Bianca sat back in her seat and began cracking her knuckles. Michael wasn’t here to see her and he was the only one who knew she did this in moments of extreme tension.
Rationally, Bianca was aware there was nothing wrong with knuckle-cracking as a coping mechanism. She was aware tension didn’t get much more extreme than finding yourself on an invisible plane you need to land. It only grew now, with Michael’s illness, and even so, deep down, she considered the knuckle-cracking an embarrassing weakness she tried to not succumb to. But this was an emergency. A tiny little pop from her pinky marked the end of the crack sequence for her left hand. She hesitated for a moment and then started on her right thumb.
“Oh, my God!” someone in the cabin said. “Miss! Miss, I think I need help.”
Bianca let go of her right thumb and turned again. Michael was still in the toilet, she could see the soles of his shoes as he knelt in front of the toilet bowl. Samantha stood by the door and had just turned to look who had spoken.
It was the man whose voice sounded old. All the passengers had huddled in the front of the plane and this man, who also looked old with a deeply lined face, shaggy grey hair, and an even shaggier beard, sat on the second row from the cockpit, on the right. The shaggy beard was now smeared with red and the man was holding his cupped hand over his mouth. Bianca’s sweat glands dumped another unusually generous load of their produce on her skin and she shivered.
Samantha rushed to the man, shooting Bianca a glance full of confusion and fear on the way.
“It will be okay,” she said as she leaned over him, the expression on her face exposing her words as a lie.
“My nose is bleeding,” the man said, gagging. “It’s never happened before.”
“I’ll get you something to clean up. It shouldn’t be dangerous. How’s your blood pressure?”
“It was fine this morning,” the man said.
“Lean your head back on the seat, that’s it. I’ll go get you a towel.”
She turned and hurried down the aisle without a second glance to Bianca who was about to ask her how Michael was doing. She took the chance to study her passengers instead. The man with the nose bleed was alone on that side of the cabin. Gary was sitting on his own in the first row, left of the aisle. He was looking through the plane’s side.
The woman who’d asked questions earlier sat next to the man with the goatee who’d offered his help, across from the man with the nosebleed. They were both about forty and a handsome couple. The woman looked straight back at Bianca, the green of her eyes visible across the space that separated them, possibly because of the wire-rimmed glasses the woman wore.
“How are we doing?” she asked. “What’s wrong with the other pilot?”
“We’re doing okay. The other pilot felt sick.”
“Oh, great, first almost everyone disappears now the rest of us will die of Ebola or something. He’s already bleeding,” she said and pointed to the man across the aisle. “What’s next?”
Bianca shook her head.
“I really don’t know.”
“Great,” the woman said.
Bianca had nothing to say to this, so she looked away from the passengers to where Michael was now back on his feet, splashing water on his face. Samantha, who was carrying something that no one could see, rushed back up the aisle to the bleeding man.
“Here, there’s two wet towels here.” She passed him the apparently non-existent load in her hands.
“Thank you,” the man said and brought his hands with what looked like empty space between them to his face. Bianca watched in fascination as the stains on his beard began to pale.
“The bleeding seems to have stopped,” Samantha said, looking the man over.
“Yes. Yes, it did, thank God.”
Michael walked out of the toilet, slowly and unsteadily.
“Better?” Bianca asked.
He nodded and walked into the cockpit, pulling the transparent door behind him.
“What happened?” Bianca asked. “Was it something you ate? “
“No,” Michael said. “I never eat less than two hours before a flight.”
“You don’t?” The surprise was unwelcome but she couldn’t help it.
“Right. So how are you feeling now?”
Michael was silent for a while, staring at the landscape around them, still as majestic as it was half an hour ago. He then raised his head and turned to his ex-wife and captain.
“There is something very wrong going on here, Beanie. You sweat, that man gets a nosebleed, and I felt like I was having the worst hangover ever coupled with flu. And now I’m fine, even the headache’s gone.”
“You still look a little grey around the edges,” Bianca noted with a hint of a smile at the mention of her pet name from another era.
“I feel fine,” he repeated, shaking his head. “But I want to know what is causing all these… conditions.” He paused. “I also want to know why we’re still flying over the Alps when we should have reached Germany by this time.”
“I don’t think so,” Bianca said and frowned. Her first impulse was to argue it was not possible for her to miss something as important as the course of the plane but her second impulse was to wait. Her watch said five-twenty.
“I have five-twenty one,” Michael said. “And I remember the map.”
“You mean we are going in circles? That’s impossible. You know that.”
“I think we should try and land,” he said, his eyes pinned to the invisible floor as if there was something particularly interesting right next to his right shoe.
Bianca leaned out of her seat, anger flaring up. Eye contact evasion made Bianca scream because it also screamed: it screamed the one who was evading eye contact had done something they felt guilty about.
“If you know something or think you know something, the only decent thing to do is share it,” she said. Michael’s eyes stayed fixed on the floor. “Michael? I really don’t need any more weirdness right now.”
He shook his head and finally looked at her. The sadness in his eyes hit her full-on. She gasped but before she could voice her emotions they were interrupted by the door flying open. Michael hadn’t closed it properly.