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The stench of cigar smoke hits me as I open the door. I hold my breath and hurry over to the second door, into the warm airport. The quiet hum of voices is disrupted by the annunciation of several flights, including mine. I pick up my luggage and leave for the required gate.
There is already a small line in front of the gate. The baggage is controlled and checked. The detector reacts at something- paint, probably- and my baggage is taken to an additional control.
My baggage is soon checked and approved. The security mentions some technical difficulty with the scanners. I snort. The passport control runs as usual.
The waiting room is half-empty. I find a vacant row of seats and sit down. An older man appears to sit over the narrow passageway.
“Yes, I speak Russian.”
(Translated from Russian) “Is this yours?” He holds out my sketchbook.
“Oh, yes! Thank you!”
“Try to not forget things at the security next time!” He laughs. I smile, too.
“Are you travelling with this route for the first time?” the man asks.
“Yes, I am.”
“Oh. You know that the plane is, like, twenty years old?”
“Oh, really? How can you say?”
“I’ve got family there, you see, so I’ve been taking this route back and forward for almost thirteen years. It’s still the same plane, and it was not new thirteen years ago, either.”
“Why is it allowed to fly?”
“It is of a very reliable construction.”
A voice announces boarding on the plane. The passengers press toward the gate exit. I hand the ticket and the passport over to the controller. She smiles at me.
“Here you are. Happy New Year!”
“Happy New Year,” I respond.
I go out into the chilly morning (-20 C) and enter the even colder bus. The bus is soon loaded. It drives us to the plane, which is a shaky two-minute ride.
The plane itself isn’t big, but looks quite old and reliable. Has this thing really flied over twenty years? Gross. I walk up the slippery gangway and enter the plane.
The light inside is dim and yellowish. A narrow passageway divides around forty rows of double seats (not triple as in modern planes). One could certainly see that this was a plane of the past decade: simple shelves for hand luggage, metallic squares with seat numbers, round windows with exposed insulation and plain fabric curtains. I find my seat (which is in the back) and continue to work with my sketch. I’m working with a new technique; it’s interesting, but I experience some difficulties with it. I am soon disrupted by the loudspeaker (or rather several symmetric holes in the wall), which begin to produce a creaky, hoarse voice that I’m barely able to understand. A flight attendant demonstrates the safety instructions. The turbines start. I almost jump out of the window (or, at the very least, regret that I ever entered this plane). They sound like three dying Boeings! The creaky voice almost disappears in the roar. God, please, let this end well! This plane sounds like it will crash down immediately! After several minutes of this non-stop roar, the plane finally moves. I start sketching again. The plane is quite unstable during take-off, probably due to the snowy weather. The lights soon turn on, and the creaky loudspeaker announces that you now could use electrical gadgets.
The flight goes well. The tables are vibrating due to the turbines (I learnt so when my cup fell from the shaking table). It still unnerves me, but everyone else seem to be very calm about this. I guess it’s just me and my dislike and distrust for planes. The horrible food that we are served doesn’t really lift my spirits, either.
We are now more than halfway through the flight. The plane suddenly loses height, causing a sinking feeling in my stomach. I grab the ledges of my seat. This repeats several times, before the loudspeaker announces:
(Translating from Russian) “Ladies and Gentlemen. We have entered a turbulence zone. Please remain seated. Fasten your seat belts and close your tables. Thank you.”
I loosen my grip on the ledges, but grasp them again under another “sinking”. The man next to me smiles at my reaction. He’s quite old, but has a warm, kind face.
(Translating from Russian) “Is this your first time travelling here, boy?” he asks.
“You seem quite unnerved. Are you afraid of planes?”
“Not really, but this…”
He laughs. “I see. You live in Europe, don’t you? Are you an artist?”
“Yes, that’s right. I live in Europe.”
“You speak Russian quite well.”
“My parents are Russian.”
And so went the conversation. He turns out to be from a more southern part of Russia, and travelling to visit his grandson. He inquires about my works, my country and my family.
The plane suddenly jolts. Several empty seats collapse on each other. The jolts repeat several times. Some people cry out. The creaky loudspeaker wakes to life again.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. This is the captain speaking. Our plane is experiencing technical difficulties. Please remain in your seats with your belts on. (…) Do not panic. As soon as the situation gets clearer, follow the flight attendances’ instructions. Thank you.”
Even though the captain assured us that the plane would not crash, many passengers (including me) are scared. Another sudden jerk makes more people scream in horror.
I hear a sudden, loud ‘snap’ and let out a startled cry. I cannot breathe properly. It feels like the air has thinned out in the plane. I want to get out of here… Get out … Even if it means to jump out of the plane.
I feel prickling in my hand, and soon discover the source of the snapping noise. It is my pencil, which I broke due to clenching my hands too hard. I laugh nervously. You need to concentrate, not panic. You want to survive this. Calm down. Think clearly. Do not let fear overpower you, I think. My breath steadies. I look at the old man beside me.
He seems quite calm.
(Translated from Russian) “S-sorry, are you okay?” I say in an unsteady voice. His eyes move to my direction. He opens his mouth, and says… nothing. His jaw hangs open, and his eyes grow big.
“What’s wrong?” I shout out. The old man does not react and continues to stare at me with big eyes. My hands begin to shake. Is there something unusual behind me? I look at the window. Outside, the skies are peaceful and blue.
I turn back to the man again. He haven’t moved at all.
“Hello?” I say. I wave my hand in front of him. No reaction. I grab his hand, which turns out to be as cold as ice. There is no pulse.
I screamed. Pushed the small, black button on the wall. Pressed it several times.
“A man got a stroke here! No pulse!” I shouted. Repeated it in Russian. My usually cold hands were sticky with sweat. Some people let out small cries. Others already ripped their seat belts off. The flight attendant ran to our seat. Another one ordered the passengers back to their places.
The attendants brought out the shocker. I helped them to move the lifeless body into the front part of the plane. They ordered my back to my place.
I sink into my seat. My whole body trembles. I feel cold and warm at the same time. Flushed. Yes, that is the right word. I put my jacket on. His eyes… I cannot get them out of my head.
(Translated from Russian) “Hey lad, you okay?”
I turn my head to the voice. It belongs to the man over the passageway.
“Is there something we can do?” asks a woman behind him.
“No, I’m okay,” I whisper.
“Sorry, what? Can’t hear you over the turbines!”
“NO, I’M OKAY,” I shout over the roar. The man nods. The woman still looks at me. Just like the old man... I turn away quickly. I look back at her some minutes later, just to assure myself that she’s still alive. The woman is looking out of the window. I lean my head towards the front seat.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. We are now in an extreme situation…” Oh, not those speakers again! I bury my face in my hands.
“…Please intake the safety position demonstrated in the safety instruction. Remove all items…” I follow the given instructions.
“Remain in this position.”
The voice is finally gone. The plane is quiet; only sudden jerks make the passengers scream and sob. A child is crying somewhere in the front seats.
There are children on this plane. Are we-they- all doomed to death? A tiny voice suddenly exclaims:
(Translated from Russian) “Mommy, mommy!”
“Shh, dear.” *sobs*
I see a little girl several rows away. She is sitting on her mom’s lap, who has wrapped her daughter in her arms. It is obvious that the parent wishes to protect her child- even if it would cost her her own life.
“Mommy, what’s happening?” The woman starts crying.
“Nothing, dear. We will soon land. It is a little bit uncomfortable. But you’re a good girl, right? So don’t be afraid.”
Tears run down my cheeks. I wish to unlearn all the languages that I have ever learnt. It’s just too painful to listen to and understand this little girl’s and her mother’s dialogue.
“Daddy’s up front.” Another jerk makes her cling her child even closer to herself.
“Mommy, I’m afraid!” the girl cries out. The plane jolts again.
“MOMMY!” the girl shouts.
The plane begins to shake violently. People scream.
“The turbines died!” someone exclaims. A mass panic breaks out.
The little girl screams, too. She tries to free herself from her mother’s grip. What are you doing, stupid? I think. The sinking stomach feeling is there again. It becomes stronger and stronger. Black spots appear in my eyes. The world becomes a mix of tears and chaos.
I think I scream, too.
I’m stunned. I’m shocked. I cannot move.
Are my eyes open or closed? I can’t see any difference.
Oh, there are some contours.
Is there anything left of me? Because I cannot feel anything.
Where am I? Who am I? My head hurts. Everything hurts. It didn’t hurt earlier…
Oh, right. THE PLANE. I’m still in the seat.
Rubble has trapped my hand. I cannot move it.
I am drifting in and out of consciousness. What time is it? It’s cold.
There is some light now. I’m still in the plane. Can I move? Not really. Is anyone else alive? I can’t ask, but I cannot detect any movements.
Oh, there’s the little girl. Hello. Why don’t you answer?
Why is your face upside down?
WHY IS THERE ONLY ONE HALF OF YOUR FACE?
Oh, there is light now. Wait, why is that part of the wreck gone? No, don’t do it! I see her head clearly now. No, don’t put the seat there! Not on her! No, no….
The girl’s remaining eye pops. It’s like a soap bubble. Popp.
White liquid runs down the seat.
I am still running on medications. I’m scarred for life- and not only physically.
Even though my mind has long forgotten the face, my accursed hand still remembers every detail of it. I often find it sketching the out face of the little girl- dusty, lacking eyes and with a bloody mess of a head.
Written by Atonal Anthem