“Excuse me, excuse me,” I shouted as I hurled past dawdling travelers. I came to a halt at the end of the line for the TSA check, my carry-on suitcase slamming against my legs. It seemed that everyone was looking in my direction, some with disgusted expressions on their faces, others simply startled from the commotion. I sank into myself as I placed my belongings on the conveyor belt, muttering prayers that I would make it to my gate on time. The man ahead of me made to remove his watch and turned to offer me a polite smile, probably sensing my anxious energy. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed his hand fall back to his side as he entered the metal detector.
“Sir-” The beeping beat me to my lecture, reprimanding the man for his oblivious behavior.
“Sir, you have to remove your watch,” the security agent said, exasperation written all over her face. The man played the confused fool, wasting another precious five minutes failing to tell them of his metal knee replacement while they searched him.
I buried my head in my hands in annoyance, but a part of me wondered if the man was completely aware of what his actions cost me. His tawny brown hair showed only a few silver strands and complemented his tanned face, peppered with a few sunspots and the beginning of wrinkles. He was nowhere near old enough to be acting senile. As one could imagine, this only made my fury bubble to the surface.
I approached him with a fire burning so hot in my veins that my cheeks heated to a rosy color. Before I could begin spilling my anger, he held out an iced coffee to me.
“I’m sorry about that back there. Sometimes I just get confused.” He shook his head in disappointment, not in me or the agents, but in himself. My expression softened and I graciously accepted the coffee. I found it hard to stay angry at a man whose greatest obstacle was obviously his own mind.
I rummaged through my bag in pursuit of my phone, but to no avail. Sighing, I figured the man could at least help me in some way with that watch that cost me an unbearable amount of time.
“Could you tell me what time it is?” I asked.
“Quarter to 4,” he offered shyly. Quarter to 4? My plane didn’t even begin boarding until 4:15. I pursed my lips in embarrassment, suddenly aware of what a scene I caused.
Desperate for the restroom, I asked the man, whose name I came to know as John, to watch my suitcase and coffee for a few minutes. I wouldn’t normally be so trusting; I had gotten a reputation among my friends as the cynical one. But my gut told me I had nothing to worry about.
John had protested when I bid him farewell and began walking to the wing of the airport in which my plane would take off.
“You have no time to talk?” I felt guilty. So I stayed, and I’m glad I did.
I told him of my mundane plans to visit my sister in Denver, who I love dearly but have a troubled relationship with. Everything I explained or complained about was met with John’s wisdom. He was the calm candlelight to my burning flame threatening to devour the whole place.
“So why the knee replacement? You seem too young.” I let my curiosity get the better of me, though I wondered if I had crossed a line.
“Osteosarcoma. Cancer in my knee. I’m lucky they didn’t take my whole leg,” he responded. My heart sank, though John didn’t treat it as a forbidden subject. If anything, it seemed that he had come to peace with it.
“I’m so sorry. And you’re recovered now?” He didn’t particularly answer before changing the subject and spouting some nonsense about the weather.
I finally had to break away from the conversation and walk somewhat speedily to my gate. After crossing the bridge, the hallways leading to the other side of the airport seemed to span miles, for as long as I walked, the gray tiled walls confined me. I kept repeating the only thought that calmed me: It couldn’t be later than 4:10–
Every seat was empty, only the ghosts of passengers present at my gate, number 12. The door to the jetway was slammed shut. There was no plane to be seen out the window.
Oh no, oh no, oh no, I muttered to myself. I had missed my flight. But I had only been talking to John for ten minutes at the most!
“Excuse me, what time is it?” I asked the travel agent, panicked.
“4:45. Is there anything else I can help you with?” I gaped at her, warranting the confused look she shot back at me. John had lied to me! First he wasted my time, then he made me feel a fool, and now he had cost me my flight. What an ass. At least he hadn’t stolen my luggage.
Hopeless, I chose a seat to wait in for the next five hours before my rescheduled flight began boarding. At least I wouldn’t be late for that one. Save for me, only the ghosts of passengers on my missed flight were left behind.
The small television at the other end of the room evoked eeriness, as if it was the only working object left in an abandoned attic. Pictured on its screen was the news, but not just any news–
Flames engulfed something undistinguishable, the only sign of life in the expanse of meadows. Along the bottom of the screen ran the familiar breaking news banner, the title of which I had to move closer in order to read.
Oh my god. Plane from JFK crashes before reaching Denver. The plane I was supposed to be on. I fought the tears threatening to burst from my eyes, but to no avail. The flames had subsided enough to make out the wing of the plane, burned and reduced to rubble. I saw no sign of help, no ambulances or fire trucks on the scene. My heart dropped to my stomach as I realized why. No survivors.
I dropped my head, my vision blurry from the tears that refused to stop. But my eye caught on the black lettering on the side of my coffee cup. Scribbled there was a small note: I couldn’t let you on that plane when the world depends on you. Now go and save them.
I broke into a sprint, past the tiled walls, across the bridge, back to where John stood. But when my eyes finally found him from across the room, he was not the stranger I left an hour ago. He was blanketed in a golden glow as he smiled at me before vanishing. An angel sent for me.
My head spun as I connected the dots. Of course he had not recovered from osteosarcoma yet, and I realized he never would. I was given a second chance. My temperamental, foolish self was given a second chance.
Now go and save them. And so I did.