Sympathy Muffins

If you want to score some free food, try crying on a plane. Seriously, works like magic.

Tears started showing when I was boarding, and now that I’m waiting for the plane to take off, my sobbing is completely out of control. Eyes red and puffed, lips all sore from the salt—you know how it is. It’s not pretty. I’m trying to hide the crying, but I might as well try to hide a machine gun in my breast pocket.

On my left sits a middle-aged American couple, on my right—an old lady with a mop of hair and a pair of crutches. All three glance at my one-woman show with a mix of curiosity and pity.

“Did someone hurt you? You cry about your boy?”

The old lady has an accent I can’t place and clearly thinks her age is reason enough to toss conventions aside. I make an inarticulate noise. Normally I’d hate her for intruding, but right now I’m such a mess that I’m taking all the empathy I can get.

“What language do you speak except English?” she asks. When I mumble “Russian”, her accent and lack of tact start falling into place.

“Ты русская, что ли?!”

“Украинка.”

I spend the next couple of hours being questioned by a Russian babushka living in Sacramento, California, who applies every known KGB tactic until I crack. She’s an immigrant from Tashkent, who never americanized. She embodies the bad manners and patriarchal views that I despise about my fellow post-Soviets, and yet she’s the only person who cares enough to listen.

At the end of this long and sleepless flight I start looking for the muffin I saved for later, but it’s nowhere to be seen. I counted on you, muffin, and you let me down like everyone else. I can’t believe you.

My neighbors notice me fidget in my seat in vain pursuit of the muffin, and then a funny thing happens: they both hand me theirs. First the American lady on the left, then the Russian babushka on the right. I’m not sure why. Maybe because they see me as a crying baby, and crying babies must be fed. Or maybe because they know carbohydrates are precisely what you need after making an ass of yourself on a transatlantic flight.