Jason threw his bag in the overhead compartment and himself into the seat. His fingers flicked over his smartphone screen while he slapped the headphones onto his ear with the other. Then, at last, he pulled his hoodie over his head, pushed his sunglasses over his eyes, and set the crown of his head on the chair back.
He shifted. It was a sixteen hour flight to London, and the plane was fully booked. Jason rustled around his seat, agitated. He’d finally settled in when a hand tapped against his shoulder.
Opening his eyes, Jason focused on the older woman standing in the aisle beside him. Her lips were moving. Jason reached up, tugged the foam-covered speaker away from his ear.
“Excuse me,” she said again. “I think you’re in my seat.”
Jason dug his ticket out of his pocket and checked it against the seat. 14C. Aisle seat. Of course.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, climbing to his feet. He shuffled into the aisle, blocking the path of a man struggling with a small child while the older woman dipped her head and settled into his seat. Then he plopped down into the aisle seat, snapped his belt on and—
“Excuse me,” the woman said before he could get his headphones on. “I’m very sorry to bother you, but I left my earbuds in my bag.”
Jason wanted to snap at her, but it was hard to look at her and not feel at least a little sorry. She looked frail, her arms and hands spotted with age. Wrinkles lined her face, but they softened her bright blue eyes. They reminder Jason of his grandmother’s eyes, back when she was still alive.
“I’ll get them,” Jason said, forcing a smile. “Which bag is it?”
“The red one,” she said.
It was a blessing in disguise, he figured. Let the old lady listen to her church hymns the way his grandmother used to, and she’d be less inclined to bother him during the flight. He’d probably have to get up a dozen times anyway so that she could visit the lavatory, but what could you really do about the calls of nature?
Could’ve let me keep the window seat, he thought.
He found the headphones in the first pocket he looked in and handed them to the woman. Then he looked around. The flight attendants were making their final checks before they started whining about the safety demonstration.
“Do you need anything else?” he asked.
The woman unwrapped the coil of headphones around her nimble fingers. She opened her purse and produced a small media player — not a smartphone, like Jason’s, but an older .mp3-only device.
Still better than CDs, Jason thought.
“No,” she said. “I have my player right here.”
Jason threw the hatch closed and settled back into his seat. Ahead of him, the flight attendant was starting the demonstration. Beside him, the old woman pushed the earbuds into their ear.
“They’re doing the demonstration,” Jason told her.
The old woman looked up, then back at him, and gave him the sweetest smile. “That’s nice, dear,” she said and set her head against the seat back, just as he’d done minutes before.
Jason started to slap his sidelong headphone back over his ear, when the woman started her player. A heavy scream and booming drums caught his ear.
Death metal. The old woman was listening to death metal.