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Chance Encounters?

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Chance Encounters

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Chance Encounters?
Stories that are hardly by chance
By Mrs. M. L. Mashinsky
Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
ISBN: 1-57819-521-7

Chapter 2: Made in Heaven, from Chance Encounters?

ALTHOUGH SHE HAD PASSED HER 21ST BIRTHDAY, Mindy had never been on an airplane before, and she was nervous. But it was her friend’s wedding, in California; no way would she miss it!

She had planned to take only a carry-on and a garment bag containing her pink silk suit and matching shoes, specially purchased for this great occasion. But then the bride herself, her friend Miriam, had called frantically -- the caterer could not get certain items that were absolutely essential for the smorgasbord. Only in New York could these delicacies be obtained, and since Mindy was arriving the day of the wedding, could she, please ...?

“Okay. Fine. No problem. Glad to do it!” said Mindy. But it did turn out to be quite a problem. The caterer said that everything would be ready and packed the morning of her departure. She could easily pick up the items on the way to the airport, since the caterer’s place was in Queens, not far from LaGuardia Airport.

So Mindy allowed an extra half-hour for that, but when she arrived at Celestial Caterers, the big pots had just been placed on ice to cool.

“Just a few minutes, Miss. It won’t be more than a few minutes,” the chef kept saying. But it took much more than that. By the time the food had cooled and been carefully packed in boxes of dry ice, and then in the big borrowed suitcase Mindy had brought along, she was trembling with anxiety. Would she get to LaGuardia in time?

At the airport she had only minutes to check in the heavy suitcase of food. As the departure time flashed on the screen, Mindy dashed up the steps of the airplane. A moment later, the plane began to move. Exhausted, her knees buckling, she fell into her reserved seat. Oh, just to close her eyes and sleep and sleep until the plane reached Los Angeles!

But it was not to be. A furious voice behind her was screaming: “I want my rights! You promised me an aisle seat! And you stuck me in this awful place where I don’t even have room for my feet!! Gimme an aisle seat or else!” The yelling went on and on.

It was an elderly woman, her face mottled with fury, brandishing a cane. The stewardess tried to placate her, offering even her own seat on the crowded plane, but “No! No! NOO!” It sounded like a bomb exploding.

Mindy tried to block out the sound by huddling into her pillow and wrapping the blanket over her head. But nothing helped.

“I will never fly this airline again! I will report this outrage to the media! I’ll sue you! You’ll be sorry!”

The stewardess, nearly in tears, consulted the supervisor. He too tried to persuade the furious woman to take another seat, but no sale. He went up and down the length of the plane, begging passengers on the aisle to exchange their seats, but no one budged. Most of them simply turned away and ignored him. All the while, the difficult passenger screamed and screamed.

Mindy couldn’t stand it any longer. “Poor thing,” she said to herself. “It’s so important to her! Let her be comfortable; I don’t really need this aisle seat.”

She staggered to her feet -- her leg had fallen asleep, but the rest of her was wide awake -- and told the stewardess that she was willing to change seats. With a smile of immense relief, the stewardess carried the screamer’s bundles and bags to Mindy’s place, seated the new occupant, and handed her a big drink. Silence prevailed.

Mindy was left to haul her garment bag and carry-on to the new seat, not on the aisle. She stowed her things overhead and squeezed past a stout lady. She started to sink into her seat, when -- horrors! -- she realized she was sitting on a plastic cup full of ice cubes, apparently placed there by her new neighbor. The woman said, “Shoot! You spoiled my drink. Now I’ll have to get fresh ice!”

Mindy closed her eyes. Only 20 minutes into the flight --what would be next?

When she opened her eyes after a brief, unsatisfying nap, the first thing she saw was an open sefer Tehillim, the Book of Psalms, identical to the one in her large pocketbook. Had this person opened her bag while she was asleep? But who would steal a Tehillim?

She reached for her bag under the seat. Its contents were intact, including the Tehillim. She opened it and started whispering the psalm for the day. To her left, a rather pleasant voice was reciting the very same words.

This passenger, too, was an older woman, but what a difference from the screamer and the one with the ice cubes on the right! Her new neighbor had a calm face with laugh lines radiating from her eyes. Mindy realized that she was not just rattling off the words of Tehillim, but every word expressed deep feeling.

Repeating the familiar words had its usual soothing effect on Mindy, and lulled by the hum of the engines and her own weariness, she drifted off into a sweet slumber.

“Thwack! Crack! Ugh!” The back of Mindy’s seat banged against her spine, sending shock waves through her body. A freckle-faced boy behind her was kicking the seat with all his might, with what felt like hob-nailed boots. She leaned forward, trying to escape, but he only kicked all the harder.

“Little boy, please stop that. It bothers me --”

“So what? Good for you! If you don’t like it you can get off! Ha, ha, ha!”

Weren’t there any adults with this little monster? Apparently not, or why didn’t they stop him?

“Please,” Mindy tried again. “I’d like to speak to your father or mother. Where are they?”

“My pop is the mayor of New York City, and my mom is in the zoo in San Francisco, and they let me go everyplace by myself. Ha, ha, ha!”

Were the kicks growing fainter? Or was she just getting used to them?

“Would you like to go to sleep, little boy? You must be very tired by now!” (Child Psychology I to the rescue!)

“Okay -- gimme your blanket and your pillow and wake me up when it’s time to eat.”

Mindy passed back two blankets and pillows. Wrapped in the blankets, the child cuddled deep into his seat and quickly fell asleep, with the most angelic smile on his face.

“I think you handled that very well.” The woman at her left spoke in a low, modulated voice. “I felt like slapping him.”

“So did I.” Mindy smiled. “But then I thought he must be very tired, and hungry, and scared of being alone. He doesn’t look more than 8, and he’s flying cross-country all by himself. I almost feel sorry for him.”

The older woman introduced herself as Mrs. Rachel Spiegel, originally from Brooklyn. She had been living in Los Angeles for the past 15 years, and had raised her family there. Yes, she agreed, the climate was delightful, except for the floods, earthquakes, and fires, but she did miss her friends and family back East. In fact, she had cut short her visit there because of a wedding.

The food carts were rolling through the aisles, and suddenly Mindy felt faint with hunger. She remembered that her last meal had been yesterday. In all the rush of packing and getting to the airport, she had quite forgotten to eat, and she looked forward to the kosher meal ordered for her by the travel agent.

She waited patiently. All the passengers had been served, including her nice neighbor on the left. Finally Mindy asked the stewardess for her meal.

“Sorry, miss, I don’t see any kosher meal order for you. Would you like the regular dinner?” Apparently, this was a routine occurrence.

“No, no, of course not.” Mindy’s stomach was doing somersaults. She was starving.

Mrs. Spiegel was indignant. “How can the agent slip up like that? That’s nerve -- letting people get on a plane without providing food!”

Mindy said it might have been a computer glitch. Mrs. Spiegel offered her an orange which Mindy accepted gratefully. “Anyway, it’s just a short flight,” she comforted herself.

Just then the stewardess came rushing up with a broad smile on her face. “I’m so sorry -- I just found your tray. It was on the bottom of the rack. Here,” and she presented a sealed package.

At the same moment, there was a terrific kick which seemed to go right through Mindy’s spine. It was the enfant terrible behind her, wide awake now, and angry.

“You didn’t wake me up like you promised! I’m starving! I’m gonna pass out!” and he gave a dramatic imitation of just that, sliding down his seat to the floor. Apparently, the flight attendant had placed a dinner on the sleeping child’s tray, and then removed it while he was still asleep.

Mindy said, “Here, dear, here’s a delicious meal all ready for you!” and passed her tray to the back.

In a second, the boy was back in his seat, grabbed the package, ripped it open, and gobbled the food voraciously, without even a look or word of thanks. When he finished, he handed Mindy the wrappings. “Here, get rid of this.”

Mrs. Spiegel and Mindy looked at each other; each knew what the other was thinking. “Don’t you think that boy should be taught some manners? You’re too kind to him. He’s spoiled rotten!” Mrs. Spiegel kept her voice low.

Mindy answered in an equally soft voice, “We don’t know what this child goes through every day. Probably his parents ... well, they don’t give him much affection, and he has to fight for everything. So he acts like this because he’s starved for love and attention. And a 5-hour flight is not enough to change him. At least now he slept and he ate; maybe he’ll behave for the rest of the flight.”

Mrs. Spiegel had to agree when the next hour passed without any more disturbances. She asked Mindy all about herself and why she was flying to L.A. When Mindy told her that she was on the way to the wedding of her best friend, Miriam Golden, Mrs. Spiegel got very excited. “I’m going to that wedding, too! How do you know Miriam? She’s a local girl, and you’ve never been to L.A.”

“Well, we went to Bais Yaakov together, and then to Seminary. And we still are very close. In fact, I’m bringing some of the food for the smorgasbord.” Mindy described the tense scene at Celestial Caterers, which seemed quite funny in retrospect.

Except for a few requests from the back for toys, for peanuts, and for drinks, the remaining hour of the flight passed quietly.

When the Fasten seat belts sign flashed on in preparation for landing, the boy leaned over to Mindy with a scared look on his face. In a very little voice, he asked, “Could you -- just in case -- take care of me? I mean just in case ... if no one comes to meet me?”

“Of course I will.” Mindy’s answer came immediately, without hesitation.

Mrs. Spiegel was amazed. “After all this kid put you through, you’re still willing to look out for him?”

“Since he asked me to, I feel it’s bashert. I was put on this particular plane to help this child, and it’s fine.”

“Hmm -- there may be more than one reason,” Mrs. Spiegel spoke softly.

“Of course -- do we ever know why things happen the way they do? And you see, he’s just a scared little kid underneath it all.”

The boy put his hand in Mindy’s and they walked off the plane together. There was a woman waiting for him; his mother had sent the maid. Happy and relieved, he started to run toward her, but then he paused and turned back to where Mindy and Mrs. Spiegel were standing.

“Thank you,” he said. “Thanks for everything, and I’m sorry about before.”

Mrs. Spiegel offered to take Mindy to the Golden’s home. “My husband should be waiting outside with the car.”

He was, and they took Mindy to her friend, promising to drop off the smorgasbord valise at the caterers.

As soon as Mindy had left the car, Mr. Spiegel turned to his wife and said, “She seems like a very nice girl. You met her on the plane? Maybe for our Shmuel .... Can you ask around and find out about her, her character, her background?”

His wife said, “I don’t have to. I know everything important about her already, and I agree -- our Shmulie would be fortunate ....”

At the wedding of Mindy and Shmulie Spiegel, everyone made the same original joke: “This is a shidduch made in heaven.”

And it is.

Used by permission, ArtScroll Mesorah Publications

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