Another Chicago Magazine

Terminal Stop

Sometimes it pays to miss a flight.

Watching the plane take off from his seat in the terminal, he didn’t think he would be surprised to see the explosion. But he saw it, and was surprised. It was large, white and yellow, and it was because of him. He knew it. Ever since he was a child he had dreamed of airplanes exploding. Because of him. He had magical powers –- mystical, otherworldly. All he needed to do was stare at a plane in the sky and it would explode.

He knew this.

He knew that there was nothing he could do to stop an airplane from exploding except not look, so he spent his life not looking. He would enter an airport as young children enter graveyards, holding their breath, afraid to look too far in either direction. The only thing he would see, when he did open his eyes, were the laces of his shoes.

He knew he should not take it seriously, these thoughts, this imagined power. Yet, he was afraid. Yet, he was nervous. For what if the power was real, what if it was true. He could not live with that on his conscience. He could not live, knowing that he had been responsible for the murder of innocents. It was simply safer not to look.

Today, he had been late. He was thirty-seven, a businessman. Usually, he worked from his office, in the city. Sent lower-management types to meet with clients in their home offices. But this client, this one was important. This client, this one was the real deal. He knew he had to do this one himself.

Although he was a high-level businessman, it had been seven months and thirteen days since he had last stepped on a plane. He had counted. He had a calendar, in his bedroom, where he kept track. In his corner office in the city, he tracked the trajectory of the airplanes he refused to look at in their shadows on the Hudson. He spent a large portion of his time and energy looking down.

Still, although this was an important client –- perhaps the most important client of his career –- he was late to the airport. By the time he had arrived, the flight was minutes from taking off. He struggled through security, relinquishing his belt and shoes, flooding the line with his haphazardly towed baggage, rushing to the gate only to be told that it was closed. The plane had already left the terminal. He was as good as fired.

He sat in the seat of the terminal –- the seat from which he would soon watch the plane explode -– and thought over his options. He could call the office, tell them he had missed his flight. But, when was the next flight to Japan? Could he possibly make the next one? He stood up, scanned the departures board. There was nothing else, nothing for hours. The client wanted results, information, on time or not at all. That was why they paid him. That was why he did his job. Without this, he was as good as useless. He could not be late.

He sat back down.

It would be one thing, he thought, if the delay was through no fault of his own. Traffic, he could say, in the Holland Tunnel. But no, that wouldn’t work. His flight had left the gate before six a.m. He could tell his client he was delayed, sure, but his client would doubtlessly check with his office to confirm. His client was thorough. No. It wouldn’t work.

He had a thought. There could be a delay at the airport. A security threat. His mind immediately went where he knew it should not go.

An airplane could explode…

An airplane could explode.

It was surprisingly easy. Once he had put his mind to it. He knew it couldn’t be his plane. He needed to get to Japan, after all. But any other plane would do. At first, he thought he would choose a smaller airplane, figuring the smaller the plane, the less passengers involved. But then, after a little thought, he changed his mind. Some small planes fly quite full, he knew, and the bigger planes could be nearly empty. Besides, who was he to be playing God, saying the people on this plane should live and this should die.

No, he decided, it was easier –- it was fairer –- for it to be entirely random. He glanced out his window. His plane – what should have been his plane – was fourth in line for takeoff. The second plane then. The second plane would be the one he would explode.

The first plane went down the tarmac. He glanced at it quickly as it flew by. He knew he would have to focus if he wanted to make it explode, and he wasn’t ready, not yet. He turned away. The plane arched gracefully, although he didn’t see it. He only watched its shadow getting smaller and then fading away.

The time had come. He focused his eyes on the airplane. He thought he would be hesitant, fearful, conscious of the havoc he was about to cause, but he was none of those things. His mind, his body, his very being took on a sudden urgency, as if he suddenly knew what it was to be alive.

He focused his body, his mind, his being on the airplane. The airplane and he were one. It started moving down the tarmac. The runway was getting shorter and the airplane was getting faster and still it was intact. It was lifting off, it had liftoff and it was free of the ground and his eyes were piercing like magnets into the airplanes’ skull and still, still it was not bursting into flames and he realized that his youthful dreams, his evocations of power and strength and miraculous terror were nothing but fancies, that the plane would fly away and nothing would explode and the world would move on and there was a flash of blinding light and where the plane was was thousands of pieces of metal and orange and yellow in the morning sky.

He could not believe it. He could not help feeling a tiny bit of joy. Not only was he going to have an excuse for missing his flight –- the flight that he would now make, once the plane returned to the gate -– but he did have the magic after all. The magic was real.

The flight to Tokyo was a pleasure. He spent the hours on board – hours that were his by right, hours that he had created –- staring out the window, looking at the clouds below and the nothing below that. He thought about the time in the airport, the chaos, the commotion. His flight would not be leaving today, he had thought, then, not when an aircraft exploded in the sky right above the tarmac, but he had been wrong. In this, post-September 11th world, it turned out, the nation was ready, the nation was all too willing to move on. It was blamed on terrorism, a faulty mechanism, anything other than what it really was, that is, on himself. He himself carried the power. He himself was the reason for the explosion. And only he knew it.

The next day, when the flight arrived in Tokyo, when he landed and was met by a delegation from his client’s firm, expecting him hours earlier, having called and been told it was by no means his fault, having seen it on the news, on CNN.com, he knew he had nothing to worry about, he had nothing to be afraid of. He was forgiven. The world could move on. He kept the client.