He sat on the opposite aisle, one row in front of me. The bald patch on his head had the same shape and shine as a ceramic plate fresh out of the dishwasher. Around circled patches of hair that seemed to have grown grey from the scalp, rather than whitened with age. As if he were a boy born with the wisdom of a man. And, though he can’t have been born with the earring (a silver disk in the lobe of his left ear), he wore it like it was second nature. A personality trait, not an accessory.
The earring didn’t look like it had been his mother’s idea. Perhaps it was a secret kept from her, a tired and wrinkled woman waiting for her son to come home, olive eyes a magnet to the kitchen window. She’d been baking all afternoon – warm wafts of bread lined the cracks in the walls and holes in the ceiling.
“What took you so long?” She asked with open arms. He came closer - her rosy cheeks paled as his white ears crimsoned. “What do you call that?” The silver disk was as much of a staple as her son’s smile: both gleamed with mischief.
“A fashion statement,” he said.
Burnt bread has a very distinctive smell.
Perhaps it had been peer pressure - the cigarettes and vodka shots of forty years ago. In a group of three friends, one always feels like they have to prove themselves.
“Not afraid of a needle are you?”
“I’ll do it if you do it first.”
“We’ll be like the Three Musketeers.”
Teenage boys are all talk. Their words inflated like balloons, popped by the mere stab of a needle. Two friends unsure what to do with themselves. The third still didn’t belong.
“We didn’t think you’d actually agree to it.”
Perhaps he was trying to bond with his daughter, searching for his feminine side to disguise his disappointment in his first-born not being a son.
“Daddy, will you get one too?”
“I don’t think Daddy would suit an earring very well, darling.”
Little girls always get what they want. Twenty minutes later, daddy and daughter walked out with three piercings, her two silver stars centred, his slightly lower, somewhat crooked. He had an odd earlobe, he’d learnt.
There we both sat, hungry yet bloated from travelling, coffee-breathed but craving more caffeine. Not just a row but an entire lifetime apart. Passengers of the same low budget airline whose paths happened to coincide. His earring twinkled under the plane’s artificial lights. His smile, directed at his daughter, did too.