She looks in the mirror and sees her mother staring back. Worse yet, her mother’s personality is worming its way into her own psyche, causing her to do many of the things that made her cringe when her mother did them. She hands out cough drops to strangers who need them. She converses with dogs while ignoring the human at the other end of the leash. And horror of horrors, she finds herself in possession of a quirky sense of humor whereby she feels compelled to make wry observations about the world in general or matters in particular to anyone within hearing distance. It was a habit her mother acquired in later years. Listeners would give her That Look which plainly asked: witty or half-wit? feeble-minded or funny?
The plane was scheduled to leave Logan at 7:15 a.m. which meant waking up at an abysmally early hour. Even though her bleary-eyed stupor was unaffected by two cups of black coffee, she couldn’t help but notice the kid sitting nearby. Maybe it was because his carry-on bag was made of bright-silver diamond-patterned metal with a tan leather handle. Maybe it was because he carried a huge pillow under his arm. Maybe it was because sitting on top of the uncommon carry-on bag was a bright red knapsack with a large teddy bear stuffed inside. Only its head stuck out.
After they boarded, she discovered the three of them were traveling companions — he at the window, she on the aisle, bear on the floor, empty seat in between. She had assumed he was on his way to summer camp, but no, he had just completed his freshman year at Harvard, lived in Orange County and was a coxswain on the rowing team. She thinks he told her this to explain his smallness.He also revealed that in July he was going to teach ESL somewhere in China.
And as for his friend? He’d had Pooh Bear ever since he was a baby and took him everywhere he went.
“Oh? Will you take him to China?” she asked.
“No, he’s staying home.”
And then the spirit of her mother kicked in. “That’s a good plan,” she said. “There are probably too many panda bears in China already.
He gave her That Look. “Yeah,” he said, “I guess.”
He smiled feebly.
He clutched his pillow.
He opened his computer.
He didn’t say another word the whole trip.
Neither did Pooh Bear, although she is certain that he nodded at her from time to time, just as friendly bears are wont to do.