He’d been enchanted by the woman since they’d both arrived. She’d spilled out of the passenger seat of a Chevy pickup, waving as the driver sped away with a cheerful toot-toot. He was carefully disembarking from his taxi, strapping his briefcase awkwardly to his rollaway and fishing in his wallet for cab fare. She was barefoot, wearing a small hiker’s backpack and a long, sleeveless dress. Her hair flowed down over her shoulders, her breasts, the pack, her arms; the wheat-blond strands were easily more than two feet long.
She was three places ahead of him in the security line. A little girl in front of her struck up a conversation. He watched as she crouched down, lean and willowy, to admire the child’s sparkly sunglasses and ballerina doll. She laughed with the child’s mother. He shifted his luggage out of the way of a passing people-mover and his briefcase toppled.
Over her shoulder, the child grinned at him. He waved a file in reply.
The woman sailed through security, tossing the pack nonchalantly onto the conveyor, padding through the metal detectors with a sweet smile. While he hastily retied his wingtips and fished his watch from the little white bin, she pulled a pair of folded ballet slippers from a side pocket of the pack and slipped them on, balancing on one foot, then the other.
He fidgeted in his seat at the gate, anxiously watching the departures board. From time to time he looked over at where she sat, cross-legged on the floor by the window, using the backpack as a back cushion. Weak bars of sun, filtered by the terminal’s dirty glass, played in her hair. She’d gotten coffee and some kind of flaky pastry, the crumbs from which she brushed from the pool of fabric in her lap.
He’d only just gotten up to check with the Gate Attendant about his aisle seat when the little girl from the security line crashed into the back of his knees. Her face was streaked with tears; she was towing the ballerina doll by it’s long pink hair.
“I can’t find my Mommy!” They were the scariest words he’d ever heard. He turned to plead with the attendants for help. When they questioned the child, she only shook her head and clung to his pant leg.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll find your Mommy.” He patted her hair and cast wildly around the gate area for some sign of the little girl’s family. Instead, he turned to find the woman, backpack on one shoulder, hair coiled up on top of her head, holding her hand out to him.
“Mena Photakis. I met this little girl earlier. I’ll help you find her Mom.”