angelo: You are going to Naples?
Yes, we are about to take off. We’ll land in half an hour.
Angelo: I will come to get you.
I thought you were home sleeping?
Angelo: I saw my friend first and I’m still on the road. I’m turning around now.
Okay, I will see you soon.
Angelo: Message me when you land.
Okay, I will.
I message Francesco.
Hi! I’m so sorry handsome, but I won’t need the hotel tonight. My friend from Sorrento is coming back to pick me up like before.
Francesco: Okay amore. Hopefully I will see you soon?
Yes, I will message you. Thank you so much for always helping!
Francesco: It is my pleasure always.
🍃 🍃 🍃
Finally, we’ve made it to Naples airport. Mariano stands to the left side of the narrow door, like a true gentleman, and lets me enter first. Now I’m a little ashamed that I thought he was only hoping to have sex with me tonight. I really need to stop being so quick to judge men.
I walk past him and smile shyly. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” Mariano says as he holds his hand with an umbrella, out to usher me forward.
We walk to the baggage claim together to find my carry-on. Since Mariano only has the bag around his shoulder and the umbrella, I know he’s just here to help me.
“What will you do tonight?” I ask Mariano as we stop to the side of a group of men from our flight.
“I will have a drink and a massage.”
“Oh yes, a massage sounds wonderful after this crazy long day.” I imagine someone rubbing my shoulders.
He looks down into my eyes with a small smile. “You know about massage salon?”
“Oh. THAT kind of massage.” I’m a bit thrown since I had talked myself out of believing he wanted to only fuck me this whole time.
“Yes. But I was hoping you would be the one massaging me tonight,” Mariano says in a slow, low tone.
Oh my God, oh my God, I was right the first time! I don’t think I’ve had enough sleep to deal with this right now. I take a deep breath and relax. With it, I remind myself that I am in control of any situation I’m a part of. Politely decline and always be sweet. There are so many goals I have to accomplish on this trip.
My shyness has me nervous and shifting weight from my left foot to my right. I decide to act a little flirty since he’s helped me get to this point in my travels. Slowly, I’m regaining confidence since I know my friend will be here to get me. I suppose, in Mariano’s defense, it never hurts to ask.
“Ahh well, that’s very nice you would spend your evening with me. But unfortunately, I do have my friend coming to get me,” I say, slowly blinking up at him.
“Are you very sure he is going to be here?”
He better be at this point; I think almost out loud.
“Yes Mariano, I’m positive he will be here soon. If he’s not already outside waiting.”
“That’s too bad,” he says deep into my eyes.
I fight to not visibly squirm. Hold fast, Mila. I calm my ever-growing nerves that are threatening to expose me for the shy, uncertain woman I still truly am. Almost unable to hold his gaze with the confidence and flirty wit I need right now to win this game of cat and mouse, I need to politely decline and be sweet… maybe even a little sassy.
I cut my eyes up at him. “I’m sure I would have had a great time going out for a drink, but as for the massage… I think I need a massage myself, not to be the one giving it.”
“Well, we would both reciprocate from a massage together.”
I smile faintly. Yes, I’m way too tired to keep up this banter.
“Here,” he says as he pulls his phone from his front pants’ pocket and finally grants me a reprieve. “Give me your number and if you need anything while you’re here or want to go for that drink you can text me.”
“Okay, that sounds good. It’s 18089375555. Thank you by the way, for all of your help.”
“It was all my pleasure. If your friend doesn’t call you soon though, you can just come with me.” Mariano types my name in his phone and my phone dings. “That’s me.”
I type in Mariano and save his number. It is another goal; to make contacts. Just because he wants to sleep with me doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy, I remind myself. I may just need his help again. Plus, I’m 42. Ugh… 42. I realized after my divorce that I have no contacts. No one to call to help me with anything in life really. The saying ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’ became prevalent when I had no one to help me move. Moving furniture with your teenage daughter is not the best idea, pretty much ever.
My phone dings again.
“Oh! There he is,” I say a little too loud and startle the men next to us.
“Your friend is here? Where is he?” Mariano cranes his neck to look around and get a glimpse of Angelo.
“He’s outside waiting for me by his car. Oh! And there’s my bag.”
I point to the rather small, mauve carry-on slowly turning the corner of the conveyer belt. Mariano picks it out from between the other bags and sets it up for me to go.
“Thank you again.” I smile sincerely up at him. “This part of my trip would probably have been disastrous without you. It would be really helpful if I knew Italian.”
“You are very welcome, Mila. You are a gorgeous woman and I wish you a wonderful time here in Italy. But remember, all you need is to call me and we will have that drink.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
Up on my tippy toes, I kiss his left cheek and then his right. Mariano smiles. At least I know the custom of saying hello and goodbye.
“Okay, now how do I get out of here to where the cars wait?”
Mariano points me towards two large sliding glass doors to the left of where we are standing. “Just outside those doors, take a right and go through another set of doors. That will take you outside. Your friend should be waiting for you there.”
“Have a lovely night, Mariano.”
“Ciao, bella Mila.”
Oh right! “Ciao!”
My smile grows bigger as I walk out of the first set of doors, take a right and leave the building through the last of doors.