“All flights have been delayed,” the monotone announcer repeated over the loudspeaker on New Year’s Eve. Gregory Mason sat on the rigid plastic chairs with his feet propped up on his backpack, “I’m not about to lay on the filthy carpet like the other waiting passengers. I’ll just sit here,” he thought.
Greg waited. And waited. An eternity seemed to pass by as he waited alone in the crowded terminal. The snow that began as soft flurries an hour ago now fell down out of a black sky and showed little or no signs of stopping. Tired of staring out the window at the jet-less gate, Greg closed his eyes. To rest them. To escape from the crowded terminal and to find some peace. To be free from the crying children and the chaotic chorus of complaining wanna-be passengers and feel alone for a few moments. But his closed eye didn’t block out the Christmas music that played over the loudspeaker system broken up only by a new announcement of another flight delay. Greg thought, “Hey, this must be the third time I heard Bing Crosby sing, ‘I’ll Be Home From Christmas.’ I didn’t make it home for Christmas. And now it looks like I’m not going to make it home for New Years either.”
Since their original flight had been cancelled Greg was issued paper tickets. He folded his in half, stuffed it in his shirt pocket and tapped it for good luck. Opening his eyes, he pulled the ticket out. He examined it as if it would change the situation. Perhaps looking at the ticket, and reading the flight number and departure time would magically cancel the delay and allow him to fly home. It was like holding a lottery ticket in your hand when the man on the TV reads the numbers on the ping pong balls as they drop down the chute into position. You watch the TV and you read your numbers. The man on the TV announces the numbers out loud, in case you missed it, and you wish that you had those numbers on your ticket. With his airline ticket in hand the toneless voice announced, “Flight 007 to Decatur has been delayed for an hour.” Terrific that’s my flight. Another hour. At this rate I won’t be home until next year! Greg stuffed his ticket back in his shirt pocket and stared off with narrow, silent eyes through the window where the jet was supposed to be parked ready to take him home.
A new chorus of moans erupted from the waiting room. A cold breeze filled the room. That’s when Greg noticed her. She walked in front of him. She grabbed the empty seat next Greg, threw her carry on bag on the floor, and parked her feet on top of it. She turned toward Greg and smiled.
Greg smiled back. “She looks familiar,” he thought. He felt the room get a little colder. “Terrific,” he thought, “they cut the heat down, we’ll freeze to death before we got out of here.”
Turning to her, “Don’t you just love it?” Greg said with a hint of sarcasm.
“Excuse me? What did you say?”
“The weather”, Greg stammered as he played with armrest, “and now if feels even colder in here - don’t you just love it?”
She answered him, “I’ve been freezing for hours. I can’t seem to get warm.” Dressed in a wool crewneck sweater, she clutched a knitted scarf around her shoulders. She shivered.
Greg looked at her. There was something about that gesture that was familiar. Tilting his head, he thought, “I must have seen her somewhere before. But I just can’t place it.”
The airport voice announced once again, “Flight 007 to Decatur has been delayed for an hour.”
Greg noticed her wince when the announcement came across. In her hands was a piece of paper, a ticket that resembled the one he had stuffed in his shirt pocket just a few moments earlier. “Are you flying to Decatur?” Greg asked. I am.”
She answered, “Yes, trying to get home.”
“Me too. I grew up there. What about you?”
She smiled, “I live in northern California now. But I grew up about 2 hours south of Decatur.”
“I guess I didn’t know her from high school,” he thought. Like a police detective questioning a suspect he bravely pushed on. He padded the armrest separating the two seats, “Where did you go to college? I went to Penn State for agriculture.”
“Did you play football there?”
He sat up straight and smiled. His voice grew deeper, “Well, I did play on the practice squad. What about you?”
“Nope, I didn’t play football,” she laughed. “I went to the University of Illinois. Computer Science Major.”
“What do you do with a computer science degree?” he asked.
“Get a PhD.”
Feeling a little intimidated, “Oh, from Illinois?”
He turned his gaze back out the window confused as to why she looked so familiar as he watched the snow cover the tarmac. He smiled as he thought, “Well I guess I didn’t know her from college.”
The airport voice announced, “Attention, Attention. Flight 007 to Decatur has been delayed for an hour. When we have more information we will make another announcement.”
People paced back and forth down the isles between the rows of seats trying to burn off nervous energy. Amid the large crowd Greg felt invisible. Scattered around the terminals waiting area, positioned above their heads and suspended from the ceiling, were television sets. Each TV was tuned to the weather channel. Some would be passengers stood with arms crossed staring at the screen. The weather girl, dressed in a slim red dress smiled as she highlighted the terrible storm. “Winter storm Lucian,” she said, “will spread snow from the Cascades of Oregon and Washington into the central Rockies through New Year's Day. Salt Lake City could pick up an additional 4 to 8 inches of new snow by this evening. This will impact travel on interstates 15, 80 and 84 in northern Utah. Flights across . . .”
Tuning out the weather forecast she asked Greg, “So, how long have you been waiting here?”
“I’m not sure any more. It feels like an eternity.”
She shook from the cold. “I just can’t seem to get warm.”
The weather girl vanished from the screen and a new reporter appeared. He stood in a snow field the color of chrome. Dressed like a Muscovite, he announced, “A few moments ago, Flight 007 from Salt Lake City to Decatur crashed on its final approach.” While he talked, the camera shifted past him to the burning wreckage in the field of snow. Flames broke the night sky. The camera focused back on the news reporter with the burning jetliner aflame in the background. “I have a statement from the State Police. They are reporting that there are no apparent survivors.”
People poured around the TV sets looking and listening for details. Those in the waiting room heard the announcement and rushed to find a TV. The moans of tired, frustrated travelers turned to moans of grief for those on the jet and relief that they were not on that jet. The soft moans gave way to a solemn quiet as they listened for more details. Crying replaced the quiet. Strangers hugged one another in sorrow and in solidarity. Greg looked over at her in her seat and she was gone. Vanished. Her empty spot next to him was all that remained. Then he felt the cold. An extreme cold like he never felt before. And he found himself in the field of snow and blood and fuel and flame and destroyed jet wreckage still strapped to the seat next to her holding hands.