by Lisa Kwan
I’ll probably die. We’ll all probably die, never to get out of this alive.
The sounds on the aircraft are deafening. I can hear screams, wailing, babies crying, prayers muttered in languages I don’t know, to deities and gods I have never known. A man is yelling at a distraught flight stewardess, arguing about something completely meaningless at this point. The plane is tilted somewhat downwards now; I make an effort to keep my back against the upright seat. I tighten my seatbelt, and then unintentionally allow a chuckle to escape my lips from the absurdity of it all. The plane is about to go down, and I tighten my seatbelt? How helpful.
I turn to her, sitting beside me, sobbing hysterically; squeezing my hand so tight it is practically white. I turn to her, but I can only stare helplessly. What do you say, in such circumstances? What do you say, when you know there’s not going to be a tomorrow?
I stroke her hand, and she hiccups, tired out. I follow the outlines of her tear-streaked face with my eyes, doubting that I will ever see it again, after all this. I memorize every line, every crease, every freckle, every precious mole on her face that she hated.
I hear her laugh in my head, when we shared a joke after class together, uninhibited. I see her throwing a book right at me, frustrated, upset. I can almost feel her tears seep into my shirt, as she pulled me closer, in despair. She treats me like a brother, invites me on this trip with her family. But.
I love her, I think. I always have.
Regret hits me like a blow to the stomach, and I wince. Why did I never tell her how I felt? Why did I smile and nod when she called me Best Friend? Why did I keep silent while my heart cried out?
Now she turns to me, her eyes red and hopeful. It breaks my heart. “Tell me it’s going to be okay. Tell me we’re going to make it,” she pleads, her smooth alto breaking.
I am a dreamer. We were dreamers together. But I couldn’t be a dreamer now. There was no way. Absolutely no way. This was the end. The pilot had already said so, just minutes earlier. I was, in my own way, slowly accepting the harsh truth.
But what did it matter now?
She needed me to be.
And I am whoever she needs me to be.
I hold her face in my hands, rub my thumb over her cheek. Stared into her eyes, so she knows I mean it. “We’re going to make it,” I say. I lean in, and I go for it.
I’m going to sue. I’m going to sue them all!
My hands grip the tops of the seats on both my sides securely, afraid of losing my balance. The stewardess girl merely blinked at me, looking apologetic, raising her hands in front of her, as if a shield.
I didn’t care. I yelled at her some more, “What the hell is happening? I demand to know everything! We have a right to know!” I flung my arm out towards her, hoping to intimidate her into revealing all.
She flinched. “Please, sir. Stay calm. Remain in your seat. Take a—”
“Tell me whose fault this is? Who is to blame? I’m going to sue them! I’m going to make damn sure the people responsible are going to pay for this! You’re going to be sorry, I tell you. You’re—”
I felt a tap on my shoulder. My colleagues were all looking at me with their sorry-a** faces, like they were giving up, resigned to their fate. This fate.
I violently shook my colleague’s hand off. “Don’t touch me,” I growled.
He placed his hand on my shoulder again, firmly. “Just stop. Stop it,” he whispered. I faced the stewardess girl again, rared and ready, but she was now crumpled on the floor of the aisle, in tears.
“Please,” he squeezed my arm, ever so slightly.
My shoulders sank and my head suddenly felt heavy, all the fight gone out of me like the air out of a balloon. He’s right. What’s the point?
I held my head in my hands as I collapsed on the armrest of my aisle seat. I abruptly remembered how I had paid extra to select this particular seat on the plane. Over my numerous business trips, I had developed a preference for aisle seats. I liked being able to look all the way up or down the empty aisle, just by leaning a little over. Observe the flight attendants chatting at the end of it, notice the expensive branded shoes that were jutting out and wonder about the kind of person who owned them. A useless hobby, really.
I glanced at my colleague beside me, staring hopelessly at his phone. I knew they’d all been trying, but to no avail. There just wasn’t a signal. I hesitated, then took my phone out from my shirt pocket. The screen lit up at my touch, and the faces of my wife and 2-month old son gazed back at me; the former, smiling widely, the latter, scrunched up, as if he had tasted something sour.
These first couple of months with the baby had been awkward. I didn’t know what to do, most of the time. Of course Mum and Mother were both there, doting over their first grandchild. So I would slyly slink away when everyone was busy. But when the wife eventually caught me, she had forced me to hold him.
I remembered thinking how small he was, this little bundle I cradled against my chest. I traced his tiny nose with my finger and, to my surprise, he had grabbed my pinky. With his tiny hands, his tiny fingers, I could feel him saying, Daddy, I’m here.
I remembered being overwhelmed by this sense of excitement, at that moment. From this moment on, I would get to hear this tiny creature’s first words, see his first steps. I would get to watch him grow up, become a man. I would get to know him, my own flesh and blood, my son.
Two months. I only had two months. Not nearly enough time. Not at all.
The screen turned black, and I slowly closed my eyes, let the tears fall. Resigned.
Daddy is so sorry.
Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm. Take a deep breath. Like they taught us. That’s it.
I stumbled along the aisle, attending to as many panic-stricken passengers as I could. “Stay calm,” I kept calling out, to no one in particular. Because no one seemed to be listening. Nobody cared anymore.
I had just stopped the young woman in 23B from attempting to strangle herself with a brightly-coloured silk scarf. A stout middle-aged man had to help me hold her down because she had become aggressive. I touched my right cheek lightly and it stung where she had scratched me. I could already feel the swelling, a minute throbbing. I must look like shit, I thought. If she had made more permanent damage, I’d have clawed that bitch’s face off!
I wondered absentmindedly if my husband would notice the scratch.
Actually, it still feels awkward referring to him as my husband. We were newlyweds, had had a lovely ceremony just three months ago. Though we were only recently man and wife, we’d been dating for years before that, almost a lifetime. At our wedding, he told me I didn’t look as fat in my dress as at the last wedding we had gone to together, which was his brother’s a couple of years before. And I told him that I’d be glad to pay for his funeral immediately after our wedding. He quipped that our ‘til death do us part’ was truly brief indeed. Why did I marry such an idiot, I thought, smiling, then wondered where my tears had come from.
I spied an elderly woman, still carefully seated in her seat in 36E amidst all the chaos, crying silently into her shawl and, instinctively, I pulled a tissue out from the pocket of my uniform blouse and tentatively handed it to her. She didn’t even look up, but nodded her thanks. I had not even taken two steps before I was shoved, hard, and almost fell backwards.
“You! You must know something! What did that good-for-nothing pilot say? What did he tell you?!” A man, eyes red and blazing, stood towering over me as I shrank back. Afraid of yet another physical confrontation, this time with a strong, angry man, I put my hands up, between us.
“What the hell is happening? I demand to know everything! We have a right to know!” He was raving now, flinging his arm a little too crazily. Stay calm, take a deep breath.
“Please, sir. Stay calm. Remain in your seat. Take a—”
“Tell me whose fault this is?” He cut me off, stepping forward again. Desperately, I looked to some of the other passengers who were looking on for help.
“You’re going to be sorry, I tell you. You’re—”
I didn’t hear what happened next. All I heard, as I slid to the floor, was the captain’s hoarse voice, almost a whisper, as he spoke to me and the rest of the flight crew in the cockpit, before the situation had become bad.
I’m so sorry.
I doubt we understood the technical jargon he was explaining to us, what was really wrong with the plane. But all of us solemnly nodded anyway, as if we did. No one had any questions, because the captain’s face said it all: there was nothing we could do. Except to stay calm, he said. Keep the passengers calm. And that became our final, ultimate mission.
I let the tears I’d been holding back flow.
I love you, my husband had blown me a kiss as he dropped me off at the airport. I had playfully pouted, pretending to sulk over something I cannot even remember now.
I’m glad I had you.
Why me? Why me, God? This is so unfair!
When we received the news over the intercom, when they couldn’t hide it from us any longer, panic broke out, to say the least. People started getting up, crying, searching for friends, family on the plane.
Me? I was furious. Furious at how unfair life is, how unfair God is. I will be 79 years old this May, and I have never been to a doctor. Never had a single health problem all my life, not even a cavity. Friends are dropping like flies around me: cancer, heart attacks. Not me. People were both shocked and envious of me, saying I was as healthy as a horse.
When I was younger, I was poor as dirt but stubborn as hell. I made it to the top, but not without spilling blood, sweat and tears. I had thousands of employees under me, and I knew I had to be ruthless and cold if I wanted to protect everything I had accomplished, everything I had earned. I became one of the youngest, most successful female presidents in the country, and managed to retire at forty. And with the money I’d saved, and the money still coming in, I was set for life. I travelled the world, saw the sights, experienced a whole lot of experiences that I’m sure only a handful could say they have. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I felt like it.
But to die helplessly on a cursed plane? It’s injustice, that’s what it is!
I still had so many things I wanted to do! I’m not done living. I’m not done. It’s not time.
Out of the corner of my eye, a young couple to my far right was kissing. It was amusing, really, because I could see the boy’s hand trembling slightly, and the girl was hiccupping in between kisses, making him smile through his kisses.
I looked away, feeling embarrassed all of a sudden, as if I was the one intruding on their private moment, when it was their PDA intruding on mine. I tried to scoff and be annoyed, but I looked down into my lap, clasped my hands together. Tried to hold back the tears that were assaulting my eyes.
What is this feeling? Regret?
I was successful. And my success had meant I had to step on many to get to where I am. I imagined vague faces of friends, lovers, who had come and gone, because I had pushed them away, no, driven them away. I had no need for them, neither did I need a family. The very idea that a woman’s lot in life was to get married and raise a family was abhorrent to me. Ridiculous. Would I have the success I had now if I had people holding me back, if I were taking care of an egotistical male and a screaming baby? Definitely not!
Yet, I couldn’t hold them back anymore, the tears. I lifted my shawl to my face and clenched my teeth together, absolutely refusing to allow a single noise that sounded like a sob out.
A female flight attendant walked by me, paused, and swiftly passed me a piece of tissue. I was so embarrassed that I could not look up, though I was grateful. My shawl wasn’t very water-absorbent. As I hurriedly wiped my running nose, I almost jumped out of my skin when a man started yelling. The poor girl had been fiercely pushed, and she looked shocked more than anything else.
I turned away, trying to stay out of business that wasn’t mine. But it was hard not to overhear when the man was shouting like that. Nevertheless, I identified with his anger, his frustration, his wanting someone to blame; and because I did, I knew, deep down, the hopelessness, the despair, the loneliness.
The girl begged him to calm down, but he continued shouting, flinging his arm about like a lunatic. I silently watched the girl crumple to the floor, sobbing. And I silently watched the man eventually quiet down, take out his phone, stare at it with such pain in his eyes.
This time, I forced myself to turn away for real. It really was too painful to watch.
I wonder how they felt at this moment, with impending death looming before us like the vast cold black Indian ocean. Anger? Regret? Sorrow? Love? They probably had family and loved ones who were waiting for them back home, who would now wait in vain.
The sudden realization hit me, stronger than ever before in my entire life, raw, and this time, undeniable. I am alone.
As the aircraft shook even more violently, signalling imminent impact, my last thought was:
Would anyone miss me?
In memory of the 239 passengers and crew on flight MH370 departing from KL and bound for Beijing, China that is thought to have disappeared over the Indian Ocean on the 8th of March, 2014. Investigations concluded that there were no survivors; debris and crash site are yet to be found. Without the black box, there is no way of telling what happened during the last moments on the plane. This is merely what the author imagines. Hearts grieve for those lost on MH370. You will be missed.
DISCLAIMER: Characters in the story are fictitious, but were inspired by real people based on passenger profiles released in the media.