It was the first time Steven had ever travelled internationally. Due to his intellectual disability, he had difficulty travelling anywhere independently. His carer, a woman in her forties, waited with him at the docking port of the airport. She would, of course, be travelling with him. The flight would be crossing across Asia and making its way towards Western Europe. They were headed to Prague in the Czech Republic, there would be a stopover flight at Ho Chi Minh airport in Vietnam before they could catch a connecting flight to their destination. His carer read a magazine, it was one of those entertainment guides focusing on celebrity gossip and hosting a wide array of trash talk about famous Hollywood directors and actors. Steven busied himself with the consumption of a bottle of coca cola. He was idly drinking it through a straw before his desire for consumption outweighed his careful habit. He brought the drink to his lips. The container, still with straw, swirled right up and into his mouth. Unfortunately, because of the straw, the bottle’s contents began dripping all over Steven’s white ironed shirt. It created quite a mess and Steven dropped the bottle and the rest of the cola flowed freely out onto the floor.
His carer, noticing the incident, dropped the magazine that she was reading and began fussing over him, addressing the issue, “Steven, I just ironed this shirt this morning. That was very silly of you.”
“Yeah, I know… Sorry…” There was a drawl to his words, a syllable missing as of yet mispronounced.
He began brushing at the shirt with his own hands before the carer took a gentle, guiding hand, placing it on his wrist, “Don’t do that. You’ll just make a further mess of yourself.” The carer looked through her carry on luggage, looking for a towel or tissue to wipe away the stain that was slowly seeping into the ironed shirt.
“Here you are, use this.” It was a man in his mid thirties, well toned, lean and roughly shaven. He was handing the carer a bandana that had been tied around his neck. The carer took the bandana from his hands and wiped down at Steven’s shirt.
“Yeah, don’t mention it. I have a nephew just like him. Is this his first time overseas?”
“I’m right here,” Steven stated as the carer finished up drying the wet patch on his shirt.
“Sorry mate, what’s your name?”
“My name’s Steven. What’s yours’?”
“Mine’s Ivan.” The two of them shook hands. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. Where you headed?”
“We’re going to Prague.” The carer stepped into the conversation, handing Ivan back the bandana. “And yourself?”
“Same actually. Looks like we’re in it for the long haul. Stopover in Ho Chi Minh?”
“Yep.” Ivan and the carer acknowledged each other with a nod of assurance. Ivan went over and found a seat to wait for the boarding call, while the carer returned to the reading of her trashy magazine.
The flight attendant called for the boarding of the flight over the intercom system. A line formed for the passengers to check-in. Ivan stood behind Steven and the carer as others slowly filed into the aeroplane. Steven was becoming agitated at having to stand in line, breathing in and out at a rapid rate. The carer settled him with quiet assurances, “This is normal Steven. This is all normal. This is what people do when they catch flights around the world.”
“She’s got that right son,” it was Ivan, “Its global traffic. What would take people months or years can now be done in a twelve hour sitting.”
The flight attendant checked their tickets and then they went through to the aeroplane itself. It was one of those larger vehicles. A boeing 777; long-range wide body, twin jet engine airliner. People took their seats amongst the airliner as the flight attendant directed the passengers towards their seats.
The airliner took off with little disturbance and Steven was assured by his carer that everything was normal. After the plane was in flight, both Steven and the carer settled in to watch an in-flight film. Everything went smoothly and after twelve hours of being stuck in the seated position, the flight touched the ground at Ho Chi Minh airport.
It was hot, humid. Just by looking out the window of the airliner, one could tell that they had reached a habitat that was completely foreign to them. There were palms that lined the surrounding area of the airport and as the vehicle came into view of the great city; one could see a panorama of roads, buildings and other cross-sections. Steven had looked out the window of the surrounding landscape as the plane passed over it in absolute awe.
As it was with boarding the plane, as it was with exiting it. The people all stood up out of their seats and took out their check-in luggage from the overhead apartments. The passengers drifted out of the aeroplane and into the airport. Passengers looked for smoking lounges where they could take in respite from the twelve hour flight. Ivan was one of those passengers.
The carer, not knowing the territory of an international airport went over and asked Ivan, “So what are you doing now?”
“I’m going to have a cigarette and then look for something to eat. It’s a layover, kill a couple of hours by looking at shops and trinkets. Can’t fall asleep otherwise there’s always the danger of becoming too comfortable and getting stranded.”
“Yeah, I get it.” The carer looked at Steven, “Steven, we’ll follow this nice man and get something to eat with him.” Then the carer looked towards Ivan, “If that’s okay with you?”
“Oh, by all means, tag along.”
So that’s what they did. Ivan stopped off in a smoking lounge and chain smoked a couple of cigarettes while the carer and Steven waited outside patiently. Then after Ivan had inhaled enough nicotine to keep his mind satiated, the three of them began browsing through the airport shops. The line of airport shops that were all lined up along the airport with their useless items. Last minute gifts for relatives that were stuck, stranded in their countries of origin. Then after browsing through the useless articles, Ivan led the way to a restaurant. The restaurant was catered to individuals with money; high priced with servants who wore collared shirts and black aprons. They all sat at a table and ordered something to eat. Ivan was grateful for the company, so often he would find himself travelling alone. Sometimes he preferred it that way as he found that others were so often an encumbering effect on his own plans. But this was not one of those times, he talked to the carer to find out about Steven’s intellectual disability. It turns out he had always been like this. Born into this world. When Ivan heard that, he took a moment of silence to understand what sort of life Steven had led. And then an extreme gratitude broke free of the world he lived in, where someone like this was cared for, he didn’t want to live in a world where they were left behind.
The time passed slowly, but still the time passed. After a few hours they all made their way to the departure gate of the flight towards Prague. There again they waited, just as before. The entire airport was air conditioned. Outside, through the windows one could make out the airfield workers and baggage handlers preparing the airliner for the flight. Ivan looked on as engineers checked the airliner for faults. He couldn’t make out what they were saying. From his point of view it appeared as if they were all just standing around nodding to one another. Even if he were outside, directly within earshot, he would not be able to hear them as they were all speaking in another language.
The air hostess called out for boarding in several languages. Once again all the passengers lined up to have their tickets checked. This time Ivan, Steven and the carer were separated.
“We make quite a pair,” it was the man stuck behind Ivan.
“Us. You and I. We make quite the pair.”
“How’s that?” Ivan asked.
“Two men, in their thirties, taking on the world.”
“I see. And who are you?”
“My name’s Oscar. I grew up out in the sticks, came from nowhere and nothing and now I’m exploring the world.”
“Please to meet you Oscar, I’m Ivan, I grew up in the city and am travelling for work.”
“I see and what do you work as, what’s your trade?”
“I’m a travel journalist.”
“That’s a nice job.”
“It is… Sometimes.”
And their conversation ended there as Ivan had his ticket checked and boarded the airliner. Ivan was awake during the initial take-off of the aircraft. There was some throttle involved as the aeroplane approached a speed where it could take flight from the ground, up into the air. And after that it was the usual feeling of nausea. Knowing that you were some fourteen kilometers up in the air with slight pressure, the legs enclosed in a small space. It always produced a general feeling of uneasiness. But having travelled quite frequently, Ivan carried another jacket that he curled up into a small ball and placed behind his head. And then closing his eyes, he drifted off to sleep.
When he awoke, he didn’t know how long he had been asleep for, but the aircraft was experiencing a series of jolts. Some minor turbulence. The craft shook and shook. Ivan looked around, people everywhere were holding onto the seats in front of them. Trying to steady themselves from moving around too frequently.
Then the pilot called out from the cabin over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen. I would like to tell you that this is just another rocky flight. But I can’t do that… One of the engines has failed. I will attempt to land the aircraft to a safe space. But that too will be difficult as we are travelling somewhere over the Himalayas entering Nepalese airspace. Brace yourselves for the worst and…”
Then the lights went out. There was a power failure throughout the aircraft. The only lights that were lit up were those that bordered the passenger corridors. From all around the aircraft Ivan could hear people screaming. He said nothing. He placed his two arms against the front seat and placed himself in a bracing position. The aircraft was falling… Falling, falling, falling… At an incredible speed. It was becoming difficult to hear anything as the sudden drop of atmosphere made his ears feel like they were going to explode. The last thing that he heard was what he thought was a baby crying and he thought to himself, ‘God, you cruel bastard!’
He could feel it. That’s all there was. The sensation of imminent death. As the aircraft throttled towards the Earth. The whole plane was shaking… And then he felt the collision. His head smashed up against the seat in front of him and he lost consciousness.
“Are you okay?”
Somebody was shaking him. They held him by the shoulder and they were shaking him.
“Are you okay?”
Ivan opened up his eyes… It was a flight attendant. Her clothes were messed up and torn. Her mascara make-up was running down her eyes. She had been crying.
“Yes… Yes… What is it?” Ivan was slowly regaining his senses.
“The pilot’s dead… Most people are dead… I thought everyone was dead.”
Ivan looked around. There was a giant tear in the aircraft and snow was coming in, a blistering wind… And, dead bodies, dead bodies everywhere. People with their heads smashed open, fire was outside the plane, blood and mayhem. Somehow this section of the plane had seemed to be the least damaged.
“Still alive over here.” Somebody was raising their arms and calling out from the locality. The flight attendant heard and went to attend them.
“Ahhhrrr! Ahhhrrrr!” Somebody was screaming, “Ahhhrrrr!” Ivan recognized the voice. It was Steven.
Ivan ignored his own pains and jumped out of his seat and made his way through the minor debris to follow the screams. He followed the screams and found him. Steven. Steven was sitting there with small cuts and bruises all over his face and arms, sitting next to what used to be the carer. The carer now just resembled a minced meat package, with blood and body parts as some of the plane had bent around and squished her person.
“Ahhhrrrr! Ahhhhrrr!” Steven was still screaming.
Ivan went over and started shaking him, trying to bring him to his sensibilities, “Steven! Steven! It’s me! It’s Ivan! Do you remember me?”
Then Steven ceased screaming, looked at Ivan and said, “Hello Ivan.” And then he passed out from shock.
Then another person joined Ivan standing beside Steven who was now unconscious, “Is he okay?”
“Who are you?” Ivan asked the newcomer.
“My name’s Sandra and I’m a past-life counselor. Does he need counseling?”
“There are more pressing issues at the moment than counseling!” Ivan barked.
“I’m sorry, but that’s all I know how to do.”
“It’s okay. He’s fine. I think he’s just passed out from shock. How many of us are there?”
“Not many… There’s a guy named Oscar who’s taken the lead. They found a GPS system and we’re sixty kilometers from the nearest town.”
“Can we signal for help? Will there be a rescue team?”
“We don’t know. Oscar’s saying that if we stay here we’ll all freeze to death. If we take the GPS with us, they’ll find us either way.”
“And if we stay?”
“Burn or freeze to death. The rest of the plane is burnt to ashes. It’s no good staying here.”
“Okay… Can you help me move him?” Ivan signaled to Steven.
“Sure,” Sandra agreed.
They each took Steven out by under the arms and started walking to the remaining survivors. There was six of them in all. Ivan; Oscar; Sue the flight attendant; Sandra the past life counselor; a fat man named Harold; and Steven. It was only the smallest cross-section of the plane that remained undamaged enough for anybody to survive. And having anybody survive the devastation that was, was a miracle in itself. When Ivan, Sandra and Steven reached them, Steven had regained consciousness. All the others were going through someone’s carry-on luggage and putting on clothes to shield themselves from the clothes. He saw the fat man, Harold, putting on a bikini on top of his head and wearing them as ear muffs.
“We can’t be too picky about what we’re going to wear…” Harold stated.
“I agree.” Ivan said, while finding himself a woman’s dress that had survived the fire and placing it on top of the clothes that he already wore. It was cold, blistering cold. Snow rained down upon them as they all went about their business of gathering what they would need for the journey across the mountains. Ivan assisted Steven getting dressed into putting warmer appendages upon his person.
Oscar was figuring out the GPS system and mentally surveying the area, planning out their route while Sue, the flight attendant, rummaged through the wreckage looking for food to take with them. Sue found some things, packed them in a bag and came up to Ivan and Steven, handing them two miniature bottles of whiskey. Ivan took it and opened the other up for Steven. “Drink it mate, it will warm you up.”
Steven drank the small bottle and began coughing. It was probably the first drink of alcohol that he ever had. Oscar came up to Ivan and Steven. Oscar, noticing that Steven was mentally disabled stated, “We can’t take him with us.”
“Excuse me!?” It was Ivan’s reaction and all the other survivors gathered around.
“He’ll slow us down and we’ll all get into trouble if we take him with us. He has to stay.” Oscar made his point.
“That’s bad karma… We can’t do that.” It was Sandra, the past life counselor.
“He’s coming with us.” It was Harold, the fat man who feared that if they left Steven behind, they’d also leave him behind.
“And what about you? What do you think?” Oscar asked Sue, the flight attendant.
“I have a duty to all the passengers of this aircraft. He’s coming with us.”
“Okay, damn it! I’m the arsehole! I’m the arsehole! He’s coming with us? Jesus!” After that Oscar laid out their route of travel, showing them once on the GPS and then pointing out towards the landscape of where they had to go.
With a bag full of airliner food, dressed in layers of clothes and with bras wrapped around their heads; they began their journey afoot. Walking in twos: Oscar and Sue were paired up; as were Harold and Sandra; leaving Ivan and Steven trailing at the rear.
With the exception of Harold and Sandra, they were silent as they walked through the snow. The hail of snowflakes creating a thin layer of frost on their faces. They breathed out mist as their hot breaths mixed into the air of sub-below temperatures. Harold kept on asking the same question, over and over again, repetitively, “Why is this happening to me?”
To which Sandra would reply, “Shut up, it’s happening to all of us, just shut up.”
And again, “Why is this happening to me?”
“Shut up, I said it’s happening to all of us, not just you.”
And again, “Why is this happening to me?”
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”
“Why is this happening to me?”
Then her past-life counselling skills came to the forefront, “It’s because of what you did in a past-life. It’s always because of what you did in a past life.”
Then Ivan called out from behind, “Oh really, then what did you do in a past-life to get stuck with us lot?”
“No, you misunderstand my presence. I am simply the guide in all of this. Simply the guide.” And then Sandra began repeating herself to ward off the cold, “Simply the guide. Simply the guide. Simply the guide.” And that repetition didn’t stop. As long as they kept on walking it didn’t stop.
They were travelling across the mountains. As best as their route could manage, they did not attempt to scale the peaks. Then Harold started up again, “Then why am I so fat?”
“Why am I so fat?” Harold repeated himself to Sandra, “Is that past-life karma as well?”
“Probably. Just shut up. Simply the guide. Simply the guide. Simply the guide.”
“What are they talking about?” It was Steven and he was confused.
“I don’t know mate, I don’t know.” Ivan answered as they kept on walking.
They reached a certain point where Steven was exhausted and just collapsed in the snow.
“See,” it was Oscar, “I knew he would cause us problems.”
“We’ll have to stop here and get some rest and sleep.” It was Sue. She took over the lead.
“But how do we survive the cold? If we stop now, we’ll just freeze to death.” Was Oscar’s answer.
“I think I just discovered why you’re so fat Harold,” it was Sue, finally injecting a positive perspective into the situation. “We’ll just cuddle into Harold.”
Harold looked at the others with a twisted look of pain on his face, “Okay. If that’s what you really want.”
Harold collapsed onto the snow. Digging himself in the snow, they all dug themselves positions into Harold. Ivan helped Steven dig his own trench so that they could all take advantage of Harold’s body warmth. And as soon as their trenches were established, with Harold taking a centre-point, they all began to rest.
The others didn’t take notice of what was happening as they took quick moments of sleep. But Harold was freezing to death. As frost-bite overtook various parts of his body and his limbs, he attempted to struggle out of the bondages that death was slowly wrapping around him. When he realized that this was it. That he was going to die. He rolled over on Sandra. Covering her face and suffocating her. By the time that they had all rested enough and woken up. They awoke to a frozen Harold and a suffocated Sandra.
“Good, at least we don’t have to put up with their mutterings.” It was Oscar.
“You monster!” Was Sue’s reply.
“Just let’s carry on, shall we?” Ivan had to play the role of the peacekeeper. They all took a break for something to eat and then continued their journey towards the nearest town.
They came across a cliff’s edge. Where a mountain overlooked a ravine and they could see the town in the ravine and everything was in sight. That’s when it happened. When that little comment that Oscar made about Harold and Sandra slowly churned within the mind of Sue. A great bitterness grew in her heart.
And then she yelled out, blaming everything on Oscar, “You prick! These people were my responsibility!”
She attempted to push Oscar off into the valley, that would make him fall and plunge to his death. She went to push him and… Oscar quickly intercepted and tripped her up. Sue went falling into the ravine to her death.
Ivan turned over to Steven, “Steven, you can see the town, right?”
“Yes.” He said while chattering his teeth.
“Good, go to the town Steven. Go to the town.” Then he turned to Oscar, “Nothing personal. I just don’t like ya’.”
That is when Ivan spear-tackled Oscar and they both went plunging to their deaths. Steven found a passing and slowly climbed down to the town that sat at the ravine below. Then he wandered around the town for a while with the bra on his head. It was not exactly that cold in the town and all of the inhabitants stared at Steven bewildered. When Steven attempted to make conversation with them, he found that he couldn’t as they all spoke a different language.
Eventually the policing authorities came and picked him off the streets. Steven still had his passport on him in his back pocket. They found out that he was on the flight that went missing in air-space not too long ago and they began to question him, “What happened to the other passengers Steven? What happened to the other passengers?”
All of which Steven couldn’t answer because he didn’t have the comprehension skills to do so.