The young woman sits alone, oblivious to the milling crowd around her. At her feet is a cabin bag. Articles of clothing protrude from its various compartments. Evidence of packing and a departure made in haste.

Enormous eyes in a pale face accentuated by smudged mascara caused no doubt by the tears that continue to run freely down her cheeks.

In her hand, she clutches a mobile phone, her fingers working furiously at the keys. A young woman in obvious distress. I take the vacant chair beside her, open my novel and begin to read – at least effect to do so.

It’s not until after some moments that I become aware, an elderly gentleman, seated opposite is gesturing to me. It seems my book is upside down. I quickly correct the oversight and nod my thanks. He grins and winks knowingly, alert to my intentions.

Clearly, he too is also a passionate observer of people and their foibles.

The young woman continues to punch viciously at the keys of her phone, at the same time impatiently wiping the tears from her eyes. Mascara is now in streaks across her face, giving it a rather alarming resemblance to Heath Ledger in his portrayal of the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight”.  Small children begin to stare unabashedly, while their parents urge them forward and away from the potential embarrassment.

She mutters under breath and stops texting. Some moments pass and then the tell-tale “beep” indicating a response to her message. I’m compelled to abandon the pretense of reading and watch openly for her reaction. Tear-filled eyes lock with mine: not good news I fear.

“She has taken him from me.” she finally cries.

Her pain is palpable. Does she expect me to respond? Do good manners dictate I ignore her comment and pretend deafness or is that too cowardly?

I suddenly feel an overwhelming sympathy for her. Who hasn’t at one point experienced the awful realization of unrequited love and the associated heartache.

Before I can offer feeble solace the final call for Virgin Flight DJ932 to Sydney is announced, effectively breaking the tension of the moment and our eye contact. She reaches for her handbag, consults a small compact mirror for damage done to her maquillage, hastily wipes away streaked mascara, powders her nose and reapplies lipstick.

That done, she gathers her belongings, turns to me and says : “So sorry for the outburst.”

“That’s ok. Problems?” I enquire soothingly.

“I’m very upset with my scheming sister. She stolen my Benjy!”

“Oh I see. It’s very upsetting to lose your boyfriend.”

“My boyfriend?. I don’t have one to lose,” she says dismissively, slinging her hand bag over her shoulder.

“No Benjy is my cat and it’s so typically of my sister to pinch him off Mum. I’ve only just left him with her, but my sister couldn’t wait to get her hands on him.  I haven’t even left Cairns yet!”

“Oh … So unfair. Not to mention premature,” I managed to say in neutral accents, careful not  to betray my sense of the absurd by laughter.

With that she is gone: swallowed up by the crowd gathering at gate 2. I hear a chuckle from across the aisle. The elderly gentleman has witnessed the entire exchange and obviously derived immense pleasure from it.

I return to my novel with studied dignity, ensuring this time it is the right way up. I consciously avoid his twinkling eyes for I suspect he’s not laughing with me but more likely at me.

I’m sure it is not so much the woman’s parting comments but more my surrender to vulgar curiosity that’s excited his sense of hilarity.

It suddenly occurs to me, the observer has become the observed.

I do wish they would call my flight. Some people are so intrusive!