Settling into a 2am flight from Yangon back to Hong Kong, I was falling asleep in my seat when a flight attendant tapped my shoulder. “Do you mind if we move a woman to this seat?” She pointed to the empty window seat next to me. “She is having trouble seeing.”
I got confused. “That’s not my seat,” I spouted matter-of-factly before registering her question. Perplexed, the flight attendant took that as a “yes,” which was luckily my intention. She weaved her way through the queue of boarding passengers and eventually made it back upstream with a young woman in tow.
The young woman really couldn’t see — and she looked completely unadjusted to being visually impaired. She almost toppled over when the flight attendant released her grip and, when finally seated, wasn’t able to buckle her seat belt on her own. I couldn’t help but wonder what her story was.
So many scenarios flashed through my mind. Perhaps she just had LASIK surgery, I thought. Or maybe she had a migraine, or worse, a stroke. The scenarios kept getting more dramatic: it must have been a detached retina or a hemorrhage, a brain tumor. But she didn’t seem to be in pain. She looked physically fine. And it seemed to be a new adjustment. If only I could Google right now.
But of course it was completely none of my business. Except that I was incredibly nosey.
I realized she didn’t have a blanket, as it had been knocked to the floor when she found her seat, so I picked it up and handed it to her. As much as I was trying to be thoughtful, I was also trying to start a conversation.
“Would you like a blanket?” I asked her, already unwrapping the plastic case.
Maybe she is sleeping, I thought. I leaned over slightly just to peek. Nope, eyes wide open.
“Here you go,” I said to her, passing her the unwrapped blanket with a gentle nudge.
She looked at me and put her hand out, feeling for the blanket. “Xiè xiè,” she replied, draping it over her body.
I kicked myself for never learning any Chinese. I will never know why, at 2am, that young woman couldn’t see on that plane. I’ll never know what she went through, if she was adjusting to a new life without sight, or if it was something simple that would heal without a hitch.
I’ll never know if she had a life-changing, inspiring, heartbreaking story, or if she could have become a friend who I could later laugh with and say, “Oh, us? We met on a plane!”
My imagination ran wild for a few more minutes, envisioning her life and all the possible scenarios that led to this plane ride. And then I fell back asleep. Because of course, it was none of my business to begin with.