The old woman was already moving in to take the window seat when she turned to Darwin. “Would you put that green overnight bag in the overhead for me?”
He decided it wasn’t important enough to object. He lifted the bag easily into the overhead. He sat down in the middle seat and searched for his seat belt.
A grey-suited middle-aged man sat next to him in the aisle seat and slipped an expensive-looking leather briefcase under the seat in front of him.
The plane took off. At ten thousand feet Darwin reached into his backpack for earphone plugs and his digital player.
“You shouldn’t do that. It will make you retarded,” the old woman said to Darwin.
“That is ridiculous,” the man next to Darwin said in a deep, authoritative voice.
“A lot you know,” the woman said. “I’m a physician.”
“Well, those things make you deaf. And then you become retarded.”
“Not deaf if the volume is at a reasonable level. And never retarded.”
Darwin tucked the player and the earplugs back into his backpack. The man sat rigid with his back straight. Darwin straightened his spine.
“Is he your father?” the woman asked Darwin.
“I am not his father,” the man said. “I am dedicated to halting misleading and erroneous information, especially in matters of health.”
“I am not stupid,” the woman said.
“That’s arguable,” the man said under his breath but loud enough for Darwin to hear.
“Why are you traveling alone?” the woman asked Darwin. Darwin didn’t answer.
“Where are your parents, boy? In Pittsburgh?” she persisted.
“Dead,” said Darwin. “They died.” That should end the conversation.
“Oh, you poor boy. I’m so sorry. Are you going home?” “I’m going to my cousin’s. He’s a famous football player.” “You’re leaving Pittsburgh?”
The woman looked out the window into a cloud to ponder the developments.
The man read a medical journal for a few minutes. “Who’s your cousin?” he asked Darwin.
“And you’re going to live with him. With Luther?” “Yes, sir.”
“What an opportunity,” he said.
The woman leaned slightly over Darwin toward the man to give him a spiteful frown. “How could living with a football player be an opportunity? They take drugs, you know. To make them play better. It’s on the television.”
“My cousin doesn’t do that,” Darwin said emphatically, angered by her assuredness without fact.
“I don’t believe it!” the woman said.