Saturday, April 26, 2014

Last Moments (MH370)

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—”
Sorry.
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?


THE END


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.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pee's Ostrich

by Lisa Kwan


Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Ostrich Pee (April)
Deadline: 2nd May 2014



The phone rang while I was on the toilet, and I cursed under my breath. “Can’t a man take a dump in peace?” I muttered, as I hurriedly sprayed some water on my buttocks with the bidet and pulled my shorts up. I considered for a second whether I should wash my hands or get the phone first, but when the phone rang again, I decided on the latter.
“Hello?” I answered, breathless from my short sprint from the toilet to the living room.
“Pee, my boy! How’s my favourite nephew doing?” my uncle’s booming voice reverberated even through the phone. And I hated that nickname (Pee for P). Of course, my actual name—Purushothaman—wasn’t that much better, but...
“You there, Pee? Can you hear me? Pee? PEE?”
I blame my parents.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I sighed.
“Damn this place, lousy reception, can’t even get a decent signal.”
I wondered where my uncle was at that moment. He was a weird one, my uncle. Always had weird tastes, weird hobbies. I never had a clear idea what he did for a living, but he was earning the big bucks. Travelled all over the world—Europe, Asia, Middle East. My mum never really understood him but she cared for him anyway, like an elder sister would. He was always grateful for that; which is probably why he calls me his favourite nephew, although I’m his only one.
“Anyway, I got a present for ya, you’re gonna love it!” His voice literally shivered with excitement. Inwardly, I groaned.
“No, no, Uncle. It’s okay. I’m still....enjoying your last gift. Really.” He had sent me a life-size stone statue of Pope John Paul II from his visit to the Vatican, whose creepy stone-eyed face stares at me in the yard every time I come home. I’d hide it in the basement or give it away to the garbage disposal people, but Uncle Das has a habit of dropping by uninvited and taking offence when his gifts are not “appreciated”; which was why I was forced to accept the Mayan god salt and pepper shakers, now sitting cheekily on my dining table.
Why can’t he just get me generic touristy key chains and fridge magnets?
We bounced back and forth on it for a while before I finally gave in. I didn’t really have a choice anyway, unless I wanted another set of weird salt and pepper shakers to join the Mayan-god ones in addition to...whatever present he had in store for me this time.

***

The crate arrived on a Saturday morning.
The delivery guys seemed almost gleeful to leave the massive box with me as they got into the truck and drove away, leaving me gaping in shock and clutching the sealed envelope my Uncle Das had so kindly left me. What, it comes with instructions now? I thought miserably.
I cautiously walked towards the curious thing, afraid of what was contained within it. Was it another life-size statue? Maybe of Lord Ganesha this time? And that’s when I noticed the holes carved on the box, in three neat rows on each side. I froze.
Was it...alive?
Frantically, I tore open Uncle Das’s letter and read it, my hands trembling slightly.

My boy, my favourite nephew, P,

This is a gift I hope—no, I know—you will love. I got one for myself many years ago and it changed my life. Ozzy is a magnificent creature whom you will come to realize is one you cannot live without. She makes a great companion, and if you treat her well, she will do the same for you. Take care of her.

p.s. Ozzy requires a lot of water, and her urine is very important. Make sure you collect it, and keep it safe.

Love,
Uncle Das

Even after reading the letter over and over again, I had no clue what on earth Uncle Das was talking about, or why he had sent me some live “creature”, magnificent or otherwise. Was this some belated April Fools’ joke? What, Ozzy? And her pee was “very important”? The hell?!
I finally looked up and spied a very large, very black eye peering at me through the breathing holes of the crate. It blinked, showing off long lavish eyelashes.
I didn’t know what to do. But I grabbed some tools from the garage and started prying open the crate door, all the while conscious of the movements Ozzy was making inside, as if she were anxious to be let out of the confined wooden prison.
When it was finally open, and I stepped back to give her some room, Ozzy emerged from the darkness within and stood proudly, at more than a head taller than I. She had strange black star tattoos on each of her eyes that reminded me of KISS’s Gene Simmons. Her neck was long and slender, her feathers almost sleek—a majestic, regal ostrich. She stared at me, batted her eyelashes and cocked her head, as if saying, “So...”
Now I wish Uncle Das had sent me a life-sized Lord Ganesha instead.

*** 

Frustrated, I threw the porcelain statue of a Japanese shinigami that Uncle had given me against the wall, shattering it into pieces. I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain to Uncle Das when he saw it missing from my mantelpiece the next time he came around, but I sure as hell wasn’t in the mood to care. The crash startled Ozzy, who started pacing around in circles in the yard, going as far as her ankle leash would allow her. When she realized the sound was only momentary, she stood up straight, her neck stretched out as high as it could, glared at me, and grunted, as if annoyed.
I ignored her. She can grunt and glare at me all she liked. It’s not like she was helping any.
It has been more than a week, and I’d tried just about everything. And Uncle Das’s sudden radio silence was both suspicious and infuriating. His letter left nothing but Ozzy’s pee as the only clue as to what I was supposed to do. I’d done as he’d asked; I’d fed Ozzy, bathed her, gave her a whole lot of clean water to drink. I’d even speak pleasantly to her, in case that was what was meant to “treat her well”.
And of course, collected her urine.
Large 5-litre mineral water bottles containing the ochre-coloured liquid were arranged haphazardly in a corner of my living room. Various containers and several measuring cups were tossed around the room angrily after countless failed attempts. But they weren’t really failed so much as non-responsive, since I had no idea what I was supposed to achieve in the first place. However, nothing happening whatsoever couldn’t be what my uncle had meant. But with every failure, I wished my Uncle would die a different form of a horrible and gruesome death.
Like an obsessed scientist, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and had even forgone work while ignoring colleagues’ repeated calls and texts, desperately trying to figure out what is so special about Ozzy’s pee. At first, I was all over the place. Randomly dousing items with it, or dipping objects into it without caring about the amount or the manner in which it was done. When I realized I was getting nowhere, I decided to approach the matter at hand with a scientific eye.
I first decided on one method: dousing. The constant variable had to be Ozzy’s urine. The independent variable would constitute the amount of the liquid, which I varied using the different-sized containers, measuring cups and even droppers. Another independent variable would be the object or the material that I would test it on. I’d tried everything: everyday household items like my coffee table, my dining table, my plush sofa (I could cry thinking about getting it cleaned), my wooden chairs, the plastic stools, my car keys, my house keys, my favourite Oakley sunglasses; even paper, newspaper, cardboard, thick cards, recycled paper, envelopes; my clothes, which I tried with different materials too, like silk, leather, cotton, denim, cashmere, even my mother’s lovely batik (she is going to kill me).
I’d also left the liquid in a container on its own, hoping it might transform into...something, somehow. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to do anything to it or with it. Just, leave it be. But the little measuring cup containing it is still sitting by the kitchen sink, already collecting fine dust. Regardless, everything, I carefully and painstakingly documented in my notes.
Of course, I couldn’t rule out ingesting it, or dousing myself with it, could I? A true scientist had to consider all possibilities, and...those were possibilities. I had taken a pail of Ozzy’s pee to the bathroom with me, and shut my eyes and pinched my nose as I scooped it up with a koleh and let it rain “golden showers” over me. I kept repeating, “In the name of science, in the name of science,” but it comforted me none, because Nothing Happened.
Then, the last straw was when I had finally raised a full mug to my lips and drained it, after one sip and several sips of the liquid had achieved nothing. I spent the next couple of hours camped out by the toilet, throwing up. Each time I began to feel a little better, I’d only need to remember what I had just done to start gagging and dry heaving again.
What the hell am I doing? I’m drinking and bathing in ostrich pee, acting like a crazy, mad scientist, about to lose my job...and for what? For what?! I have achieved nothing but urea-scented belongings and a sick stomach. For all I know, Uncle Das was mad or senile when he sent me this ostrich, telling me her pee was “very important”. For all I know, Uncle Das might be rolling with laughter, somewhere, from the brilliant prank he’d played on his gullible nephew.
I give up.
My eyes began to tear up from the fatigue and the throbbing in my head was beginning to sound like African tribal drums. I collapsed onto my once-plush now urea-scented sofa, accidentally knocking over a measuring cup with Ozzy’s pee on the coffee table in front of me. I had no energy left but to stare as the dark liquid pooled on the table, soaking my research notes, and enveloping my favourite cork coasters. From the yard, I could hear Ozzy’s deep booming sounds as she called to me to refill her feed trough. But I just couldn’t care less anymore. I just couldn’t... My eyes fluttered shut and I welcomed the blackness.

***

Who left the blinds up? I remember thinking before I struggled to open my eyes. The light was like a stab to my eyes, they hurt so much. I tried to sit up, but my entire body felt like it was on fire. Days of little food, drink and rest had finally taken its toll. It was a feat even to lift my hands to my eyes to rub them. But when I did, and I blinked my eyes open, that blinding glare hit me once more. I groaned.
But the source of the light was not the furious sun, shining in through the clear windows opposite me as I’d assumed, because I could see that it was now pitch black outside, probably hours since I’d collapsed on the sofa. What was really shining, without a doubt, on my coffee table...were my cork coasters.
Wait. What? Cork coasters?
I shot up like I’d sat on something scalding hot, and grabbed my coasters. True enough, they were shining the colour of a delicious, mesmerizing...gold.
Gold.
I gasped.
I took the coasters in my hand and, tentatively, as I’d always seen in the movies or as athletes did with their medals, bit the corner of it.
I stared down in amazement at the marks my teeth had left behind on the surface of my coasters. There was no base metal underneath, and it was too soft to be an alloy. So it had to be...
Pure gold.
Coasters made of pure gold.
I gently laid my precious gold coasters down on the coffee table to rub my hands with glee. Gold. GOLD! So this was the secret to Ozzy’s pee! But why, how...? Cork. It was cork. The mysterious secret ingredient had to be cork! Soaked in Ozzy’s pee, cork coasters would turn into gold coasters. Therefore, in theory, blocks of cork would turn into...
My mind’s gears began to churn and grind, projecting the endless possibilities. Poor Ozzy started grunting again, famished. She even started pecking at innocent John Paul II’s head, who could do nothing to defend himself. Feeling lightheaded, I walked over to her and slowly stroked her long, slender neck, soothing her.
I’m rich, I thought.
I’m. Rich.
I’M. STINKING. RICH.
I smiled like a Cheshire Cat, as I cooed to Ozzy. She stared down at me with her tattooed eyes, batted her eyelashes and cocked her head, as if saying, “So...”



THE END

© COPYRIGHT OF LISA KWAN 2014