“So, where are you travelling to?”,the lady sitting opposite to me in the waiting area at the airport asked.
She was curvy and had an oblong face, a bit of unnoticed sprinkling of freckles , angular jawline. Her small eyes were a hazy prussian blue, and her thinly trimmed eyebrows were shaped into a deceivingly perfect arch that followed the slight curve of her eye. A long nose hooked over continually pursed lips, which were shrouded with a bright royal maroon in an unsuccessful effort to mask their natural thinness. Hazel hair, falling down like a cascade, made thin from too many years of hair dye, hung straight down into an angular cut at her jaw. She was wearing an overwhelming rose pink tinted laced halter neck frock, complementing her raw physique, coupled with a stiletto high heels, blazing gold. She had a cobalt tote purse, probably carrying her travel documents and some cosmetics which was evident looking at her impeccable stature.
“Me? Well, I’m going to Bangkok. What about you?“, I replied lowering my magazine to clear my line of sight. I noticed she wasn’t maintaining an eye contact, a small bead of sweat forming on her forehead, which she wiped off immediately pretending to swipe a strand of hair falling in front of her eyes, observant to my scrutinizing nature.
“Maybe it’s just because she’s conversing with a stranger at the middle of nig…“
“I’m off to the States. Alicia here“, she extended her hand, a friendly gesture assuring me of any probabilities of doubt.
“Diganta“, we had a firm handshake, i could feel the crevices of her palm lines caressing against mine, rough, oppositely to what I thought.
“Passengers travelling via Lufthansa Airbus A380 to Suvarnabhumi Airport , Bangkok; kindly start boarding. Proceed to Gate 13 C”, a mechanical feminine voice echoed shattering the awkward silence at the waiting area, accompanied by some faint tiring yawns.
“Need to go. Got a plane to catch. All the best to you”, I wished her and moved to the never ending queue outside Gate 13 C.
The plane was mammoth, double deck. The antsy inrush of tired and restless passengers made it a monumental task for me to get to my own seat.
22 B. Window seat. I clearly remembered the seat on the 2D representation of the aircraft while booking with my travel agent, 4th row to the right of the aisle, next to the window just two rows behind the wing section of the jumbo plane.
“22B. 22B. 22B. Damn it!” the intense search continued before I was rewarded for my effort.
“There it is!“, 22B was no dernier cri, a cozy legroom with a view of the gigantic turbo engines. There was a magazine holder in front of my seat attached to the rear of the seat in front. Magazines containing the “Lufthansa Magazin” taglined with “Lufthansa’s catwalk in the sky” embedded with the candid cover picture of an Air hostess serving a drink, probably apple juice to a customer. She was wearing a royal navy skirt with a broad buttoned coat and a pillbox hat. I was looking at one of the major selling points of a major airliner.
“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of our captain and the rest of the crew, I, Eric Mueller, would like to welcome you aboard Lufthansa Airlines Flight 32, with nonstop service to Bangkok. Our flight time will be approximately eleven hours and fifty-five minutes, and we look forward to ensuring that your journey with us today is as pleasant and carefree as possible.”
The monotone voice echoed through the cabin, being paid little attention by the accustomed regular flight passengers. I could hear the cries of infants hanging in the air before it was interrupted again by the robotic voice over the speakers.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign. If you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin. Please take your seat and fasten your seat belt. And also make sure your seat back and folding trays are in their full upright position.
If you are seated next to an emergency exit, please read carefully the special instructions card located by your seat. If you do not wish to perform the functions described in the event of an emergency, please ask a flight attendant to reseat you.
We remind you that this is a non-smoking flight. Smoking is prohibited on the entire aircraft, including the lavatories. Tampering with, disabling or destroying the lavatory smoke detectors is prohibited by law.
If you have any questions about our flight today, please don’t hesitate to ask one of our flight attendants. Thank you.”
I strapped on my seatbelt and positioned myself on the cozy seat, letting out a silent prayer while the aircraft taxied on the runway, nearly completing a full circle turn to align itself with the runway. The runway lights flickering in a continuous sequence leaving a trail as a ray of light allowing me to catch a glimpse of the wet tarmac.
“Heavy Thunderstorms”, I remembered the weather forecast for the day at the airport, winds blowing from the south west, continental.
“Flight attendants, prepare for take-off please.”
“Cabin crew, please take your seats for take-off.”
1 hour after take-off:
I was walking down the aisle returning to my seat after using the restroom, the cabin was silent as expected, passengers asleep covered with blankets and sleep eye masks enveloping their eyes, the dim light of the cabin guided me to my seat, however before I did catch a glimpse of a familiar figure in the second row from the front of the aircraft.
“No, it can’t be….. Alicia?”, I asked myself. I was clearly awake, and it wasn’t an illusion.
“She was travelling to States. Why is she on this plane?” I asked to myself.
“Why did she lie to me?”
She was reading the Lufthansa Magazin, a fixated stare at the greasy paper boasting the pros of the airline company, but an uninterested stare. I quickly returned back to my seat, to avoid her noticing me.
I pressed the “request assistance” button overhead my seat, curious of why would a complete stranger would lie to you. Within seconds, an air hostess arrived, standing to my diagonal right, blocking my view of the seat in the second row occupied by Alicia.
“How may I help you Sir?”
“Can I have a copy of the passengers manifest?”
“I’m sorry, sir. Passengers are not allowed to have access to the passengers manifest. why do you want the same, Sir?”
“Uh. Can you look for a name on it? Alicia.”
“Sure, Sir. Just give me a minute.”
It was a minute interval before she again arrived with the passengers manifest, her index finger running through the texture of the thin paper.
“Yes, Sir. Alicia Claire. Female. She’s on the list. Is anything wrong Sir?”
I happened to notice Alicia leaning to the right, trying to observe what I was talking with the hostess. I didn’t want to ring any alarm bells or create any commotion, but there is something wrong for sure. It was a gut feeling.
“Is anything wrong Sir?”
“No, absolutely not. Sorry for the inconvenience. Could you please get me a can of apple juice?”
“It’s okay. Sure, Sir.”
I peeked across to see Alicia returning her attention on the magazine assured of my moves. She was vigilant, observing the nearby surroundings while pretending to read the magazine. I was at thirty thousand feet in the sky, and I’m being monitored and watched.
The Air hostess returned with a can of apple juice soon, breaking my glance.
“Here you go, Sir. Is their anything else I could assist you with?”
“No that would be all, thank you.”, I put a fake smile on my face reassuring the air hostess as she returned to the first class.
I cleared my mind and stared at the dancing clouds outside while taking a sip from the can of apple juice. The NAV lights flashing on the rear flaps of the wings, providing me with a faint visibility of the ocean of sky we were floating on.
I turned to notice Alicia standing beside my next empty seat. It was indeed her.
“What are you doing here? You were supposed to be flying to US, you said to me then. Why did you lie?“, my interrogative and investigative voice rising to a high pitch before she hushed me.
“Do you mind if I sit beside you?”, she asked.
I looked across the aisle, double checking if the ongoing event was raising any eyebrows.
“Okay”, I replied.
“So, why did you lie to me?”
“I had to.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are important to me.” She took out a small notepad and started reading out details like bulletins of a CV.
“Diganta Misra, born 1990 to Indian parents ……”
“How do you know all this? Who are you?”
“Keep your voice low, Ismael. We wouldn’t want to wake up the passengers, do we?”
“Ismael? Who’s Ismael?”
“What? Is this some kind of joke? I’m Diganta.”
“Are you? Go ahead and ask the hostess for your name on the manifest like you checked for mine”
I clicked on the assistance button overhead again, the same hostess returned within minutes of asking.
“Yes Sir, how may I help you?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you but can you check one last name for me on the manifest?”
What’s going on? Who’s she? Who’s Ismael? What is she talking about? A raging battle of a thousand questions in my mind right now.
“What’s the name, Sir?”, she asked after getting the copy of the passenger manifest.
A brief pause before which she revealed a horrifying reality leaving me out of words. Numb and cold
“No, Sir. There’s no one with that name travelling on this aircraft.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir. I double checked. All passengers have been accounted for and there’s no one with that name”
“Could you check the name of the person for whom seat 22B is booked?”
“Is anything wrong, Sir?”
Can you get me some apple juice?”
In a minute she was back, handed me the apple juice can and left without another word probably due to frustration of me fumbling through names for her to search on the manifest in the middle of night.
“Now, Ismael. You’re going to do exactly as I say”, Alicia stated in a commanding tone, inclining towards a resonant evil intentions.
“You’re gonna kill a person for me”
“You don’t have any other choice”
“Why do you say so? You think you’ll escape this?”
“Yes I will but you won’t be able to if you don’t obey my commands”
“Why is that so?”
“Because you don’t know who Ismael Khan is”
“Who is he?”
“A INTERPOL wanted terrorist with a bounty on his head. He hasn’t been ID before. No photographs. As soon as the agency receive the word that Ismael Khan is on board this aircraft, you’ll be shot dead as soon as we land.”
This isn’t happening. This is some bad dream. I need to wake up.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Now, we are talking. I want you to kill Gerrard Johnson. He’s in the first class. 12Q.”
“Gerrard Johnson! You want me to assassinate a high profile political member!”
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign. We are now crossing a zone of turbulence. Please return your seats and keep your seat belts fastened. Thank you.”, the mechanical voice disturbed the conversation while the cabin shuddered.
“As I said, you don’t have much of a choice”
“How do you want me to do it?”
“You expect me to be carrying a handgun on a commercial aircraft?”
“No. But the Air Marshall has one”
“You want me to get the gun from the Air Marshall? Like I will just ask nicely, and he will let me have it?”
“No, you needn’t need to worry. Here you go”, she handed a large packet, ochre tinted. It felt moderately heavy in the hand.
“What’s in it?”
“The gun of the Air Marshall”
“What! How did you get it? Where’s he?”
“I asked him nicely. He’s dead. I poisoned his drink”
I looked across to notice the lifeless body of the Air Marshall right beside Alicia’s seat. He was slumped down, her eye sleep mask and blanket on, perfectly enacting a sleeping posture and failing to raise any concern among those who were awake.
“It’s loaded with a single bullet. You just have one shot”
“I could just shoot you and get over with”
“Let’s talk about your fiance. Sparsha right? She’s such a beautiful lady. Would you want her to pay the price for the stupid decision you take by disobeying me. I have men at the ground who are ready to execute her if anything goes wrong up here”
No. No. This isn’t happening. Please God.
“Okay. Okay. I will do it. But you need to promise me you won’t do anything to her.”
“You have my word”
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned off the Fasten Seat Belt sign, and you may now move around the cabin. However we always recommend to keep your seat belt fastened while you’re seated.”
I took the pistol concealing it under my shirt , walked up the aisle to the first class section up ahead, checked my surrounding whether I was being observed by any of the flight crew.
I’m clear. This is my only chance. I took out at the pistol and aimed. My fingers shuddered as tears rolled down my eyes as I pulled the trigger of the pistol at last.
I woke up to the medicinal aura engulfing the room, resting on a hospital bed. I tried to sit up but was unable to do so, my shoulder was plastered, the constant beep of the ECG monitor echoing in the room as the nurse noticed my movement placing her palm gently on my chest guiding me to lay down.
“You survived, the bullet went through”
“She’s arrested and on her way to a cell where she’ll be interrogated?”
“Wait. Wait. What about my fiance?”
“She’s alright. She’s in police protection. Don’t worry”
“Can I have some Apple Juice?”