THE LOUNGE at the
Los Angeles International
Airport was crowded, and
I was surprised and relieved
when I entered to
find nearly an entire row
of chairs empty. I made
for the center of the row
and dropped a too-heavy carry-on (Will
they notice that it’s oversized? I wondered)
on the seat next to me while my
husband deposited his hand luggage on
the other side. Across from us the chairs
were also unoccupied, except for a man
in his late 30s and, slumped in the
seat to his right, a much older man
who appeared to be dozing.
The younger man was tall, face burnt
to reddish-brown leather under a
weathered white cowboy hat. Western
boots, a plaid work shirt, and well-worn
jeans set him off from the other
travelers waiting for their flights, laptops
open on business-casual legs.
Father and son, I thought as I pulled an
apple out of my bag and opened a
paperback. Then, as inconspicuously as
possible, I looked over the top of my
book and began to study the two men
whose presence had discouraged anyone
from taking a seat near them.
The older man was as thin and limp
as a length of old rope. The brown of
his skin was cast with yellow as if the
blood had drained away and been
replaced with muddy water. Over his
long-sleeved shirt he wore a button-less
cardigan. His dark, cotton work pants
were so faded from washing that it was
impossible to determine their original
color. At his feet were two tattered duffel
bags and behind his back a pair of
From time to time, the younger man adjusted the pillows, attempting to
pull the older man to a more upright
position. The father would open his
eyes for a moment and then, exhausted
by the effort, he seemed to will himself
to breathe. I leaned toward my husband.
“The old man is dying,” I told
him. He, too, had been watching.
Around us other eyes were intent on
magazines or engrossed in TV news or
computer screens. Although more people
had crowded into the lounge, our
two rows remained islands of space—
almost as if they were protected by an
invisible fence or a wall of glass.
A deep breath, almost a rattle, shook
the old man’s body. His son jumped to
his feet, readjusted the pillows, looked
at his watch, and began to stare into
the distance as if listening for a voice.
Uncertainty agitated his features, and
he took a few steps toward the flight
desk. Then he began to pace—five or
six steps toward the desk, another half-dozen
back to his father’s side. “I’m
going to ask if I can help him,” I whispered
to my husband.
“Wait a minute. Let’s see what he’s
going to do,” was his answer.