It was very late -- later than it should have been, in fact, because of cross winds that delayed my flight. I squeezed into a seat next to a woman who had been chattering on the cell phone, ignoring my pleas to let me sit down until I poked her in the shoulder. Rolling her eyes and sighing, she got up to let me attempt to fold myself into a sitting position. She continued to chew on the person on the other end of the phone until the plane was well underway. The flight attendant practically had to make her swallow the contraption to get her to turn it off.
Being off of the phone seemed to have a negative effect on my flying companion. We had to idle on the runway for an hour because of the weather, and the longer we sat there, the more fidgety this woman became. She began chewing off her fake nails, one by one by one. She achieved this by gnawing the glue close to the quick and then prying the nail off with her front teeth, giving it a quick feral yank at the end for good measure. Once she'd done that to all ten digits, it was time for the plane to take off. Unfortunately for me (and for her, in all fairness), this did little to ease her.
As the plane began to ascend, she rustled anxiously in her bulging bag and pulled out a white crocheted toboggan. This she pulled down tightly over her ears, keeping hold of the sides of the hat until the plane leveled off. Had she not been behaving this way, I would not have known she was upset. Her face was completely serene. Only her fierce clutch on the hat suggested flying was not her favorite activity.
She finally let go of the toboggan and began ordering drinks when we reached altitude. Since she reeked of bourbon, I assumed these were just a few in a long line of beverages she'd begun drinking way before our boarding time. This might explain what she did two hours later when we finally descended.
I missed whatever other odd behavior this woman exhibited while we flew because I gave over to my exhaustion and fitfully slept. I might have had a few more minutes of rest had this strange person sitting next to me not done what she did. Right before the plane's wheels touched asphalt -- which, to me, is the worst part of flying (next to the screaming, germs, body odor, and security searches) -- this mentally deranged person fully extended her arm and whacked me in the face with the backside of her elbow. I snapped open my eyes to gape at her. I guess my face demanded an explanation before I could form any words. "Did you see that?" she asked me in her East Tennessee drawl; "That was instinct."