Meeting Reem

Layal piece artwork

I shift my position for about the seventh time in the last hour while the tiny screen before me alerts me of the time remaining on the trip: five more hours. I cannot help but feel suffocated while staring at the neat array of uncomfortable navy blue seats to my right. Being seated in one place for a long period of time is not one of my strong suits. I try to momentarily erase the discomfort from my mind by taking out my book from the pocket in front of me. All I manage to accomplish is to reread the title a bazillion times: The Alchemist. I cannot find the energy to read a single page, despite the fact that I’m dying to find out what happens next to the shepherd boy on his journey. I could only imagine. Soon enough, I wander into the vast realm of thoughts overwhelming my mind. I begin thinking about my own dreams – my own aspirations. Nothing can pacify my discomfort other than my growing excitement for what I am moving towards: total and utter freedom. Alright, so maybe it is not total freedom, but in comparison to my last nine years spent living in Jeddah, the coming four on a continent 11,006 km away appear to be the perfect getaway for me.

I peek behind my chair to check on my mother, who by now is already highlighting lines in some academic journal. I find it interesting how something as boring as dentistry can be so intriguing to her. I often wonder how I ended up being so different from her – not in character or looks, but rather in interests and passions. We may share the same smile, olive skin, and hazel eyes, but our interests are as far away from one another as two separate planets. She enjoys reading about sealants, and I enjoy reading about anything but. She has an undying passion for public health, while I am drawn to the many questions of the humanities and social sciences. I move my gaze to the next seat over to get a glimpse of my father – who is snoring in a deep and peaceful sleep, despite the circumstances. That man can literally sleep anywhere. Why couldn’t he pass down those genes to me?

Suddenly an airhostess wearing a nametag reading “Lane” interrupts my train of thought. “Tea or Coffee?” she asks monotonously. It is a rather simple question, but I find myself struggling to make up my mind. Shall I order coffee instead of tea to appear sophisticated and posh, or shall I opt for the latter to appear more mellow and easygoing. Lane, unaware of my unraveling thoughts, stares at my facial expression, likely one of confusion, and repeats in a bored manner, once more: “Tea or coffee ma’am?” Immediately, I feel heat rush to my cheeks as I realize how stupid and dumbfounded I must look. “Um, one cofftea please?”, I manage to croak rather shyly. “We do not have any cofftea ma’am. It’s either coffee or tea.” “Oh, yes of course. In that case, may I please have some water?” Lane proceeds to roll her eyes and hands me a water bottle. I have the feeling that we will become the best of friends on this endless flight.

As I begin twisting the cap of my water bottle off, I cannot help but feel a pinch of fear creep up my spine. If I cannot even choose between something as simple as tea or coffee, how am I supposed to choose something as important as my major? How am I possibly going to choose the right friends? How the hell am I going to pay my rent? How will I narrow down all the classes I wish to take to a number that is more practical and realistic? I begin rubbing my forehead in attempt to soothe the crease I already know has appeared between my eyebrows. I begin fidgeting with the tiny grey remote that controls the screen in front of me and immediately feel frustrated because the TV isnt turning on. I don’t want to watch a stupid movie anyways, but I am looking for anything to distract me from my fear – my fear of new beginnings.

I start banging the remote with my hand, in an effort to make it work, until I hear soft chuckling from a distance that makes me freeze in my wild state. A woman seated two rows in front of me has returned from the bathroom just in time to witness my little breakdown. I feel angry that she is laughing while I am on the verge of tears. As she walks closer, I notice the playful smile on her lips, her arched eyebrows, her chocolate brown eyes, and her caramel colored skin. Something about her feel so sincere – and that’s not something I come across often. “Need help?” she asks with a smile. I shift my gaze from her face to the grey remote and then back to her. She looks at me expectantly, and I respond, “I don’t even know how this works.” She smiles and approaches me and points at the screen in front of me and says: “it’s a touch screen, you just have to press the ‘On’ button.” I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

Suddenly I burst out in laughter, and soon enough the stranger that has just pointed out my stupidity joins in. She extends a perfectly manicured hand out in front of mine, smiles, and introduces herself as Reem. I return the gesture and introduce myself. I motion for her to sit down next to me – the seat to my right has been left empty since take off. Surprisingly, she accepts my invitation and I suddenly begin to get nervous. What do I do now? I’m not really a conversationalist – I’m more reserved and quiet. It turns out that I don’t need to worry. Reem quickly ignites conversation with just one question: “what movie were you wanting to watch?” Soon enough, we are discussing award winning movies – and of course the hunky actors who star in them. We jump from Ryan Gosling to Chris Evans and back to Gosling.

I take an instant liking towards this woman who I have just met. Never have I ever tried starting a conversation with a random stranger before, especially about real things – deep things. I would never have assumed that this woman – who looks so put together – had suffered so much strife and heartbreak. Reem had just filed for divorce from her husband of two years, having finally realized her self worth. I cannot help but shiver while listening to her accounts of being physically abused and not being able to do anything about it. I can sense the pool of water forming in my eyes as she continues explaining how helpless and weak she felt. Apparently she didn’t know the man very well prior to their engagement. He was simply the son of a prestigious businessman and seemed like the perfect candidate for a husband in her parents’ eyes. Long story short, their families met and the rushed the wedding, and soon enough Reem found herself stuck in a merciless situation.

She chooses to skip the vulgar details of her husband’s brutality and jump to the part of her story in which she finally sought refuge and chose to fight him in court. Everyone knows how difficult winning a divorce case can be for a Saudi woman, but Reem succeeded despite the odds. I pause to admire the way Reem’s facial expressions rise and drop with each word she utters – she truly was bringing life to her story. Who would have guessed that this stranger seated next to me was such a strong woman, a woman who would become one of my close friends in the long run? As she continues telling her story of moving on and choosing what was best for her, I cannot help but feel inspired. In comparison to Reem’s experiences, my struggles and worries seem minuscule. I suddenly realize that I should not fear new beginnings – I should embrace them. I want to experience every inch of this new part of my life that I am embarking upon.

Metaphorical and physical movements alike can be scary, but movement is also invigorating. With every new experience and journey, I am peeling back a new layer of myself that I didn’t know existed before. I feel like I have been holding myself back from forming new relationships with others because of my timid nature, but I want to change that. I want to step out of my comfort zone to meet the many Reems this world has to offer. I find it funny how I came across this phenomenal woman in the middle of the air, thirty-six thousand and something feet above Greece. I glance at the screen in front of me discreetly and am stunned to find that four hours have passed since Reem and I first started speaking.

I am an hour closer to my final destination for the next four years, and I can’t help but feel a tinge of excitement course through my veins. I start to imagine all the people I will meet – all the touching conversations I will have. My thoughts are interrupted by the captain’s abrupt announcement: “Attention all passengers, we are set to arrive in San Francisco in about twenty minutes. Please buckle your seatbelts to ensure your safety for the remainder of the trip.” I struggle to contain my emotions for the next twenty minutes. Finally, I begin to feel the tremors of the plane’s shaky landing. I close my eyes as the wheels touch the ground and shortly feelings of relief and readiness follow. I am ready to embrace all the new that is to come.