Writing Prompts

Photo Prompt: Strangers on a Plane

As promised…quick draft for my earlier photo prompt


The flight attendant reached over me and touched the boy on his shoulder.

“I’ll need you to bring your seat all the way up please. We’re preparing to land,” she said.

“Look,” he said, turning his phone toward me so I could see the last pictures he had just taken out of the plane’s small window. “It’s like a maze, isn’t it?”

We hadn’t spoken during the flight. I wasn’t a fan of talking to strangers on planes, preferring to read or watch the in-flight television. I’d been thankful when I took my seat – a young boy wouldn’t likely start a conversation with a woman my age. Not like the business travelers who always wanted me to help pass their time.

Before I could answer he continued. “This one is more grass and land than buildings and cars. My favorites are neighborhoods, all the houses in a row, and cars in their driveways. You can see how many houses have pools in the background. I love those,” he finished.

I looked at the photo on his phone. “You better bring your seat back up,” nodding toward the flight attendant who was returning toward the front of the plane.

“Oh, right,” he said. He reached down to the bag stored under the seat in front of him, dropped the phone in and pulled out a magazine.

“You like photography?” I asked, noticing the magazine title and thinking it was safe to chat at this point, since we were about to land. Besides, he had an earnest-looking face, and it would seem rude to just ignore him.

He flipped to a page in the magazine and held it out in front of me, an answer of sorts I suppose. It was the center spread; an aerial gaze of the Serengeti, taken from within a helicopter most likely. Prides of lions roamed the land that was mostly covered by tall grasses and dotted by kopjes.

“Beautiful,” I murmured.

“One day I’m going to travel everywhere and take photos like that,” my young companion assured me. “Pictures that capture a single moment, right after or right before something wonderful; or something terrible has happened. But the person looking at the photo won’t know that. They’ll just see what I want them to see.”

He pointed at the picture. “Like here – are they running away from something or toward something? Maybe they just finished massacring a group of zebras, or maybe they’re following the wildebeests’ migration. We don’t know,” he said, closing the magazine, laying it on his lap.

“We just see the plains and the lions moving which is what the photographer wanted us to see. The rest is sort of left up to our imagination.”

“How old are you?” I asked. He was a contradiction before me; at the very least what my sister-in-law would call an old soul.


Then he reached his hand out to me. “I’m Joshua by the way.”

I had no choice but to reciprocate. I took his hand in mine. “I’m Gwen.”

Our conversation was interrupted by the static of the pilot coming over the speaker.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we should be landing in Dallas in about 15 minutes. The weather is, well hot.”

A smatter of chuckles from the flyers.

“We’d like to thank you for flying Delta as we know you have a choice when choosing an airline.”

“Would you mind?” the boy was asking, and I noticed he had his phone out in front of him. “I always try to get a picture of myself and whoever I sit next to on a plane,” he added.

I must have looked confused because he added, “I know it seems strange, but it’s part of a collection I’ve been working on. You don’t have to of course,” he started to pull the phone back.

“No, no it’s fine,” I said quickly.

He leaned in and hit a button, the pseudo shutter sounding.

When we landed, he stayed seated while I started gathering my things and stood up to get my place in the aisle. We said our goodbyes and I walked toward the front of the plane without turning around. For a moment I wished I’d given him my email address and asked him to send me the picture, but then thought what would I do with a picture of myself and some stranger from a plane?


“Mom, look at this. It’s you, isn’t it? Did you know Joshua Craven?” Caryn asked, bewildered.

I took the magazine out of my grown daughter’s hands, my aging eye squinting at the center photo of the collage – a younger me, with an even younger boy looking into the camera smiling awkwardly. The article was in memoriam to the photographer whose first important work had been a collection of photos he’d taken with hundreds of strangers he met.

“I met him once, he was a kid. We were on the same flight.” My voice broke slightly. “I never knew him as the photographer he became, but even then he seemed so sure of the path he would take – and I guess he did.”

I looked down toward the beach, where my granddaughter and her friends were sitting. I picked up the camera laying on the table next to my lounge chair.

“Lilly,” I called.

The teenage girl ran up the beach, but stopped short. “Grandma, I hate taking pictures!” she said. “My hair is all wet and I look horrible. Please not now,” she begged.

“Come on,” I urged. “I want one of the three of us – three generations of the Whitman women.”

And so they both leaned down, one on either side of me. “Smile,” I said to them as I held out the camera and took the picture – a picture taken right after something terrible had happened, but one that others would see as the lovely memory I intended to show.


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