11/21/2016
There are polka dots on her fingers

"I would like to check in, please," I say, as I hand over my passport and ticket.

"Have you paid your travel tax, sir?" she asks.

"Ah, yes," I answer, as I fiddle through my envelope for the receipt.

"Thank you," she says. "Are you checking that in, sir?"

Her name is Chloe. At least that's what I believe her name is. It's written on her name tag. I have no reason to not believe the name tag, but you never know. It could be a screen name of sorts. Not that she needs one. She doesn't work the phones with a hard-to-pronounce name, or at least one the person on the other end of the line is bound to mangle with fury. Here, you just look at the name tag, and then... what do you do with what you just learned?

"Here you go, sir," she says. "Your flight is on November 21." She underlines the date. "Your boarding time is at 4:20." Underline on the time. "You will be boarding at gate 111." Underline. "You're seated at seat 45B, which is the same as your online check-in." Circle. "Thank you, sir!"

"Thanks, Chloe," I say.

"You attended one of our events," one guy on the queue says to the other guy. "You were still at the cabinet then."

"What do you do now?" the other guy asks.

You know this guy. You've seen him in the news. But you're not used to seeing him in black. You always associated him with bright colors, shocking colors. Or he just looks extra sleepy. It's twenty minutes to five, after all. You're all taking the earliest flight, and you can only pay extra attention to everybody else.

"I do consultancy," he answers, before proceeding to list of just where exactly he does consultancy. I fail to pay attention, because I know that other guy. You remember he always had his own thing before he worked with the government.

"Are you also going to Shanghai?" he asks.

"No, Hong Kong," the other guy answers. "What are you doing in Shanghai?"

"Ah, I'm attending a convention on heavy equipment."

"Row 40 to 55," the crew member tells the crowd of slightly impatient passengers. "Row 40 to 55. Please form a single line."

I was already in line, and I was ahead of that crew member, so there's nothing to worry about, I figure. I have my passport and boarding pass ready. When my turn comes, I hand it over to another crew member.

"Sir... Henrik?" she says.

I was reading her name tag. I look up.

"It's me again."

It's Chloe again.

I smile, but fail to call her by her name. I think it's a different name tag she's wearing this time. I don't know why.

"Seat 45B," I tell one of the flight attendants, a Hong Kong national (I assume) who seems to have been doing this job for a while.

"Right here, sir," she says, smiling, like she does with everybody else, I assume.

The guy attending that convention on heavy equipment is in row 40. Extra legroom. Of course, he could afford it. We meet eyes, and we smile at each other.

"Here you go," I say to the woman on the window seat beside me, as I give her the glass of water she requested from the flight attendant.

I may have accidentally noticed a bit more about her. It's partly down to it not yet being six o'clock. It's partly down to me realizing that I'm most comfortable reading my magazine with my body at a particular angle, and in that angle I'm facing her. To be exact, I'm facing her personal display. She's watching some comedy film with Zac Efron. I'm listening to a really gorgeous Japanese drummer.

In between breaks from reading I look up, and I notice that she's fiddling with the screen, adjusting the volume up, then down. She has nail art. There are polka dots on her fingers.

She's travelling alone, a fact that really dawns on me when she turns to me and says, simply, perhaps sheepishly, "banyo".

The flight arrives just five minutes behind schedule. Let's just say it's on time.

"Hindi ka pa ba tatayo?" I ask her, as other passengers get their bags and prepare to disembark.

"Ayoko," she answers. "Ayokong makigulo."

"First time in Hong Kong?"

"Uh, nagbakasyon ako... sa Pilipinas."

"Oh, taga-Hong Kong ka?"

"Sa States."

"So transfer flight ka?"

"Yep."

"Saan ka sa States?"

"Sa Illinois."

"Ah, so sa Chicago ka pupunta. Sa O'Hare."

"Malapit kami doon. Mga twenty minutes away, sa suburbs."

"'Di ba magulo sa O'Hare? I mean, busy?"

"Sa Hong Kong rin!"

"Pero hindi halata."

"Oo, hindi halata."

This is a conversation I never expected to run long, and I was glad it is running long. But then the line began to move, and I now had to leave the plane.

"All right, then," I say to her. "What's your name again?"

"Rebecca," she says.

"Niko," I answer, offering a hand. "Nice meeting you. At ingat ka."

"You too," she answers.

At the end of the sky bridge was a member of the check-in crew, calling out all of my fellow passengers with connecting flights. Beside her was a sign listing those flights. Most of them were to other Asian cities - Shanghai, for example. That convention on heavy equipment. At the very bottom was one flight to Chicago. Rebecca's whole name was written beside it.

And your responses...

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