Monday, 24 November 2014

Short Story: Thoughts of the End

by Nina Luckmann

- Everybody's having trouble breathing, some people are worse . . . than others. -Anybody's unconscious, everybody's awake? - So far yes, but it's . . . - Listen, listen, everybody's awake? - Yes, so far.

***

I was very young when my father told me of them. He told me of the people of the far lands who spoke strange languages, ate strange foods, acted in strange ways. He told me they had little respect for important things, that they shunned those who were different. He said that they had attacked innocent people and dragged them into a war they did not want to be part of. He told me they had taken my uncle and sister, and that they could not return to us. He told me that they were monsters. As the years passed, and I grew from a boy to a man, this belief became instilled in me. I do not question my parents; I love them, respect them, as any child would. These people are bad: they hurt us. They hurt our honour. They disrespect our traditions. We, too, are people. We, too, deserve to live our life as we want to live it, but they don't understand. They understand nothing. 

***

5.26 am
It had been an early start after a sleepless night, but I was used to that. As a child I had often been roused early to see the sunrise, to see the shades of coral and peach streak the sky. My mother loved that very much; she said it reminded her of peace. Together we would sing the world out of its sleep, sing our love to our God and to our family. She told me this was very important, that I must never forget to show my love, that love for \God and for my family was the most valuable thing that I had. I keep that in mind as I look out of the window and see the sun rise over the skyline. I love God; I love my family.

6.02 am
Time is barely passing as I sit and wait, and I feel as though I am back home, impatiently watching the rye grow in the fields when we were children. We played in those fields, hiding between the grain with our sisters and brothers, waiting until someone found us. We screamed and giggled as we chased each other through rows and rows of the rye. The adults did not like us to play there, though we do not know why, and would shout and spank us if we were found. Come autumn, and the adults would cut the playthings down, leaving us with cropped, stubbly ground that we could not play with. We had to wait through the bitter winter and into spring for our playground to return. I miss the fields. They do not have many here, in the city. I wonder how children play here, until I realise I do not care.

***

- Are they going to be able to get someone up here? There's no one here yet and the floor's completely engulfed. We're on the floor and we can't breathe. And it's very, very, very hot. 

***

6.46 am

I sit in the waiting room, drumming my nails on my leg. Looking around, I see people hurrying by on either side, throwing me fleeting gazes before pressing on. When I came here, I was surprised at the looks that were thrown at me from strangers, and often quite offended. They would range from glances of presumptuous curiosity at the beard that I did not wish to strip myself of, to hostile fixations across the street, to mothers urging their children on in an attempt to deny them my existences. Are they aware that they stare? Aware of their rudeness?

I am more accustomed to it now. I still feel myself being studied by by-passes, but I think little of it. Instead it helps me understand why I am here. These people are not as kind as they think they are, they are not accepting as they claim to be. Even now, as I sit and wait, I feel the gazes on my back and feel their judgement shadowing me. They do not understand their mistakes. But they will.


7.24 am
"Why have we not yet boarded?"
"There's a problem with the plane, sir, there will be a delay. It is only a short one, though, I assure you."
"How long is the delay?"
"Only around 15 minutes, sir. We are about to get you on board and then you will depart. I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause."
"Why you must always be late?"
"I'm very sorry, sir. There's nothing I can do. You will board shortly."

7.36 am
When my father first took me with him, I was afraid of the men with the serious faces. They did not tolerate mistakes, and accepted only perfection. Errors, no matter how small, were punished mercilessly and in my youth, until I learnt better, I was often whipped and beaten by strangers and relatives alike. I was told that a lot was expected of me, that I had been specially chosen by the highest of the leaders. I was told that mistakes were intolerable and that God looks harshly on those who fail him; this life is mere preparation - I must endure now to reach my salvation in heaven. I was only a 12-year old boy, but it was expected of me to grow up quickly and to do this I had to mature emotionally and mentally. I was not allowed to be educated with the other boys of my age because they said I needed to be especially clever to be successful over here. Every day, I would have special lessons with three other boys in English and Religion, Science and History. My teacher, a stern man of 50, would report our progress back to the men with serious faces and tell them of how "ready" he considered us to be. Nine years later, they then sent us over here to adapt to the new culture and to learn the new ways. That was a year ago. Now, sitting at the airport, I think back to whether it was worth it all. The hours of hard work, the sleepless nights spent memorising vocabulary, the tears that were shed. Of course, it does not really matter, I had no choice, and I find comfort in the fact that I am not alone. But, as I watch plane after plane ascend into the sky, I wonder what my life would have been like if another had been chosen in my place.

***

- Please, God . . . - You're doing a good job, ma'am. - No, it's so hot, I'm burning up.

***

8.01 am 
We are up now, soaring like the Steppe Eagles we admired at home. The people that sit around me are going about their everyday life: a child's wails washing over me from behind, another man's angry voice echoing from in front. This life has often confused me, the priorities that people appear to have. Why do they rely so much on things that are not important? It is strange to me. They suspect nothing, appear fully oblivious to their surroundings. 

8.07 am
I am so nervous. Again and again, I look around me for my comrades' sign to begin. When will we start? I am sweating, though it is not hot; I am shaking, though it is not cold. I see them looking around as I am, but they appear calm and collected. Their fingers are not drumming on their legs, nor is sweat breaking on their foreheads. I must calm myself - must not give myself away. Must not give us any of us away. Too much depends on it . . . but it is difficult. God, it is so difficult. 

8.17 am
We had met a little more resistance than we expected. As we stood, a man, the man with the angry voice, had tried to stop us, had demanded to know what was going on. We tried to calm him and asked him to return to his seat so as not to be the cause of disturbance, but he did not listen. We had warned him. Now his red flecks my shirt. But it is alright: the cause is just. My comrades tell me that the other two have secured the cockpit and that everything is going to plan. That is reassuring, but still my nerves are on edge. Sweat has begun to blacken my armpits. As I look around, I see the faces of the people and see their mixed emotions of worry to terror to anger. One could argue that they look pitiful, do not deserve this . . . but no. I have worked up to this. They took my loved ones, and so I will take theirs. It must be done.

8.20 am
"Okay, my name is Betty Ong. I'm attendant number 3 on Flight 11. Our Number 1 got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who and we can't even get up to business class right now because nobody can breathe - someone sprayed Mace. And we can't get to the cockpit, the door won't open."

8.34 am
Everything is going according to plan. A few passengers still resist, but Mohamed asked the passengers to remain quiet and in their seats, and told them we would be returning to the airport soon, and they seem to realise that resistance is futile. I look at them as I walk up and down the aisle, remember who the real enemy is. I could almost laugh at their poignancy, were not my own situation similar to theirs. By now, we are on course to our end point, with only roughly 20 minutes until we ought to arrive. I try to remember my family as we fly, remember my brothers and sisters, and hope I find comfort through them. Soon I will return to them and God will look favourably on me for performing His noble work. I wonder, will I sit beside Him?

8.43 am
I was told that when we are this close, we must pray. I pray now: pray for the happiness of my people, pray for justice to those who have endured injustice, pray for myself. I pray that it will be fast. I am not a coward, hell my whole life has built up to this moment. But nervous I am, yes, and I feel that I am entitled to. I am not the only one: I see my comrades looking as pale as I, with perspiration beading on their hairlines too. That comforts me, as we are all in this together. As I kneel on the floor and close my eyes, pressing my forehead to the ground, I breathe deeply and think of how these will be the last breaths I take in this life. I must cherish them. We will arrive at the towers in only a few minutes, and then it will be over. How will this day be remembered in ten years, fifty years, one hundred years? To our people, we will be martyrs, I was told, as this day marks the beginning of the change. Maybe the people of America will see us as villains, criminals, worthy of burning in hell for eternity. There is no saying. Now I must clear my mind, think of what is important. I love God; I love my family.

8.46 am
"Something is wrong. We are in rapid descent . . . we are all over the place."
"Amy, describe what you see out of the window."
"I see water. I see buildings. I see buildings! We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low. Oh my God we are flying way too low. Oh my God -"

***

- I'm gonna die, aren't I? - No, no, no, no, no, no . . . - I'm gonna die. - Ma'am, Ma'am, say your prayers. - I'm gonna die.  



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