We were unmasked then and I was at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, waiting for a connecting flight. Jostling through the lunch line, I found a place to sit with my sandwich and hefted up my carry-on bag for a table. The chair beside me was empty, but as I smeared mustard across the soggy bread, three people arrived.

One of them, an attractive woman pulling her own small bag, sat down. With her was a woman, younger, I thought, in a wheelchair. She was accompanied by a tall man with sandy hair and wearing a light blue Aloha shirt, who eased her chair forward so that the women were almost touching knees. The wheelchair was sleek and looked new.

The women bowed their heads in muted conversation, and I found myself leaning back into my chair, trying to give them space they obviously did not need.

They started crying.

The woman beside me had a tissue.

The man lowered a white handkerchief to his companion. He waited a moment before saying, “We should probably get going.”

The women looked up at each other, dabbing tears.

“They said it might improve in a year or so,” said the woman in the wheelchair.

“A year,” said the other, sounding indignant, somehow wounded. She stood and the man gripped the handles. “Thank you,” she said to him gently, and touched his arm. He nodded, turned the wheelchair around, and the couple left. The woman watched them go and began wiping her eyes with both palms.

My flight was called. I stood and without understanding, said to her, “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you,” she said, and hugged me. “Thank you, so much.”

 And then I left, too.

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