The Seattle morning was fresh, tinged with oncoming summer warmth, and the sky was lightening as the plane readied for ascent. Linda had an olive green backpack filled with plane survival items, including but not limited to snacks and a magazine or two. Her cropped black sleeveless top felt snug, as did her white shorts, and there was no need to be worried about platform sandals on a plane ride.
She checked her phone for messages, laughed at a Facebook post of a friend-of-a-friend, and twirled her red hair around her finger as she waited for the all-clear signal. When it was given, she proceeded down the ramp with the other passengers and found her seat.
There was a familiar blandness to the plane, with white walls and flowered blue-gray carpet giving the distinct impression that this plane could have been the same one that Linda had flown on another time – even every time.
Thankfully, she had chosen the window seat. She placed her bag under her seat, tapping her toes and drumming her fingers to alleviate boredom.
A shadow crossed her line of sight, and Linda looked up, startled, as another passenger sat next to her.
A Muslim, Linda thought, noticing the white head covering/scarf/whatever-they-call-it that the other woman wore. Her skin was medium brown, and her eyes were almost black, matching her long-sleeved dress that reached to the floor. The woman looked at Linda for a moment, acknowledging her, and then focused on the seat in front.
Linda suddenly felt very aware of her bare skin, her long, uncovered hair. I bet she thinks I’m some party animal or wild girl, she thought resentfully. Does she think that what she wears makes her better than me? I don’t need to take criticism from someone who’s undoing ninety years of feminism by dressing like that.
Asyun, in the seat next to Linda, ran over the lyrics to that one Adele song she liked in her head. She wondered whether her cousin in New York would be at the airport to pick her up. People always gave Asyun looks when she flew; they had started when she was about ten. She sometimes thought about telling them, “I’m Turkish.” Not Iranian or from Iraq, but that doesn’t even matter. And what might she be thinking about me? Probably that I’m going off to meet my future husband, who I’ve never met, who my Sheik terrorist dad, who moonlights as a member of al Qaeda, managed to pawn me off on. She probably thinks I can’t speak English ….
Both of the women’s thoughts were interrupted by the intercom announcing the flight was about to leave.
They tried to play it cool as the plane sped faster and faster before suddenly rising from the ground. There was always that little drop in the stomach, but they both believed that there was a point in maturity where visible appreciation or acknowledgment of it was no longer acceptable.
The voice came back on after a while, announcing that passengers could take out their electronic items. Linda pulled out her backpack and began to rummage through it, while Asyun smoothly removed and opened her satchel, spreading its contents on her tray. She had just begun reading Watchmen when a voice interrupted her.
“Um, excuse me?”
Startled, Asyun looked up. It was the redhead.
“I’m sorry for interrupting you. I’m Linda.” She smiled. “And I was just wondering … your collection of the Dark Phoenix Saga … could I borrow it for a little while?”
It took a second for Asyun to process the shock of her speaking, another moment to hear the request, and a third to respond. “It’s fine. Just be careful.”
“Thanks.” Linda smiled, reaching across.
Curiosity buzzed through Asyun’s mind, but she didn’t want to interrupt a reader – and apparently, a fellow fan. Who would have thought? She wondered which of them was more surprised.
After half an hour, Linda returned the book. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Asyun smiled shyly. “It’s nice to meet a fellow fan.”
“Yeah.” Linda nodded enthusiastically. “It’s hard to find fans my age because it’s hard to bring it up. But I really like comics – and I really like that one. It’s so … definitive.”
“Absolutely.” Asyun nodded once, confidently. “Later arcs and points would lessen the impact – though I do like them and the cumulative Phoenix mythology – but this one really did define the X-Men majorly, and the comics in large part. So many heroes going bad like this would never have happened otherwise.” She paused for a moment. “And, yes, it’s definitely difficult to bring this up with potential friends.”
“Everyone dismisses it, but they’re totally going to go to the movies whenever the next flick comes out.” Linda made a face, and Asyun giggled. “At this point, it’s becoming obvious that superheroes are one of the real core pieces of America – and even the world too. We like our adventure, we like our story lines, and we like the BOOM-POW-EXPLETIVE CENSORED. I think that at this point, Batman and the Avengers and whatever else are almost to us what Hercules and Perseus and all those other myths were to the Greeks thousands of years ago. And so much – so many great characters and stories – have come out of superheroes.”
Linda worried for a moment that she might have offended the other woman by mentioning “pagan myths.” However, Asyun hadn’t seemed to notice or care.
“But comics are underrated as a form of art and media. I mean, there’s been a lot of a great usage – Maus, Persepolis – over time that didn’t involve superheroes. That’s why I’m trying to get into that for my art classes, trying to break into that genre.”
“You’re an art student?”
“Yes. What are you studying?”
“Film and media. Even when I was a kid, when I wasn’t reading, I was filming.”
The conversation continued as the flight attendants served food. Finally, Linda felt comfortable enough to ask.
“Um, if you don’t mind, can I ask a personal question? You don’t have to answer, but … what’s up with the …” Linda gestured at her head.
“Hijab?” Asyun asked, and Linda nodded. “It’s my secret identity.”
Giggling a little at the other woman’s confused look, Asyun elaborated, “Secret identities are so that superheroes can keep both sides of their life safe. One is for the private people they trust, and one is for the public. At the same time, it’s my mask – it empowers me to go out in the world and feel safe and secure while saving the day.” Comprehension dawned on Linda’s face. “I might as well ask you why you don’t have a secret identity.”
“The only people who take advantage of that are villains.” Linda shrugged, talking boldly. “And I’ve got superpowers, hear me roar, faster than a speeding bullet and all that. I’ll save the day, secret identity or no secret identity.” She made a face. “One time on a different plane, some flight attendant told me I was ‘dressed inappropriately.’ All I was wearing were shorts and a cami top, for crying out loud!”
Asyun nodded sympathetically. “People look at me funny sometimes when I go through security, like they’re expecting me to pull out a shotgun or something. And sometimes I get asked to go through twice – just in case.”
“It is a hard-knock life.”
More chuckles, and the conversation turned to plans for New York. Both were jolted out of their conversation by the announcement that arrival was imminent.
An air of awkwardness returned, but they tried firmly to banish it. Asyun took out a pen.
“Here,” she said, scribbling on a napkin. “That’s my cell number. Quid pro quo.”
Linda was at first surprised, before a wide smile broke out and she was jotting down on a napkin too. “Call me maybe?”
“There is no try,” Asyun intoned in a deep voice. “There is only do.”
The guffaws that followed caused other passengers to turn and wonder what the sexy redhead and the ambiguously foreign lady could be laughing about.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.