She was sitting on the opposite side of the aisle two rows up from me. I could see her, not because I got an aisle seat, or because of the bright yellow sweater she was wearing, but because of the furtive rocking back and forth that went on pretty much the entire flight.
And I do mean the entire flight. From the minute she stowed away her carry-on and sat down, this woman began to rock and mutter under her breath. At first I couldn’t catch what she was saying, but as the intensity increased, and the volume along with it, I realised that she was praying. She must have been praying. That is the only logical explanation for phrases like “rout the enemy”, “put the devil’s plans to flight”, “grant us safe passage, oh God”.
When she was finished, I whispered ‘amen’ too. Couldn’t hurt. My parents raised me to reverence and fear God and the godly, in all their various manifestations.
But it wasn’t over. The flight took off, and everyone settled down, and I got into the novel I had brought along. Then the muttering started again. My Jamaican prayer warrior had decided to have her own little prayer and worship session right there on the plane in her seat. The rocking resumed, and for much of the flight to Panama, she was a mass of bobbing jherri curls and upraised hands.
Her eyes were tightly shut the entire time. I know her eyes were shut because one of her legs was in the passage, and when the air hostess was trying to pass her with the serving tray, the man sitting beside her had to tap her on the shoulder and point out that she needed to move the obstructing foot so the air hostess could pass.
She obliged, closed her eyes, and the rocking and head-bobbing and chants resumed: “Jeeeeee-suuuuuus! Jeeeee-suuuuus!” She was whispering. But I could hear.
When the plane touched down and we were taxi-ing to our final stop, my prayer warrior lifted her hands (fully, up to this point they had been at half-mast) and said, “Thank you, Puppa Jesus! Mighty deliverer! Yuh do it again!” And clapped. Then looked to her neighbour and pumped a fist, as if to say, ‘Yes, our team won!’
It made me smile. Because Jamaican quirks are what they are no matter where on the planet we are. While we were exiting the plane, I watched the jherri curls and yellow shirt disappear into the crowd of disembarking passengers. Who is to say that beyond the bright yellow of her blouse, that prayer warrior hadn’t, in the way she knew how, just added a little light to all our lives?