“Are you okay?”
The TSA ID-checker in the Philadelphia airport, his long, braided hair cinched by a rubber band, noticed the young woman’s red, watery eyes.
“No. Not really.”
“What’s wrong?” He looked at her boarding pass then glanced over his glasses at her face. “Are you leaving someone you don’t want to leave?” A question he believed he knew the answer to. I’m sure he’s seen plenty of teary girls kiss their boyfriends goodbye.
“My father died.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
I was eavesdropping, and she sensed it, so she looked at me. I gave her what I hoped was a sympathetic smile. Something I thought to be appropriate, because I didn’t know what to say. I hoped to communicate two things with that gesture, though. First that I was sorry about her loss. But I was also sorry to have intruded into her business.
She sniffled and attempted to smile back. The edges of her mouth fought their way up against the rest of her face; her furrowed brow, her quivering lips. She understood. She accepted my sympathy and apology.
But the security line crept with small steps. Short starts and long stops. And I felt compelled to add an audible leg to our silent exchange.
“Had your father been sick?”
“Yes. But now he’s relaxed.”
She had a strong Spanish accent. Relaxed. I’m not sure why she chose that word. Maybe the translation tripped her a bit. Maybe that made sense; “relaxed” was the perfect descriptor for his situation. Maybe I was glimpsing her raw and honest state of shock. Witnessing that period after a loss when one says the real things before one settles into the death march of rote expressions such as “He’s at rest” or “Now he’s at peace” or “He lived a good life.”
“Did he live a good life?” I took my place in the march.
“Yes. He did.”
I nodded and looked away. Knowing that’s really all I could offer.
She looked back over her shoulder and waved slowly at a young man just beyond the security entrance leaning on the wall. The ID-checker was correct. The woman was leaving someone she didn’t want to leave.
After the metal detector, she gathered her bags from the belt, looked up at me and said, “God bless you.”
I said, “You too," although I thought to myself, “He has.”