Two newscasters, both impossibly thin with shiny blowouts and jutting calves, make chitchat as they wait for the plane to arrive. Several cameramen jockey for position. Those of us who have been sitting at Gate C2 for an hour, waiting to depart, wonder whom the news teams are expecting.
The airline personnel seem to know what’s up. Every few minutes, they offer the news teams an update: They’re in range. The plane’s in range. Any minute now.
Another passenger notices that I am scrutinizing the situation, like she is. She sidles over to me. “Who are they waiting for?” she asks me.
“I was trying to figure that out myself,” I said
Other passengers approach.
“Do you know?” “Have they said?”
“No, we’re all wondering.”
A diverted flight, a hijacker? A politician? A celebrity, A- or D-list?
Our flight has finally been listed as delayed. This is not exactly news to the growing crowd at C2. What we want to know is who’s due to arrive.
A young African-American cameraman to my right is explaining the excitement. I strain to hear his words: “A little girl from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She’s going to the Saratoga Ballet.”
“What did he just say?”
I feel dirty passing along the information. This is no Lindsay Lohan.
“It’s…she’s a little girl…from the Make-a-Wish Foundation.”
The woman who first approached me bites her lip. “Oh,” she says.
The woman’s daughter trots over. “Who is it?” she asks us.
“Come, let’s go back to our seats,” says the woman.
“But who is it?”
“It’s a little girl from the Make-a-Wish Foundation,” she tells her daughter. “We don’t need to stare. We shouldn’t stare.”
“Because she’s sick. She’s very sick.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know.”
I can’t help but look when the guest of honor arrives through Gate C2. Almost everyone in Albany Airport’s Terminal C is looking. The TV crews surround her, but the newscasters seem confused, unsure that they’ve got the right girl. Their faces say: She doesn’t look sick.
She is absolutely lovely. She is beaming. Sandy-blonde hair, a ponytail, freckles, tall, maybe 11 or 12. She’s accompanied by her mother and possibly an older sister. She clutches a garment bag to her chest and grins, her face flushed with excitement.
The newscasters push to engage the girl in conversation. Clearly, she’d been alerted that the local news would be waiting, but the size of the crowd staring at Gate C2 is surprising by any standards.
At one anchorwoman’s request, the girl carefully unveils her prized garment: a pink, froufy cocktail dress that presumably she will be wearing tonight, to the ballet.
I hear the questions: How long have you been sick? How long have you had this dream? Have you missed a lot of school?
I cringe at the insipid inquiries, but she fields all the questions like a pro. I hurt for her mother and strain to see her expression, but the crowd is blocking her. I can see the girl’s older sister, standing a little off to the side, a mixed expression on her face: protectiveness, concern, pride.
A flash goes off, and the young girl loses her focus. She looks past the cameras, past her mom and her sister, and unexpectedly meets my eye.
I see, for a second, the tiredness behind the excitement: a moment of bewilderment. I smile reflexively, the same smile I would give to one of my own daughters. You can do it. You’re doing fine.
She composes herself and retrains her focus on the newscasters. Her older sister is no longer smiling. She looks worried, and casts a quick glance from her sister to her mother.
This is the kind of thing that is beyond imagining, and yet my mind fights to get inside that cage. Life-threatening illness. A mother and two daughters. Hannah would want to go to the ballet. Or she would want to ride horses. Or be on a TV show. What would Sophie want? Jesus. Stop.
Blessedly, the local news teams call it a wrap. The girl continues on her way to the ballet, to the rest of her life, flanked by her mother and sister.
Gate C2, now boarding Flight 683 to Baltimore, continuing on to Fort Lauderdale. We board, quietly, subdued, as the cameramen break down their equipment. We are all continuing on to another place, to another story—the ones we find, the ones that find us.
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