Metathesis - June 1996
Last Flight - naSti
(page 8/9)

Last Flight

"I'm sorry, sir, but she's left. She's boarding right now"

The guard politely but firmly pressed the door shut. I stood in front of the plate glass, my nose pressed against it, trying to see her. The aircraft stood on the tarmac, the engines running. The propellers were a transparent haze, clipping the few lights from the other side of the airport into Morse signals too fast to comprehend, signalling that I was too late, too late. The aircraft's running lights were toned down, no landing or taxi lamps switched on. Only the steady flash of the red anticollision lights illuminated the terminal and the gate, pulling the solemn groundcrew out of the gloom, their closed faces painted red before they were thrown back again into the encompassing dark. The propeller slipstream whipped up spray from the swelling puddles which had formed in the depressions of the stand, spray that added to the increasing drizzle.

The cloud base was closing down on the wet and windy night, blotting out the sky above, discarding the raindrops as small spikes which penetrated any form of clothing. The water was soon running down the sober faces in rivulets which formed on the brows, ran down the nose and were discharged from the nosetip and the chin. The aircraft was in a bad state, its fuselage pitted and the paint flaking, but it was rocking on its undercarriage, ready to go, ready to leave.

Then I saw her. A small figure appeared from a door in the side of the gate, slowly making her way between the puddles towards the staircase that led up to the dark doorway of the aircraft. Age and illness bowed her down, she was shuffling her feet, tripping over bumps in the concrete, being buffeted by the heavy slipstream - but steadily making her way towards the stairs. My heart went out to her - seeing her struggle, seeing her pain and agony, and yet not being able to help her, to guide her past the rough bits, to shield her frail body against the wind. This door, this damned glass door that stood between me and her. I clutched at it, scratched it, beat it - to no avail.

She was tiring now, her pace had slowed down, her clothes dark from the rain, her body racked by shivers from the cold. Matted hair hung down on her proud forehead, falling into her eyes. She didn't notice it anymore, not having the strength to brush it away. Looking round for support, there was none. The ground crew held their distance. As the rain poured down with a vengeance, she started climbing the stairs.

And then it happened.

As she struggled up the decrepit stairs, one by one, the clouds parted. Letting a brilliant few sunrays through, they struck the very stairs she was climbing, defeating the advancing gloom, playing over her figure, illuminating her limbs as she laboriously worked her way upwards. She was no longer bent, no longer slow in her movements. As she climbed higher, each step seemed lighter, each time she gripped the handrail, her grasp was firmer, until she reached the top of the staircase. Her dress was full of fiery flowers, the material flowing around her knees as she whirled round at the top, surveying the terminal. She was no longer an old woman, but yet the age showed - as experience, as wisdom, as knowledge. Her eyes were serious, but her smile lay in ambush, ready to jump forward. She spotted me, and caught my eye. I tried to speak, but couldn't utter a word. She spoke to me then, through her eyes, through her gestures - and she waved me goodbye. A small tear ran down my cheek as she ducked into the dark opening behind her, leaving me riveted in my spot, with my thoughts in my hands. The engines' note rang higher, and the plane started moving, soon disappearing from sight behind the adjacent building. I stood in my place with my head bowed low, the overcast taking on a darker hue of grey.

I raised my head to the roar of the powerful engines, as the aircraft streamed down the runway. No longer a decrepit old machine, it was silvery white, the long graceful wings stretching from one end of heaven to the other. As its nose lifted to the sky, the slender fuselage caught the last dying rays of the sun, and the plane left the ground in a halo of gold, the engines resonating in my chest.

It was the end of one era, and the beginning of another, and yet I could do nothing but watch.