Slowly but surely the plane was emptying. The woman who had refused to enter the bridge earlier now wrestled her way through the queue to go in.
“I can’t take the pressure,” she muttered on the way. “I can’t wait.”
Eventually everyone from the unfortunate Emirates flight was gone and the crew breathed more freely.
“Wasn’t it supposed to close once they’re all gone?” Gabrielle said several minutes after she waved the last passenger goodbye. She peered into the mouth of the tunnel but there was nothing to see but darkness.
“It was,” Rob said. “Nobody’s hiding in the toilets, are they?”
Bianca shook her head. The front toilet’s door was ajar. It was empty. Samantha got up to check the one at the back.
“Then why isn’t it closing?” Gabrielle said. “Do you think it’s our time?”
Rob stepped into the tunnel and Gabrielle screamed “No!” He made one step into it and stopped.
“No. It’s not waiting for me, definitely. I can’t pass.”
“Don’t you ever do this again,” Gabrielle said hugging him fiercely. “You can’t go without sating goodbye even when it is your time, do you hear me?”
“Sure, babe. But I wasn’t going anywhere. I was just checking.”
“I hate you.”
Gary looked at everyone. Samantha was standing in the aisle, frowning. Bianca and Michael were in front of the cockpit, hand in hand, confused. Charles was sitting in an aisle seat in the middle of the plane, head hung.
“Mr. Stevens?” Gary said. All eyes turned to Charles who raised his head slowly.
“It’s waiting for me,” he said. “You know that itch we get when a plane’s in danger? It’s almost the same but a bit more urgent.” The elderly man smiled and stood up.
“But why?” Samantha said. “Why are you the only one feeling it? Are you the only one?” She looked at the others. Rob and Gabrielle shook their heads.
“I’m not,” Bianca said.
“I’m not feeling anything out of the ordinary. A little hungry, maybe,” Michael said.
“Yeah, me too,” Gary said.
“Well, I guess I’m ready to go and you still have work to do here.” Charles walked up to the mouth of the jet bridge and Rob and Gabrielle moved aside. Gabrielle let go of Rob and hugged Charles.
“It’s stupid, I know, but I’ll miss you. We all make a great team,” she said.
“I know,” Charles said and rubbed her back. “I didn’t know I was ready to go until that itch. But I am. I want to see my wife.” He paused. “And I’m sure I will. So few things I’ve ever been certain about in my life and this is one of them.” He smiled.
“Then you will.” Gabrielle drew back and sniffed. “Have a nice trip.”
“Bye everyone,” Charles said and turned to the mouth of the tunnel. “I’m sure I’ll see you later. Take care, Gary.”
“No, wait!” Gary yelled just as Charles stepped into the tunnel. He tried to run but by the time he reached the bridge Charles was gone and Gary slammed into the barrier that had stopped Rob. “Why did he get to go and not us? Why? I want to go. I want to see my mum. I’m ready.” He banged on the barrier, which absorbed the sound but did not budge. Gary sobbed as the tunnel began to pale and eventually faded to reveal the wall and windows.
“Come here,” Gabrielle said and tugged gently on Gary’s shoulder. He shook her off. “Come, Gary.”
He banged a while longer and then let his hands fall. Gabrielle turned him around and hugged him tightly.
“If he could pass then we will pass, too. Just not yet,” she said. “But some day. Okay?”
Gary didn’t respond.
The full moon hung above the lake like it was pinned in the sky, illuminating the water, the rocks and the ground, and the two people nestled in each other’s arms behind a granite rock decorated with yellow lichen.
“Have you ever wondered who would be next?” Michael asked. His finger was tracing lines along Bianca’s cheekbone and down her jaw.
“I try not to,” she said and shifted on the blanket they’d brought to make the place look more like a bed.
“Some.” She turned on her back, towards the moon. “Whoever it is, I can’t stop it.”
“It could’ve been less tough today if Charles was with us.” Michael mirrored her movements, also fixing his eyes on the bright disk of light above them.
That had been a big crash. A crash between two planes, one of them, thankfully, a cargo aircraft. The other, however, had been full of passengers. Some had held back so long they had been dragged to the mouth of the jet bridge against their will by whatever it was that pulled people to pass through the tunnel, fighting their own feet until the end.
“It was light again,” Bianca said, staring at the moon. Its soft light healed her eyes of the memories of all those terrified people who refused to accept the fact of their death until the very last moment and maybe even beyond it. “I can’t understand when it’s dark and when it’s light. And why.”
Michael was silent for a while. Insects chirped in the grass.
“Maybe it’s random.”
“Well, it certainly doesn’t claim good people only when it’s light and bad people only when it’s dark.”
Michael turned in his side to face her.
“And none of them ever stays behind. I wonder why that is. We could do with some reinforcements after Charles went.”
“We definitely could.” Charles, for all his quiet demeanour, had been good at calming people down. And he had been a good person. “Maybe we will get them some day. It would make sense, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, it would.” Michael ran his fingertips from her shoulder down to her elbow, avoiding her eyes.
“What is it?” she asked.
He looked up.
“What if one of us has to go?”
Bianca looked at him for a long time, taking in the features she had once loved, then for a while hated, and now loved again, with all their imperfections. The she turned on her side and slid until her back was firmly pressed against Michael’s chest. He wrapped an arm around her.
“Then we’ll go,” she said. “But not without a fight.”
For a while the chirping of the insects was the only sound to be heard by human ears by the lake. The peace was broken by a woman’s voice that would have remained unheard by those ears.
“For God’s sake can’t we just get a little sleep!”
Rob murmured something in response that didn’t reach behind Bianca and Michael’s rock. They were already getting dressed.
“We’re a round-the-clock-service,” Bianca shouted from behind the rock as she shoved her shirt into her trousers. “Get used to it, people.”
“People working in round-the-clock-services get a break,” Gabrielle insisted.
Bianca and Michael popped up from behind the rock, all dressed and ready to go just as Gabrielle’s messy curls rose into view from behind a little height, enough to hide two people lying on the ground from view. She raked her hair with her hands and pulled it back into a ponytail with the band she wore around her left wrist. A little gift from her younger daughter when they’d left for their journey, she’d told Bianca.
“I seriously hope it’s not two planes this time. I don’t think I can handle another one so soon,” Gabrielle said as their paths converged and they walked back to the plane together.
“We were just talking about this.” Michael was trying to put some order in his hair with his hands, too. “How do you do this?” he said.
“Do what?” Bianca frowned.
“There’s not a hair out of place on your head,” he said. “And your uniform is never wrinkled.”
“That’s right,” Gabrielle said, eyeing Bianca’s hair. “How come?”
“I really don’t know. I hadn’t noticed.”
“So unfair,” Gabrielle huffed. Rob chuckled.
“No, she’s right, it is unfair,” Michael said. “I’m thinking of shaving it off, like Rob. No hair, no trouble.”
“I doubt it will stay shaved,” Bianca said with a smile. “Besides I don’t think we have razors on board.”