by Joshua Perrett
Lacey heard the commotion behind her as she queued at the boarding gate. Five men wearing navy blue uniforms, tinted aviators and military ribbons were forcing people aside as they made their way to the front desk. They showed the airline attendant their IDs, then walked down the jet bridge to the plane.
The attendant apologised to the passengers for the officials’ rudeness as they handed over their passports and boarding passes. Lacey handed over hers.
“I’ve let my hair grow since then,” Lacey said, not wanting to cause the attendant more grief about the officials.
“That’s quite all right, madam,” replied the attendant. “I apologise for the disruption.”
Lacey thanked her, then walked through the door to the jet bridge. She could see the plane through the windows. Its silver paint gleamed in the sun and a belt of red, white and blue wrapped around its belly.
Two attendants welcomed Lacey onto the plane. The first warned her of the low door frame and the second checked her boarding pass and pointed to her seat. She walked down the near aisle. There were columns of two seats beside the fuselage, and a column of three in the centre of the plane, forming rows of seven divided by two aisles. She saw the officials sat across the final row. Lacey had an aisle seat over the left wing. A woman with a white cropped bob and pastel pink lipstick was sat in the adjoining window seat.
“Hi,” Lacey said.
“Hey,” replied the woman with a smile.
“Aw, that’s a nice name. I’m Sue.”
“Are you going on holiday in Angel Port or…?”
“I’m visiting my son Michael and my granddaughter Angie. It’s her high-school graduation next week.”
“Very nice. How come they live so far away?”
“A job there was open. They offered Michael a higher salary and there are good local schools for Angie.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a section manager at Spedan’s.”
“Really? I used to be one, too.”
“Well, hopefully you won’t lecture me on stock rotation like he used to.”
“Oh no, I’ll save you the suffering until you see him,” Lacey said as they chuckled.
Everyone had boarded the plane. The captain welcomed the passengers and introduced the safety briefing. While the plane taxied, the attendants demonstrated the life jackets and pointed to the nearest exists while a recording was played. The child in front was crashing his toy plane into his hands while making sound effects. His mother prised it away from him, telling him to listen to the lady in the rubber-ducky jacket. He started to cry.
The plane stopped at the end of the runway and the attendants sat down. The engines buzzed like a swarm of bees as it began to move. Then the buzzing spread to the fuselage, growing louder as the plane picked up speed, and air rushed through the jet engines, the plane riding between the sounds of avalanches. As the nose lifted, the plane rose through the clouds until the runway, fields and roads were replaced by a carpet of white.
The mother in front of Lacey called over an attendant. She asked if she could buy some sweets to make her son happy, and if there was any duty free as a gift for her husband.
Sue offered Lacey a boiled sweet. “So what’s your current job?” she asked.
“I’m a travel journalist,” Lacey replied.
“I’m writing a piece on Angel Port while the September Boat Festival’s on.”
“Great. You should check out Mamma Monica’s on North Alameda. They do amazing sandwiches.”
“I’ll pop in there then.”
“Definitely. Try the beef dip,” said Sue as she took a book out of her handbag.
Lacey unclipped the table from the seat in front and opened her notepad. She wrote a list of bullet points describing the airport, the plane’s exterior and the way it shook during take-off – things she could mention in her travel article.
A passenger sat in the row to Lacey’s right returned from the toilet. Before he sat down, he furrowed his brow at what he saw at the back of the plane. He started talking to his wife.
“Remember the guys who pushed through the queue earlier?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“They’re at the back, talking on their mobile phones.”
“But you can’t do that while we’re in the air.”
One of the officials walked down the aisle. He was speaking into his phone as he passed Lacey.
“…they’re using mace…” he said in a fearful tone.
Another official followed a few seconds after, on his phone, too. “…they’ve overcome them…” he said.
They walked down the aisle to the cockpit door, then turned around to face the passengers, still using their phones.
All of the passengers on the left side were watching them. One of the men put away his mobile and called over an attendant from the galley. They spoke briefly before the man nodded to the three remaining officials. They walked up from the back, staring straight at the cockpit. Then the attendant knocked on the cockpit door, opened it, and the three officials walked in. The door closed, the other two guarding it.
A few seconds later, the plane dipped sharply. Some of the passengers looked at each other. The mother in front of Lacey told her son it was the bumpy wind.
“I remember a couple of years ago, we had bad turbulence on this flight,” Sue began. “It’s the desert storms. The wind sweeps up a dust bowl and you get thunderstorms, too.”
Lacey looked uneasy.
“It’s like an old horse and cart,” Sue said. “Nothing to worry about. Just a little bumpy for a while.”
Lacey decided to storm spot, looking out of the window, expecting to see lightning bolts and dust clouds above the desert. Instead she saw infinite white, encasing the plane in a thick atmospheric meringue.
As the plane banked to the right, the wing broke through the cloud, forming a porthole around its tip. The passengers on the right side glanced back and forth between each other and their windows.
The plane continued to bank, soaring full circle. And when the plane straightened up, they had passed through the cloud. Below was a city.
Lacey saw a river, a ribbon of gold stretching to the horizon, flashes of white light dancing across the wave crests. The embankment buildings basked in the sun, their windows a continuation of the water.
The boy pointed to the city. “It’s the giant,” he said. “It’s the giant!”
At his fingertip was a great statue, sea green with a triumphant pose, its torch marshalling the plane towards the city.
Lacey was in awe. “I didn’t realise Angel Port was this beautiful,” she said.
“It used to be better,” Sue said. “I don’t remember all these towers.”
The plane continued to descend. Roads, buildings and pedestrians weaved across the city. Two towers stood tallest among the concrete mountain range.
The mother in front of Lacey called over an attendant. “Why can I see people? Why can I see rush hour traffic?” she asked. “We’re three hours from Angel Port.”
The attendant glanced at the officials. She was uneasy. “The captain has dropped to a lower altitude to get more air through the engines.” She glanced back. Her eyes watered as she took the mother’s hand, looked into her eyes and said, “Just relax. Think about the wonderful times you’ve had with your husband and son.” She paused as she heard footsteps behind her. “We’ll be there soon.”
The attendant looked at the ground as she was walked away by an official. They disappeared into the galley. A loud thud shortly followed, immediately replaced by silence.
Lacey looked out of the window. The two towers had grown taller, their tops hidden above the window frame. The plane’s reflection appeared in the glass. It flew like a lone bird, knowing it would never see its flock again, wings poised with the stillness of afterlife.
As the reflection grew clearer, offices could be seen, full of workers packing bags and making phone calls. Lacey could see them rushing around, reminding her of the press building she had left this morning.
The plane’s nose lowered nobly, staring fate in the face. The mother took her son’s hand and kissed him goodbye.