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Departures

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Departures

By François Robillard

 

Copyright © 2015

François Robillard

Produced with the assistance of the

Department of Communication Studies

At Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

All responsibility for the content rests with

The student producer of this work.

Table of Contents

William’s Perspective[++
++]

Simon’s Perspective

 

 

William Greene had a depressing job involving various travels across the many branches of his company. He was a tired man. Tired of his job, tired of his family, tired of eating alone in his crappy two-room apartment, tired of working overnight for his dead-end job. He was so very tired and yet saw no solution to his problem. At first he couldn’t sleep on the planes he had to take every other week, but now, he couldn’t sleep at all. Needless to say, William was an unhappy man.

Each morning, whether it be a weekday or not, William woke up at 6:30AM, without the need for an alarm. Years of waking up at the same time programmed his brain to go to bed and rise at the same time, even if more recently he no longer slept at all.

“Good morning mister Greene, in the attached file you will see your assignment for today, as well as a plane ticket to your destination. The ticket has already been paid for.”

With a sigh, he turned off his phone and summoned the courage to rise up from his bed to start his day. Once he stood up, everything went as it always does: he took a cold shower, got into the same shirt and pant combination he had for the past four years, ate a cheap cereal breakfast, and drove his run-down old white car through the traffic.

At the airport, the same thing that always happened to him when he was in public, happened again: somebody went up to him and asked him if he was lost. He never knew what to answer to that question. He knew where he was going and where he was, but he really did feel lost. He guessed it showed up on his face and that’s why people thought he needed help. He dismissed the interaction from his mind and went on his way.

Once he was seated in the airplane, he started dozing off in hopes of catching some sleep before landing.

“I don’t like airplanes. I feel like the idea of flight is something out of fiction, and that, if all of a sudden everybody realized this; the plane would come crashing down onto land and we would all die.”

The man next to him was trying to start a conversation with him. William gave a little grunt of acknowledgement and kept his eyes shut, hoping that he would understand that he wasn’t a talkative person.

“I’m Simon,” he said while offering his hand for a shake. “What’s your name?”

“William”, he answered without opening his eyes.

Seemingly oblivious to the hint, Simon continued. “What are you traveling for? Business or pleasure? I have an important interview to study at an amazing institution overseas! I’m not even paying for this flight! Life is crazy.”

William opened one eye. Simon was looking at him with intent, waiting for an answer.

“We’re flying overseas so the odds of us crashing on land are slim”, he responded.

“What is your job? Are you working in something you like? You know, my dad was a dentist his whole life, until one morning he woke up and realized that he hated looking at people’s teeth for a living. Now he’s a very successful painter. The funny thing is, the first painting he ever sold was the painting of a giant tooth. Can you believe it?” Simon went on and on. There was no end to his chatter.

The pilot activated the PA system and announced that they had to fill up on fuel, and thus they would wait on the ground for one hour.

William looked at his watch. “Great, one more hour of this nightmare. Perhaps if I watch a movie he’ll stop”, he thought. He browsed through the same collection of Hollywood movies that the airline offered; he had already seen them a couple dozen times. He glanced at Simon and saw that he was still looking at him. He took off his headphones.

“I’m not a big fan of TV. I feel like TV is the great tragedy of today’s society. You know how you just turn off your brain when you watch it? There’s the problem. People like to shut off their brain. Being passive is our time’s Great Depression.”

He examined Simon as he was talking. He wondered if he expected to be listened or if he spoke out loud everything that went through his mind without further intent. He was all over the place: he jumped from subject to subject with no transition and gave his opinion on everything and nothing. At first, William wanted him to stop talking, yet he found himself increasingly interested in what he had to say. He found appeal in trying to keep up with him in his journey through the rabbit hole.

When the plane finally took off, Simon fell dead silent, as though he didn’t want to attract the attention of gravity. His whole body tensed as the engines grew louder to make the plane rise. His knuckles turned bone white on the armrest while he inhaled deeply from his nose. The plane shook and wobbled, the wings bounced up and down, wind came gushing at the windows, hitting hard as waves on a beach during a hurricane.

When the plane ultimately lowered its nose, the man went on with his speech – beginning with a crack in his voice, which hinted his moment of panic. His obvious nervousness calmed William down; he realized that his neck had been contracted ever since he got on the plane as he took a deep breath. Simon’s whirlwind of words allowed him to clear his mind from his own thoughts. Time seemed to fly when he talked, an hour could pass by as quickly as the blink of an eye, however each sentence reverberated through him. Even though William was not responding, Simon didn’t slow down and only took pauses to sip his drink.

As Simon was sharing with William his own views about resurrection in the New Testament, a feedback sound produced by the P.A. system in the airplane interrupted him.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking, we will be experiencing some turbulence in the following minutes, so please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts, it will all be over soon William.” The last words from the announcement echoed into William’s ears as he felt a tear in reality. Was he asleep? Did he simply imagine what he had just heard? Was the man next to him even real? He looked at Simon, who gave him a weak smile.

“I’m going to stop talking for a while, I have to concentrate on the fact that we are 30’000 feet in the air in a metal box and that the only thing protecting us are seatbelts from the 1970s and a plastic bag that’s supposed to help us breathe when we will be hurled to our inevitable death.”

At least he’s rational, William thought. “Depends on how we crash,” he started to explain, “if we get hit by an air-to-air missile like in the case of the MH17, most of us would die from the blast, the almost immediate deceleration or the instant depressurization of the cabin. If the plane just stopped flying, as you seem to be imagining, we would have a couple of minutes to let terror take over us as we come to the realization of our impending doom. The sheer terror would kill or knock unconscious the passengers most susceptible to fear and the rest would experience how it feels to go from 800 miles an hour to zero in a second. If we crashed on land, the main problem would be fire, as the impact would set ablaze all of the fuel and air inside the plane. If we crash at sea, fire would still be an issue, but nothing compared to water. With the possibility that the plane remains relatively intact, the main problem would be getting out of the plane as it sinks deeper into the sea, with the added difficulty of pressure making the doors impossible to open. Once we get out of the plane and happen to be wearing our aptly named ‘life’ jackets, hypothermia would finish us in a matter of hours, way before search and rescue helicopters find us.”

Simon looked at him, incredulous.

“Don’t worry about it though, the odds of a plane crash are one in 11 million,” William added, realizing the gravity of his words

“Well at least this got you talking,” Simon said.

William just looked at him, trying to explain his sudden outburst. He pushed up the cover on his window and looked out at the clouds.

“It truly is beautiful; don’t you think? Surrounded by clouds like this, it looks as though we are alone in the world. There is no up or down, only an infinity of giant marshmallows,” Simon said, glaring at the window. “I truly admire astronauts, you know. I feel like they are the most fearless people because they fully grasp the danger of what they are doing is. A simple fault in their suit, a crack in the hull or an equipment malfunction and they cease to exist. Meanwhile, I’m panicking and I haven’t even left the stratosphere.”

“You’re right,” William said, half hoping he would stop talking.

“But you know, everybody’s gotta die some time,” Simon continued. “We are all born the same manner and somewhere along the way we start believing that we are meant for something big, when in reality we’re nothing more than animals.”

William kept looking out the window; birds flying lower under the plane.

“When I was a kid, I went to many funerals because somehow members of my family kept dying like flies. I feel like this gave me an early reality check on my own mortality and how I need to leave something behind, something that matters.”

“Leaving something behind doesn’t make you any less dead”, William thought.

“I’m currently trying to start a company of my own, as well as working on a second degree at night school. I was president of the Model U.N. that I started at my high school for five consecutive years and joined a band where I taught myself to play the piano. I sold an app idea on my first year of college and shot a documentary all by myself, it won prizes all around the world.”

A baby in the seat behind them started wailing as her mom tried to comfort her. It was getting harder and harder for William to remain patient.

“My parents taught me strong work ethics and I don’t like taking vacations. I’m interested by a thousand different things and I want to do it all. When I think of the future, I don’t see myself doing one thing, I see myself doing everything.”

One of the flight attendants started distributing food to the passengers of the airplane. Once he reached Simon and William’s lane, he dropped the sandwich he was about to hand William, but Simon caught it before it hit the ground. He didn’t seem to notice and continued talking.

“I don’t know if I will ever be satisfied with what I am doing. I always feel like I can improve something or change something else. My biggest weakness is deciding when something is finally done.”

Somehow it was too much for William. “Are you going to hand me your resume at the end of this conversation or are you just boasting about how perfect you are and your life is? Can’t you take a hint that I don’t want to talk to you?”

Simon looked back at him and blinked. He seemed at a lost for words for a moment. “I’m… sorry to hear that. I didn’t want to be a bother… I only figured we had time to kill.”

“If it’s talking about trivialities, count me out of it,” William replied under his breath.

With that said, he turned his head and looked at the baby square in the eyes, and suddenly the baby stopped crying. With a satisfied smile, William turned back to his computer screen and started a movie at random. Before the first scene of the movie even started, the display for passengers to fasten their seatbelts lit up. The plane started shaking violently and even William, who was a frequent flyer, started feeling nervous. He looked at Simon and saw that he wasn’t feeling well at all. His eyes were darting everywhere; a bead of sweat was rolling down his forehead as he was gasping to keep control of his breathing. Seeing him like this made William feel pity. He stopped his movie.

“You know, I once was like you: full of promise and full of hope. I thought that everything was within reach and that I could take anything I wanted if I set my mind to it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what I wanted. I took a safe job with a steady income and here we are, thirty years later and I feel like I wasted my time. If I have one thing to tell you is this: do not stop doing things. Immobility kills creativity, indecision kills ambition.” William said, matter-of-factly.

“How could you work thirty years at the same place? Wouldn’t you go crazy?”

“There came a time where I had to choose between what was safe and the unknown, and I took the easy way out. After that, the longer I stayed there, the more I lost my appetite for challenge. I stopped pushing my limits, I stayed comfortable.” William sighed.

The plane gave a giant shrug that shook every passengers and made the equipment rattle. William didn’t let this distract him, and continued with his speech.

“Don’t settle for anything short of what you want. I know it’s hard to know what’s going to be best for you in the long run but it’s better to roll the dice than keep them in your hand, wondering what the outcome will be. I let so many occasions pass by me because I was too afraid to choose. Opportunities to make something great aren’t hard to come by at first, but they get rarer and rarer as you turn a blind eye to them.”

The flight attendants fell silent and started walking briskly from one place to another with badly-concealed concern on their faces.

William could see his whole life like a map laid before him: the friends he let down, the people he disappointed, the times he didn’t rise to the occasion, the battles he lost by refusing to fight.

“Surround yourself with people of ambition and don’t let them go. Put yourself out there, meet new people, work for what interests you the most and never be lazy.”

By then William realized the disquiet that filled the plane. He looked around him and saw a sea of uneasy passengers. People were whispering to each other, looking out the windows. What shocked him the most was the look of sheer terror that Simon had on his face.

“I can’t hear the engines, is that normal?”, Simon asked. “Does it happen often that the pilots just turn off the engines? Can they even do that? What is happening?” He grabbed William’s arms with intent.

William’s head began throbbing suddenly and oxygen masks fell down over the passengers.

“Why—” Simon started but was interrupted by a loud bang that came from outside the plane. William looked out and saw black smoke coming out of the engines and he understood at once.

“Put on your mask,” William said while reaching for his own.

William looked around him, trying to find an optimal course of action. He could see the general panic taking hold of the plane and most importantly his flight companion.

“Are we going to die?” Simon asked, tears filling his eyes.

William understood in this moment that the rest of this flight would go one of two ways: either he would let his old fear of dying take over him, or he would remain in control of the situation and stay level-headed.

“When I was a little bit younger than you are now,” William replied, “I was extremely afraid of dying. I don’t know why, but my own mortality was always on my mind and it was a constant source of stress to me. I poured over books after books on religion, spirituality, theoretical physics and philosophy. I spent nights on crappy message boards debating on what would happen when I died. I think that it was what scared me the most: not knowing what was next. I did not believe in religion, but I simply couldn’t accept that once we died, our entire existence came to a stop, and that it was the end. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. There was always this dark cloud following me around, telling me that it all meant nothing. One evening I just couldn’t stand it anymore: I went to my dad, crying, and asked him how come everybody was perfectly fine living their lives knowing that it all came to a horrible end. He looked at me and he said ‘Everybody finds their own way to deal with their own mortality. For me, knowing that it has an end is reassuring, because it makes me all the more appreciative of every moment of happiness that I live because I take them for what they are: a fleeting moment in a finite life.’ I asked him, ‘Aren’t you scared of dying? Aren’t you scared to know that there is nothing but darkness in the end?’ It was snowing that night, in fact, it was one of the first snowfalls of the winter and everything was calm and peaceful. My father asked me to follow him outside and look into the dark of the night. He told me, ‘This is what I believe death will be: even though it is cold and dark, it still feels peaceful and warm. Even though it is utterly silent and empty, you still feel at one with the universe.’ He died a few months after that, and by then I wasn’t sad for him, because I knew he was right.”

William sighed and it seemed as though his shoulders relaxed for the first time in years as a burden fell off of them. Simon wiped a tear out of the corner of his eye and asked with a shaking voice, “So you think this is it for us?”

William had to come up with an answer that would keep Simon with him, yet he was determined not to lie. “I’m not sure what the future holds us, and it’s fine by me,” William replied.

The plane had become extremely loud, with the sound of wind rushing through the dead engines and wings, and the uproar of the hysterical passengers. Somehow conversing with Simon was easy and they understood each other without raising their voices. He felt as though they had reached a connection that would benefit both of them in this troubling time.

“Tell me about your family, where are they? What are they doing right now?” William inquired attentively. He knew that by recalling joyful memories, Simon would remain calm and wouldn’t waste what was possibly the last moments of his life.

“My mom and dad are separated but are still friendly with each other. I had a brother ten years older than I, and I always strived to be like him. He influenced a lot of people and was very talented in his field of work. He was a doctor without borders and died six years ago during a bombing. Every year, at the anniversary of his death, my parents, his friends, his girlfriend he had at the time and his two children all reunite at the same place to celebrate his life. We share stories of him, we laugh, we cry and for a night we are whole again.”

Another loud crash was heard as a chunk of the wing tore off the plane and flew away. Panic doubled as the passengers realized what was to come next. William sensed the general terror trying to seize him and yet he refused to go down with it. He saw Simon as a terrified animal for a moment as the white of his eyes showed and his mouth opened without producing sound. William removed his mask and put a reassuring hand on his arm.

“What about their names? What are they called?” William whispered.

“My mom is named Carol, but we all call her Cawell because that’s how my brother called her when he was a kid.” At first, the words were hard to formulate in Simon’s mouth, as if he had to actively concentrate on selecting them, but as he talked his speech became increasingly fluid. “My dad George, is a painter now. He was never a man of many words, but when he talked, the whole room became quiet, because people knew what he said meant something. My brother Brian was named after my granddad, who was his godfather along with my aunt Lucy because she wasn’t married at the time of his birth. Brian’s girlfriend Melissa got married two years ago to a man named Jeremy, who’s very nice. He came last year to our gathering and was very kind to all of us. My twin nephews are truly inseparable, they’re named Lucas and Jacob.”

The cockpit’s door flung open as a flight attendant rushed out, crying in despair. William heard the pilots screaming for help in their headsets, trying to establish communication with other bases. He saw that no lights on the board were lit, and that the pilots were flipping aimlessly at the switches. He knew the situation was less than favorable and yet he remained calm.

“I don’t want to die,” Simon cried out, gasping for air. He removed his mask.

“It’s O.K. Simon, everything will be alright.” William explained in a soothing tone. He kept physical contact with him, always trying to bring him back to him. “Who else comes to your yearly parties?”

“There’s Mitchell, he was Brian’s best friend.” Simon said, concentrating. “He was always at our place when I was growing up. He moved out of the country a few years ago but he still comes every year. Sometimes, he brings his sister Nina along with him. She’s the same age as I am and I think I’m falling for her. I never felt so connected to another person before, I—“

As the plane made contact with the ocean, time seemed to slow down. William’s eyes wandered through the plane: the flight attendant that was running from the cockpit was suddenly hurled towards the tail of the plane; the passengers seated in the row in front of him went completely limp, their arms flaying around, having obviously lost consciousness in their panic; the lady a few rows behind him, holding her child in her arms as gravity pulled her towards the ceiling, her face a mask of terror. Simon was the middle of the chaos, his eyes looking up right, with a grin of his face, still talking about his life, and like that, it ended.

 

 

Simon Wallace had his whole life ahead of him. Having just finished his master’s degree in the domain he loves, he was juggling a handful of exciting projects as well as job interviews from the top firms around the world. He was incredibly busy and had little time to sleep. He was tired in a way that he felt awake for the first time of his life. Hunger for new experiences alone kept him fully alert during his 12 hours’ workdays. Simon was the busiest he had been in his entire life and he absolutely loved it.

Each day was different to him, he felt like he was always doing something new and stimulating. Today he woke up at the same time as the sun. He didn’t have curtains and could feel the warmth of the sun kiss his cheeks good morning. His cellphone rang at the sound of mail incoming.

“Dear applicant, our board of admission has reviewed your submission and is very interested to meet you for an interview tomorrow. Should you be available for this meeting, write us back and we will ensure your accommodation as well as flight to our institution. Have a good day and see you tomorrow.”

Simon jumped up and down on his bed in pure delight. When he sent his portfolio a month earlier, he never thought they would write him back. The fact that they were paying for the trip was an added benefit. He wrote them back, went out jogging, took a hot shower and went out brunching with some friends.

At the airport he did as he always did when he was bored: he went to a person who was working and seemed to be waiting for nothing else but their shift to end. Today was a particularly bored gate agent who had nothing else to do but apologize to people for their flights being delayed. One of his favorite things was distracting people from their own boredom to help the time pass. Along the way he got to know some very interesting jobs and people as well. People seemed to gravitate towards him like moths to a lamp and for a very short time they became the best of friends. He called this process “boredom-induced friendship” and it only worked if both parties were in a prolonged state of boredom. When his flight was announced, he left a now smiling gate agent and left for his plane.

Once seated in the plane, he noticed the person next to him seemed lost but most of all seriously depressed. Thirty years his elder, the man’s eyes displayed immense sadness and the bags under them showed signs of insomnia. He saw how we tossed and turned on his seat with the hope of finding a comfortable position to fall asleep in. Seeing how little results this achieved, he decided he would not leave this plane until this man felt better about himself.

“I don’t like airplanes. I feel like the idea of flight is something out of fiction, and that, if all of a sudden everybody realized this; the plane would come crashing down into land and we would all die.”

It was actually a true fear of his. He knew it was irrational yet he couldn’t help but believe it. The older man didn’t bother opening his eyes and gave a grunt for a response. Simon would not be deterred so easily.

“I’m Simon,” he said, reaching to shake the stranger’s hand. “What’s your name?”

“William,” he answered, straining to keep his eyes shut.

“I’m wearing him down,” Simon thought. Soon, William would open up to him, he knew.

“What are you traveling for? Business or pleasure? I have an important interview to study at an amazing institution overseas! I’m not even paying for this flight! Life is crazy.”

William finally opened one tired eye.

“We’re flying overseas so the odds of us crashing on land are slim”, he responded.

Then he shut back his eye. Simon was both amazed and annoyed by his apparent total control of his eyelids. Stubborn as he was, he continued.

“What is your job? Are you working in something you like? You know, my dad was a dentist his whole life, until one morning he woke up and realized that he hated looking at people’s teeth for a living. Now he’s a very successful painter. The funny thing is, the first painting he ever sold was the painting of a giant tooth. Can you believe it?”

The classic tooth story was bound to make him talk, but before William had the time to process this amazing story, he was interrupted by a screeching sound. It was the pilot saying that they had to fill up on fuel, and would only depart in an hour.

William looked annoyed. He started tapping the screen attached to the seat in front of him and connecting his headphones to the armrest. Simon decided he was not going to talk until he got a sign from him. And so he waited. When William looked at him and took off his headphones, he jumped on the occasion.

“I’m not a big fan of TV. I feel like TV is the great tragedy of today’s society. You know how you just turn off your brain when you watch it? There’s the problem. People like to shut off their brain. Being passive is our time’s Great Depression.”

What Simon wanted was his insight on something, anything. To him, somebody with an opinion was somebody who had hope. Seeing that he wasn’t getting anything, he kept talking until he found a subject that would interest them both.

Time went by really fast and it seemed that in an instant the plane started its engine and almost instantaneously Simon started panicking. Thoughts of dread filled his head and the more he tried to think of something else; the more fear tightened its hold on him. He felt as though the whole world around him shook as wind and the craft lead a terrible fight.

When the plane ultimately lowered its nose, Simon tried to go on with his speech. He felt like he needed to make William feel good about himself no matter what, and to him the best way to achieve that would be to get him to open up. He went on and on, trying to find the subject that would finally make him talk. He tried to talk about religion, history, philosophy, politics and yet nothing seemed to get a rise out of him. He was about to change subjects yet another time but he got interrupted by the sound of a P.A. system screeching.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking, we will be experiencing some turbulence in the following minutes, so please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts.”

Simon’s hands began to itch, a common occurrence when he got nervous. “I’m going to stop talking for a while, I have to concentrate on the fact that we are 30’000 feet in the air in a metal box and that the only thing protecting us are seatbelts from the 1970s and a plastic bag that’s supposed to help us breathe when we will be hurled to our inevitable death.” He noticed William’s eyes light up and for a brief moment he thought he had won him over.

“Depends on how we crash,” William explained, “if we get hit by an air-to-air missile like in the case of the MH17 that happened last year, most of us would die from the blast radius, the almost immediate deceleration or the instant depressurization of the cabin. If the plane just stopped flying, as you seem to be imagining, we would have a couple of minutes to let terror take over us as we come to the realization of our impending doom. The sheer terror would kill or knock unconscious the passengers most susceptible to fear and the rest would experience how it feels to go from 800 miles an hour to zero in a second. If we crashed on land, the main problem would be fire, as the impact would set ablaze all of the fuel and air inside the plane. If we crash at sea, fire would still be an issue, but nothing compared to water. With the possibility that the plane remains relatively intact, the main problem would be getting out of the plane as it sinks deeper in the water, with the added difficulty of water pressure making the doors impossible to open. Once we get out of the plane and happen to be wearing our so aptly named ‘life’ jackets, hypothermia would finish us in a matter of hours, way before search and rescue helicopters find us.”

Simon looked at him, incredulous. He tried to look away and empty his head by controlling his breath just like his therapist taught him, but William’s voice boomed in his head.

“Don’t worry about it though, the odds of a plane crash are one in 11 million,” William added.

“Well at least this got you talking,” Simon said, trying to sound satisfied. William seemed to be about to say something but instead pushed up the cover for his window and looked outside.

The striking sunset outside caught Simon’s eye and he began: “It truly is beautiful; don’t you think? Surrounded by clouds like this, it looks as though we are alone in the world. There is no up or down, only an infinity of giant marshmallows. I truly admire astronauts, you know. I feel like they are the most fearless people because they fully grasp the danger of what they’re doing. A simple fault in their suit, a crack in the hull or an equipment malfunction and they cease to exist. Meanwhile, I’m panicking and I haven’t even left the stratosphere.”

“You’re right,” William said, sounding annoyed.

“But you know, everybody’s gotta die some time,” Simon continued, trying to seem casual. “We are all born the same manner and somewhere along the way we start believing that we are meant for something big, when in reality we’re nothing more than animals.”

William kept looking out the window. Simon wanted to provoke him into talking and yet he kept escaping him.

“When I was young I went to many funerals because somehow members of my family kept dying like flies. I feel like this gave me an early reality check on my own mortality and how I need to leave something behind, something that matters. I’m currently trying to start a company of my own, as well as working on a second degree at night school. I was president of the Model U.N that I started at my high school for five consecutive years and joined a band where I taught myself to play the piano. I sold an app idea on my first year of college and shot a documentary all by myself, it won prizes all around the world.”

William appeared annoyed. “Good,” Simon thought, “he’s going to break.”

“My parents taught me strong work ethics and I don’t like taking vacations. I’m interested by a thousand different things and I want to do it all. When I think of the future, I don’t see myself doing one thing, I see myself doing everything.”

One of the flight attendants started distributing food for the passengers of the airplane. Once he reached Simon and William’s lane, he dropped the sandwich he was about to hand William, but Simon caught it before attaining the ground. Simon tried to look as if it was a common occurrence and went on with his monologue.

“I don’t know if I will ever be satisfied with what I am doing. I always feel like I can improve something or change something else. My biggest weakness is deciding when something is finally done.”

William’s nostrils flared as he raised his voice. “Are you going to hand me your resume at the end of this conversation or are you just boasting about how perfect you are and your life is? Can’t you take the hint that I don’t want to talk to you?”

Simon wondered if he went too far, if by trying to open him up, he got him to be more closed than ever. He tried to find the words to go back to a safe spot. “I’m… sorry to hear that. I didn’t want to be a bother… I only figured we had time to kill.”

William said something under his breath and shot a severe look at a child behind him. Seemingly satisfied, he turned back to his screen and started a film. Simon understood that the bridge he was trying to build between them had burned down and that he wasn’t welcomed to talk anymore. He fastened his seatbelt when the sign blinked on and tried to entertain himself with the in-flight magazine. Suddenly the plane started to shake so violently that Simon lost all temptation to read. As the plane continued quivering, he started hyperventilating.

“You know, I once was like you: full of promise and full of hope,” William started. “I thought that everything was within my reach and that I could take anything I wanted if I set my mind to it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what I wanted. I took a safe job with a steady income and here we are, thirty years later and I feel like I wasted my time. If I have one thing to tell you is this: do not stop doing things. Immobility kills creativity, indecision kills ambition.”

This rose Simon’s curiosity. “How could you work thirty years at the same place? Wouldn’t you go crazy?”

“There came a time where I had to choose between what was safe and the unknown, and I took the easy way out. After that, the longer I stayed there, the more I lost my appetite for challenge. I stopped pushing my limits, I stayed comfortable.” William seemed very sad.

The plane gave a giant shrug that shook every passengers and made the equipment rattle. William didn’t let this distract him, and continued with his speech. Simon tried to concentrate in what he was saying.

“Don’t settle for anything short of what you want. I know it’s hard to know what’s going to be best for you in the long run but it’s better to roll the dice than keep them in your hand, wondering what the outcome will be. I let so many occasions pass by me because I was too afraid to choose. Opportunities to make something great aren’t hard to come by at first, but they get rarer and rarer as you turn a blind eye to them.”

Simon noticed the flight attendants falling silent all at once and fear swelled up in his belly.

“Surround yourself with people of ambition and don’t let them go. Put yourself out there, meet new people, work for what interests you the most and never be lazy.”

When William stopped talking, Simon noticed that the plane had grown incredibly silent. He came to the horrible realization that it was because the plane’s engine had stopped working and the only sound he could hear was the noise of the wind rushing through the wings.

“I can’t hear the engines, is that normal?”, he asked. “Does it happen often that the pilots just turn off the engines? Can they even do that? What is happening?” He grabbed William’s arms with intent. This was surely a nightmare; this couldn’t be happening.

Simon reached for his pounding forehead as oxygen masks fell down over the passengers.

“Why—” Simon started but was interrupted by a loud bang that came from outside the plane. William looked out and Simon saw the dread on his face.

“Put on your mask,” William said while reaching for his own.

Simon obeyed mindlessly and had to try a few times before actually putting on his mask. By the time he was done, the passengers around him had already started panicking. Some were praying and others were screaming in horror; some were comforting their loved ones and others were gathering their most prized possessions; some were crying of terror and others were hysterically laughing.

“Are we going to die?” Simon asked, tears filling his eyes. William was bound to know. It showed he was used to plane travel and perhaps this kind of incident happened often.

“When I was younger than you are now,” William replied, “I was extremely afraid of dying. I don’t know why, but my own mortality was always on my mind and it was a constant source of stress to me. I poured over books after books on religion, spirituality, theoretical physics and philosophy. I spent nights on crappy message boards debating on what would happen when I died. I think that it was what scared me the most: not knowing what was next. I did not believe in religion, but I simply couldn’t accept that once we died, our entire existence came to a stop, and that it was the end. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. There was always this dark cloud following me around, telling me that it all meant nothing. One evening I just couldn’t stand it anymore: I went to my dad, crying, and asked him how come everybody was perfectly fine living their lives knowing that it all came to a horrible end. He looked at me and he said ‘Everybody finds their own way to deal with their own mortality. For me, knowing that it has an end is reassuring, because it makes me all the more appreciative every moment of happiness that I live because I take them for what they are: a fleeting moment in a finite life.’ I asked him, ‘Aren’t you scared of dying? Aren’t you scared to know that there is nothing but darkness in the end?’ It was snowing that night, in fact, it was one of the first snowfalls of the winter and everything was calm and peaceful. My father asked me to follow him outside and look into the dark of the night. He told me, ‘This is what I believe death will be: even though it is cold and dark, it still feels peaceful and warm. Even though it is utterly silent and empty, you still feel at one with the universe.’ He died a few months after that, and by then I wasn’t sad for him, because I knew he was right.”

Simon understood that it was the first time he told this story in his life. He understood that this kind of story had to be earned and he felt very special for it, yet his joy was overshadowed by the gravity of the situation. He wiped a tear out of the corner of his eyes and asked with a shaking voice, “So you think this is it for us?” He would have paid anything for him to say no, because then it would mean they had a shot.

“I’m not sure what the future holds us, and it’s fine by me,” William replied.

The plane had become extremely loud, with the sound of wind rushing through the dead engines and wings, and the uproar of the hysterical passengers. Somehow conversing with William was easy and they understood each other without raising their voices. Simon suddenly felt very close to William, the way old friends can sometimes know what each other are thinking.

“Tell me about your family, where are they? What are they doing right now?” William inquired attentively.

Simon was thrown off by this question yet he answered it nonetheless. “My mom and dad are separated but are still amicable with each other. I had a brother ten years older than I, and I always strived to be like him. He influenced a lot of people and was very talented in his field of work. He was a doctor without borders and died six years ago during a bombing. Every year, at the anniversary of his death, my parents, his friends, his girlfriend he had at the time and his two children all reunite at the same place to celebrate his life. We share stories of him, we laugh, we cry and for a night we are whole again.”

Recalling these memories almost made him forget the impending doom that lied over them, but he was brought back to reality when another loud crash was heard as a chunk of the wing tore off the plane and flew away. The people around them were now full on screaming, their fear ripping away at their vocal chords. The general panic seized him full on and he started losing any kind of control upon his thoughts. Fear was now the only thing in his mind, the way pain takes over your whole body when you suffer an important wound. William removed his mask and put a reassuring hand on his arm.

“What about their names? What are they called?” William whispered.

The face of his mother is the first thing that came to his mind. He saw her laughing, dancing, joking around. The thought of her came like a warm light in his heart. “My mom is named Carol, but we all call her Cawell because that’s how my brother called her when he was a kid.” Once he had summoned his mother, it was easier for him to conjure every member of his family, one after the other. “My dad George is a painter now. He was never a man of many words, but when he talked, the whole room became quiet, because people knew what he said meant something. My brother Brian was named after my granddad, who was his godfather along with my aunt Lucy because she wasn’t married at the time of his birth. Brian’s girlfriend Melissa got married two years ago to a man named Jeremy, who’s very nice. He came last year to our gathering and was very kind to all of us. My twin nephews are truly inseparable, they’re named Lucas and Jacob.” He could see all of them now, aligned before him, smiling and speaking reassuring words to him. William was with them now, comfortable and grinning as if he had always been a part of his family.

A flight attendant rushed out of the cockpit, balling her eyes out. Simon how extremely horrified she was and suddenly her distress caught him and the image in his mind was shattered. He was going to die alone and he would never see his parents and friends again.

“I don’t want to die,” Simon cried out, gasping for air. He removed his mask.

“It’s O.K. Simon, everything will be alright.” William explained in a soothing tone. His touch is what kept him from completely losing his mind. “Who else comes to your yearly parties?”

Simon studied his face. Why was he so calm? Why did he care at all about his stupid stories? Then he realized he had done doing exactly what William was doing to him right now: he was actually trying to know him, he was interested in what he had to say. Never did he have such a connection with a stranger.

“There’s Mitchell, he was Brian’s best friend.” Simon said, concentrating on rebuilding his mental family portrait. It was almost finished now. “He was always at our place when I was growing up. He moved out of the country a few years ago but he still comes every year. Sometimes, he brings his sister Nina along with him. She’s the same age as I am and I think I’m falling for her.” The thought of Nina made his heart swell. In his mind she was glowing with a special light, laughing with the others. “I never felt so connected to another person before, I—“

As the plane made contact with the ocean, time seemed to slow down. The passengers of the plane were no longer strangers screaming for their lives: the image of his loved ones now filled the seats. They were all talking with each other like they did each year yet now everybody looked their best. His mom and dad were holding hands, stealing knowing glances at each other between jokes. His brother Brian held both his sons in his arms, making them jump high in the air. Melissa was looking at them with a tender look on her face, talking with her husband Jeremy. Nina was hitting her brother with the palm of her hands, laughing at a trick she fell for. Mitchell was shielding his face, tears rolling out his eyes from laughter. The air was warm and smelled of baking pies and nobody was missing: everyone he ever loved was sitting in the plane. William was sitting of his right with a broad smile on his face, listening intently at him, and just like that, it ended.

 


Departures

Departures follows the story of William and Simon. William is a 50-something year old man who feels like he has wasted his life on an uninteresting job and made the wrong choices. Simon is a young man who has his whole life ahead of him. He is curious, motivated and proactive, yet he is nervous about the future. They both meet on an airplane and have to deal with each other's personality for the rest of the flight, until they realize they will not come out of this plane alive.

  • ISBN: 9781310932342
  • Author: François Robillard
  • Published: 2015-12-04 20:40:06
  • Words: 8097
Departures Departures