THE PLANE IS moving backwards. Slowly. You have to stare at the ground to confirm it. Yes, the luggage vans and fuel trucks are edging right to left across your window.
Surely that’s it. They can’t reopen the doors now. Not after all those false starts. Not after all those apologies from the captain. Not after all those delays. God, so many gin and tonics in the lounge, your head tingling, one hand resting on your knees to stop them shaking. Sculling that first glass of champagne while sitting in window seat 12A, waiting to move.
Recklessly, stupidly, asking for another. Despite the knowledge that you should stay alert. Despite the certainty you should make as little contact with others as possible. Draw as little attention.
You look to your right. Outside. Away from the cabin staff, away from the man in the seat beside you, the latecomer who is no more than a dark shape in the corner of your eye. And must remain that.
The summer-hot tarmac stretches everywhere, blurring into distant grey traffic. The fog of trees and buildings hover above the equally colourless horizon.
Small white vehicles – their contrast heightened – follow lines in the dusk. Your left fist is clenched so tight your arm is shaking. You wonder how you can hold the champagne flute without crushing it.
The hostess or purser, or whoever is now talking over the cabin loudspeakers, has a thick Singaporean accent. You have to concentrate, adjust. You take in enough to know that it’s all routine. She is not announcing your worst fears: that the take-off is being aborted, that security is on its way, that a certain passenger needs to be removed and spirited back where he belongs.
Now the safety video. Stow any luggage under the seat in front of you. Click on your seatbelt. Turn off your portable electronic devices. Do as you are told. Do it now.
Gently rolling backwards, still. Stuttering every so often. Never exceeding walking pace. The loudest sound is the air-conditioning. You are strapped into place, to be observed at will. Already the plane is a tubular prison. A panopticon. A coffin with windows. And this is Sydney. There are so many hours to go, so many possibilities for grief.
Someone you have crossed paths with may twig. The security man at the scanning machines, who insisted on talking to you, who drew from you a stream of nervous, galloping babble. Maybe even a joke about what might be in your bag, dangerous words that you heard for the first time as they left your lips, words borne of nervous stupidity. Or were those words all in your head?
The man’s demeanour seemed to change. Your senses were heightened but haywire. Like you’d just stepped directly into the path of a car. Like you believed the car wasn’t the greatest or most immediate danger.
‘Careful, sir,’ was the man’s final, ambiguous response.
Nobody else said a word more than they needed to. Not at the airline counter, not at the customs desk, not at the entry to the business class lounge. It was so easy to believe they were toying with you. Contriving to delay the climax. To increase the impact. Waiting for the press to arrive, perhaps. That way their success, and your humiliation, would be maximised.
Authorities – the Apparatus – could still be doing exactly that. Playing a longer game. Hell, the plane has stopped! Stopped dead. What did you expect? Zurich via Singapore, taxiing backwards the whole way?
Look out and down at the two yellow lines next to you. The heart races. Double yellow lines. Do not cross. The message of the hour, of the day, of this very, very turbulent month. Do not cross the lines.
You are still stationary. Still. Still, still.
There are planes in the distance, people luckier than you, already in the air, already beyond this stress-filled moment. A patch of blue sky appears in the cloudy twilight. The renewed roar of ventilation. White noise. The perfect soundtrack for unobtrusive, procedural intervention.
Why are we stopped? Why are we parked in the middle of nowhere? Has the captain been ordered to hit the brakes…are people unseen, a black car full of them perhaps, rushing across the fields of bitumen? The sweat flows freely, dripping from your armpits, lining the insides of your shoes and making your toes slide around. You reuse the hot towel, enjoying its new coolness on your face. A woman comes to take it and your glass.
She is staring at you, without doubt. Lingering longer than need be. Noting your age, your build, your ethnicity, guessing your height and weight, matching it all against the bulletins that must be circulating already.
More instructions. The locations of emergency exits. The ludicrous illustration of passengers – passengers who have removed their shoes and left all baggage and personal possessions behind – sliding down inflatable chutes into the water. You fight to distract yourself. To imagine the damp relief of the sea.
Better still, the relief of Siobhan. You and Siobhan, in a small apartment in the anonymity of Zurich. Her warm soft body. Her dark hair that smells of pine forests and raisin bread. Her fighting spirit.
Victory seems so much more likely with Siobhan on the team.
There is movement. Real movement. The leaving is gentle. And the direction, forwards. Siobhan recedes. With her, the fantastical, distant sensation of lying in that warm double bed as the flakes of snow flutter across the bay windows.
Forwards! Thank god. Though only at walking pace. And there’s no proof where it is headed. No order to the white and yellow lines that snake all over the tarmac, or to the captain’s decision to steer this cigar tube left, and then right, and then left.
More instructions. Pull on the red tag to inflate the life jacket as you leave the plane. Observe the position of the flashlight and whistle. Yeah, sure, survivors of jet crashes are pulled out of rubber dinghies every day. Saved by their penlight torches and junior soccer referee whistles.
The man next to you is too close, much too close. The advice was that in business you’d be largely out of sight, in your own pod or capsule. Not in this plane, despite the ludicrous extra cost. That’s money you and yours could have done with in Europe.
Your dyed scalp itches. Gave up on the sunglasses halfway up the boarding ramp. Too much of a headache. Literally. And way too obvious.
Bury your head in a newspaper. Like the dark shape in the adjacent seat seems to be doing. Like any normal passenger. It’s the Straits Times. Today’s. A story about how the government is printing vouchers that employers can give as presents to their workers, vouchers that can be used at dating agencies for those overly hardworking people in their twenties who are not doing enough to propagate Singapore’s next generation.
There’s no mention of you. Still, this paper would have been printed last night. Too early. The words are dancing in front of you. Can’t concentrate. The gin, the champagne, the nerves. The Straits Times is an uncomfortable reminder of the machine behind the shopping malls. They still birch people there. They still hang them. And in eight or nine hours that corrupt, officious, collaborating machine will be processing you and your passport. Your passport! That brand new, small blue book that looked a little too shiny as you passed it across to the young woman in the glass box in Sydney.
The plane has turned left with what seems like finality. It is next to a runway at last. Just have to hope to hell the pilot is going to straighten it up and gun the damn engine. Come on you bastard. Hit the gas. Sometime before tomorrow. For Chrissakes.
It is twenty to eight. Thirty minutes after you should have left, every one of those minutes a cause of sweat and stomach-cramping pain. Why isn’t the pilot blasting down the runway? What is wrong? Doesn’t Singapore Airlines want to get this damn thing off the ground?
The shape in the corner of your left eye is talking. Pretend you can’t hear. Pretend you are otherwise engaged. You can’t risk conversation. Or eye contact. Or anything else.
You stare at a small Aerolíneas Argentinas jet to the right. Argentina: the traditional home of fugitives. Though fugitives of the wrong type. There is a brace of small Qantas planes to the right too. Would that have been a better choice? Hiding in plain sight.
The dark shape beside you is still talking. Or repeating whatever he said about the delay. The grey city in the distance is still visible above the line of dark trees. The plane is moving again but barely. Three more minutes have passed. It is seventeen to eight.
Once you are in the air, there’ll be nearly twenty-four hours to go. And some big decisions to make. Yes, twenty-four hours to think.
Your mind returns to the press. Sanctimonious. That was one of the adjectives that kept appearing. Holier-than-thou, egomaniacal, self-centred were among the others. The project wasn’t about the greater good, they began saying in unison, as if given some secret cue. It was all about you.
As soon as each word or phrase had been used by one outlet, it was automatically added to the list of standard adjectives and take-downs adopted by the others. By journalists who, in most cases, had never met you. Never really understood what you were trying to accomplish. Or were jealous of what you had already done. Pissed off by your very use of the word journalist in describing yourself.
The Argentinean plane is moving down the runway. It was never about ego. Another plane is coming up from behind. It was always genuinely about the truth. Does that plane get to jump the queue too?
Nine minutes to eight. Nine minutes to fucking eight. Your plane is at least sitting on the runway, staring down a strip of dark, shiny tarmac. You look back at the passenger terminal. The grass is grey, the sky too. The only contrast is provided by a few bright wingtips on aeroplanes, all the more vibrant in the gloom.
Knees shaking again. Arms too. Cold coursing through your body. Think distant thoughts. Think them now.
With Siobhan. That first time. In a borrowed room in Carlton a full year ago. Before the arrest. Before the charges. Soon after she had sailed towards you on a tide of support and admiration. Before she had shown exactly how smart and tough and tactical she could be. Now you see all of her. Skin like white china. Her small breasts rise and fall with her panting invitations. You kiss her neck. Surround yourself with her Irish mane. Whisper in her left ear.
The recollection is going south already. It is not lust you are whispering in this version. It is doubt. Doubt in your mission. Doubt in yourself.
You tell her everything that you have kept from everyone. It pours from your entire being. Like a dam, busted. You can hear the theme music, see her expression changing. She is no longer undressed. She is no longer lying down. You try to pull yourself back from this brink. To recall the words, to block this unauthorised leak.
Everything in the recall is splintered, compressed, jagged. There is a violent bashing at the front door. The whole apartment is shaking with its force. They have come to get you.
What’s that? A greater noise than fists on hardwood. An engine. Things are moving. At last! Jets are screaming. You are being thrown back in your seat. The tension flees your arms and stomach. You roll your head back and stare at the vents and lights above. The first smile emerges. The first smile since who can remember when. Then you panic. Again. Drop your gaze and stare out to make sure it is really happening. Yes, the noise is continuing to rise. The grey buildings and coloured wingtips are racing past. Going too fast now to stop.
The plane is bouncing around. Lift wheels, lift! It feels like the nose is still on the ground, even after all this accelerating. As long as the wheels are on the ground, there are no chickens to count. The plane pitches and bounces over a few long-phase bumps and then, at last, at long fucking last, the ground falls away. Dark water appears below. You are in the air.
The engine noise suddenly changes pitch. ‘Don’t stop the thing here,’ you mumble to yourself. You hope it is to yourself. The words just appear from nowhere, half ironically, their utterer still fearing some cruel trick.
The engines again change their growl as the pilot adjusts the throttle. It settles into a loud continuous whoosh. You look down on the city, the city that has betrayed you. The parks, the buildings. The cars too, now with headlights on. The waterways. The ashen beaches and water and clumps of trees. Everything is the colour of deceit and treachery.
Your anger rises almost in step with the plane. It is eight o’clock and you are up among the grey billowing clouds. And then you are over them. You concentrate on the cotton wool that stretches as far as you can see. Different layers all being left behind at different speeds. You slow your breathing, tighten and loosen your fists, try to send waves of calm out to your nerve endings.
Above the clouds, a thin red line. Above that, a clear blue sky that extends upwards forever. The left windows are lit by sunset the colour of red-hot iron. You are floating between fire and cool blue. You and this over-whelming hum.
Close your eyes and lean back. You are now a citizen of the air. Above any state, any law, any time zone. Your enemies are thousands of metres below. As far as you can tell. So why can’t you calm down?
OPEN YOUR EYES. The seatbelt lights are off. You need a drink. You deserve a drink. You have escaped from Australia – the first hurdle overcome. Hit the call button. Ask for a beer. The air hostess confounds you with choice. ‘Whatever you recommend,’ you say, shielding your eyes as if the lights behind her are too bright.
A short while later the woman brings you a Tiger. Again you cover your eyes. Obvious. Too obvious.
‘Excellent choice,’ says the dark shape in the seat next to you. You tense up again. You take the beer can and glass. You can’t but help see his wide, dark face. It’s like he’s grinning at you through a fish bowl. ‘Tiger beer. Ah, Tiger beer!’ he adds.
You risk a quick smile in return, willing it sufficient to end any further interaction. The man asks the hostess for water. Plain water, no ice, no lemon. Shit choice. He is from Singapore too, you suppose. Would either of them recognise you? An anonymous dark-haired Euro?
Hard, dull land extends below. Trees and fenced paddocks. The green fields only hinted at. The red haze on the horizon is thicker; the blue above is darkening with every minute. Your Tiger is finished.
‘Another,’ you say, when the hostess brings a small tray of nuts. You hope a second serving will soften the uncomfortable edginess that refuses to leave your system. You have managed to place your order with little more than a wave of the can. Better that way.
‘Tiger Beer. Ah, Tiger Beer!’ you repeat to yourself, trying to capture the inanity with which your neighbour voiced the phrase. You convince yourself the alcohol content is low, so your excellent choice won’t cost your alertness. You are kidding yourself. You’re good at that. And know it.
Your neighbour is now wearing headphones and typing away. You are glad.
More nuts arrive. A blue bag with socks and eye mask. A menu. The small print on the beer can reveals the truth: 5.0 per cent alcohol. That second Tiger sneaks into the gap left by your extinguished anger. It fills your head, backed by a chorus of earlier drinks. It is telling you – a slightly unsteady you – that they can all get fucked. That you are too smart, too strong for them, that an army of netizens from every pocket of the world can’t be beaten. Documents can never be safe. Truth will out.
If this army’s field marshal has overstepped the mark – a little, occasionally – then so be it. The world needs people with a burning passion. You are still the Visionary. More passionate about everything than they are about anything. Just like those early, entirely positive media stories said.
In the short term, there’s the necessity to rid yourself of all that gin, champagne and beer. The fishbowl man is intensely pounding his keyboard, but you shade your face with a strategically placed hand as you step over his legs. It is still only 8.45 according to your watch. You have drunk too much too quickly, and have eaten too many salty, sugary nuts. You feel bloated.
There will be walks around Lake Zurich to regain your fitness, you remind yourself as you retake your seat. And Siobhan. After all those months of house arrest, locked down in that lonely, fuck-free set of rooms, there will be Siobhan. Close your eyes, try to imagine her nakedness, her heat. Properly this time.
Again. It happens again. Fear and distorted recall overwhelm.
Outside, a dark, dark blue. The clouds are a long way below. They still have traces of a red glow. And still this hum, this endless hum.
The hostess has returned. She leans slightly over your neighbour to ask which main course you would prefer. You grab the menu from the seat pocket and partially shield your face as you read it for the first time. ‘The beef,’ because it is top of the list.
The flush of Tiger-fuelled bravado has decamped as quickly as it arrived. What if they’re right? You are a show pony…a capeless crusader who has allowed those early successes to go straight to his head. No, Siobhan would have told you. The others too. The ones who haven’t earned their fifty pieces of limelight for renouncing you, your plans for the operation and, most of all, your supposed planet-sized ego.
It’s time to go ballistic. Intercontinentally. To access and publish the mother lode. Some things are never digitised, for obvious reasons. But they can be photographed or copied, burned to disc, reprinted. They can be placed in a Zurich safe deposit box that only one person can sign for.
It’s time to bring out the prime documents.
To put presidents in jail.
Provoke new revolutions.
To prove beyond all doubt…well, wait until they see!
The plane is shaking now. The seatbelt light is on. The hostesses have disappeared. The captain announces there is a little bit of turbulence. He’d like everyone to return to their seats. It will last ten or fifteen minutes. Then cabin service will resume. Apologies.
You imagine the documents, the videos, those sound recordings sitting benignly in the safe deposit. You try to feel their unreleased power, waiting for detonation as the airframe shudders, drops and bungies back up.
Genus homo-fishbowl is exhaling loudly and gripping the centre armrest so tightly that the skin along his knuckles has lost all colour. You could almost laugh at that white hand clutching the tan leather. Imagine mere turbulence being your biggest concern. A throwback to the days when the dangers of flying related to the aircraft and not the people.
This man’s worst nightmare doesn’t scare you at all. Not in your current state. Seems almost a relief. You feel it all. Right now. The plane falls away like the Big Dipper after cresting its highest peak. The screaming is all around, but there’s no catching of the roller-coaster wagons and stomachs as the track bottoms out. It’s down, down, down this time, the passengers brought to the point of blacking out as the speed snowballs, pressing on the sound barrier. The release is almost pornographic. It’s not only in your head but in your viscera. Down, down, down. The leading surfaces of the wings are burning red, the controls are useless, the only possible destination is the side of that mountain, there.
Impact! Brains flung against skulls, and then against oblivion itself, as four hundred tonnes of metal and biology slams into the rocky slope.
You feel nothing but thankfulness at this coming together, as the work of the world’s cleverest aeronautical engineers shatters into a billion shards in your mind’s eye, as if made entirely of glass. You are both a witness and a participant: collision, immolation, extinction. You can smile, even bring forwards the sound of the Singaporean purser making one last heavily accented announcement: We are now travelling at 1,285 kilometres per hour into the side of a mountain, where the current temperature is 8 degrees Celsius and the local time is 9.00 pm. Thank you for choosing to die with Singapore Airlines.
The plane is still shaking. He of the panicked grip is looking at you. Your peripheral vision confirms it. Keep the headphones on, buster. Don’t let your fear of air pockets become an excuse for conversation. Keep it to yourself, keep it to yourself.
Phrases tumble through your head as the turbulence peters out. You surreptitiously rub, bend and rough up your passport. Booting the messenger, shooting the messenger. Doing everything to root the messenger. Your mood has switched away from self-reflection and all that embracing of violent termination. It’s back to anger.
You can almost imagine them holding each end of the plane, trying to shake you out. Not happy until they’ve thrashed the life out of your reputation, your future, your freedom. If they lose a planeload of others in the process, so be it. Merely collateral damage.
Yes, it’s time to change tactics, even if it means firing your last shots. Even if it means dyeing your hair and sleeping in safe houses forever. Or do you go for Plan B? So much easier. So much more appealing right now.
The meal arrives. At first you play with the food as much as eat it. The hostess has the right idea. She keeps refilling your tiny wine glass with the Bordeaux. ‘The Bordeaux from France,’ as she puts it. So much better than Bordeaux from Uganda. You keep the thought to yourself, lower your head each time she appears, mumble a ‘thanks’.
Begin eating. You need your strength. Need to soak up the intoxicating liquid. You slide the slab of meat precisely to the centre of the plate and begin to cut it with near-OCD precision. Meticulously observe the grain, the gradations of colour from the dark crust to the slightly too-perfect pink centre.
From above, you can be seen making neat patterns. Covering each forkful with the exact same combination of vegetables. None of the flavours or textures make any impression. It is all about the process, about distraction, about killing time. What was the meat supposed to be…beef?
You watch the reflection of the meal, and of your arms and chest, in the unlit screen. The idea of watching a movie has appeal, yet putting on headphones and losing yourself in someone else’s story would make you feel so much more vulnerable.
You finish your main and slice a chocolate gateau with the same fastidiousness as you carved the meat. There is no real change in taste from one course to the next. Only the wine is different. Now cold, white, sweet.
You let her take away the tray, then close your eyes. You need sleep – it can’t be avoided. Reopen your eyes and toy with the idea of wearing the mask they have given you. No.
The lights go off. No one can easily make out your facial features. You can risk some shut-eye. The seat turns into a bed, but not quite. You flatten it as much as you can. You concentrate on the weight of your body, which seems extreme. Every care in the world is pushing down on your arms, your legs, your torso.
The sandman fails to arrive. You think of Siobhan. She can’t be summoned. She is only an abstract, an idea. And so far away. She can’t help you sleep. Or kill time. Or soften the rage. The best you can achieve is a slight phantosmia, an olfactory hallucination. It’s a faint, fleeting trace of her perfumed hair. Even here. Even in this thin, treated air that makes everything smell like reheated food and yesterday’s newspapers.
The plane is rocking from side to side, like a boat. You imagine yourself in a hammock chair, hanging from a shady tree, the dappled sun on your face. It turns almost immediately into a pillory. Missiles are being launched from all around. You try to place yourself back on your feet. Beside a lonely river, skimming smooth stones on its surface. That fantasy dissolves in moments.
You are back under interrogation. It’s a European voice – Swiss, perhaps – asking the questions. But the men on each side keep handing pieces of paper to your cross-examiner. You just know they are Americans. The charges themselves are only lightly touched on. They are not the issue. An expedient, that’s all.
IT’S MUCH LATER. You are still awake. You concentrate on the hum: an amalgam, you decide, of the roar of wind and air-conditioning and the simultaneous sucking and spitting of the jet engines. You focus intently. Detect two registers. It is almost music: a low bass; a higher register swirling above it, piccolo-like. Try to follow this upper register, as it rises and falls. Invite the noise to consume you completely. It chooses to resist.
How can you fail to collapse into a deep sleep when you are so thoroughly exhausted? After all that wine? You angle your seat back up. Check your watch. It has scarcely moved. Not a moment of true rest.
Plan B: return, fight those feeble charges. Hold on to the prime docs for insurance and negotiating clout. Leave it to those sympathetic, pro bono silks to find the greyness in those laws, to legitimise the business. Stop running, finally. It has so much appeal. You are just so tired.
It is still six hours to Singapore. Have to try to sleep again. Lower the seat and lower your eyelids. Listen to the distant sound of cutlery and crockery being stacked away. The clinking is enough to cut through the roar. Again you try to bring Siobhan back to the fore, unsuccessfully. You remain in that half-asleep, half-awake space, while the great endless unknown roars outside.
The man beside you has gone. The hostess has lowered herself into his seat. Her black hair is no longer short or straight. She looks different. She removes a hairband and shakes her head. The black locks uncoil, the scent is everywhere. This time so much stronger. She is wearing a loose cotton shirt and jeans. She smiles, loosens her top button, as if to say her work is done. She’s here with you now.
You must be sleeping. However briefly. However badly. It has to be so, because it is only in a dream that Siobhan could be here. Or that you could feel so light, so free. It is only in a dream that you could experience those black coils now rubbing against your left cheek.
Still, go with it. The seat is empty again, but you don’t panic. The plane has gone straight to Zurich and landed hours ahead of schedule. She’s there on the tarmac with her small hatchback. Right next to the steps. The apartment is no further than the end of the runway. It’s bigger than expected. With a lake view from the large double bed.
The room is familiar. Like one from a safe house in Albert Park all those months ago. But the light is softer, kinder. And snowflakes are drifting past the bay windows, exactly as they should be.
‘There was no reason to be so scared,’ says the toughest woman you know. ‘We planned it all so carefully. I was always here, waiting.’ You walk around the room and run your hands over every object, feel every surface. Safe at last. You hold a vase with both palms, savouring its stability, its realness, its groundedness. And then the door is kicked in and the room is filled with men in helmets and camouflage. A gun barrel is under your chin, pushing hard up against the soft skin. There is a click.
Awake! Startled! Your clothes clinging to your body. A clamminess around your groin. Your puffy, moist feet are pushing at the seams of your shoes. It takes a moment to regain your bearings. To realise no one is about to unload a magazine into your brain. You are under a blanket, on an aircraft. Safe. Ish.
Feel your chin. Push its underside with your index finger. Is that a bruise? The cold end of the barrel was so real. So too the sensation that hit you as the dream was dissolving: Siobhan had done it. She had called in the uniforms. Had betrayed from within. Yet another Judas.
Your pulse finally stops raging. Your lower back is numb. The seat-as-a-not-quite-bed seems to place all the weight on your arse. Your legs have pins and needles too. They are swollen. You realise your hands are shaking. You place them under your thighs. You put the seat halfway back up and stare at the No Smoking and Seatbelt On icons above. At the vents and overhead lockers.
No, not Siobhan. She wouldn’t. A nightmare, that’s all. Not Siobhan. No, not Siobhan.
You notice for the first time that the airline has hung up some mistletoe, or the like, above every fourth or fifth window. Up there in the soft tan light. They look more like funeral wreaths than signs of good cheer. Happy fucking festive season.
Fishbowl is working away on his laptop, earphones on. His movie screen is alight, even though he’s not watching it. It silently spools through a promo for something called Magic Mike, which looks to be about male strippers.
The alcohol has worn off. It is a quarter to one by your watch. And dark. Your mouth is a desert. You quickly turn on the reading light and look around. They have left a bottle of water for you. You flick off the light and guzzle. Lean forwards. Can’t quite get comfortable. Over your shoulder you can see a light flashing somewhere out on the wing.
God, you wish something would resolve itself. You wish you could claw ahead the hours and arrive. You wish you could definitively resolve to take things ballistic, to set the controls to maximum; you wish your ever-extending list of concerns didn’t now include Siobhan.
Another hot towel arrives. Time is passing slowly, yet erratically. It’s a few minutes after three in the morning – you haven’t changed your watch. Don’t need to. There’s no real time until Zurich. Where she’ll be waiting. As she promised she would.
She promised. She did.
The lights are on. You are being warned about severe drug penalties. Why mention only drugs? They have a war on free speech in Singapore too, and that doesn’t rate a mention. Those Singaporean colluders would love an arrest. Better still a hanging. But what was the alternative stopover? Dubai…Abu Dhabi…Seoul? There wasn’t enough time to wait around for a different flight, anyway.
It’s only when all the lights are back on inside the cabin, and all the shades lifted, that you have trouble keeping your eyes open. How ridiculous. There are lights on the dark surface a long way below the plane, radiating out of black shapes. Strange, almost Christmassy music blurts through the speakers. You pass over some boats and then suddenly a road. The plane is very low. Bouncing around a lot. The nose is pointing up. You wait for the confirmation that comes with the shriek of the tyres. And there it is.
Your eyeballs and stomach are thrown forwards with the deceleration. You look at the lights, the fire engines and the big open spaces around you. And you wonder what comes next. A trip off to a basement somewhere to be dealt with, extrajudicially?
Walk off the plane with five senses working overtime. Welcome to the Garden City. You don’t feel welcome. Pass a couple of people in uniform. Nobody seems to notice you, or where you are headed. Again, it could be part of the theatre. Lulling you into dropping your guard. Allowing them to wind up the drama.
‘Where are you going?’ a woman asks.
You feel your heart pole-vaulting. Here, so far out of your domain, away from your tribe, you are feeble. Look at the ground. Reply, ‘Zurich.’
The woman – you haven’t taken in her face – points to a handwritten sign on an easel. It is at this point that you start to view everything, including yourself, as if through a monitor. The footage is black and white, jerky. There is a time banner along the bottom, counting out the hundredths of a second.
You are looking at the chalk marks on the easel. They are hard to take in, even though they make up a list of just four words under a sign that says: Already Boarding. The names of cities dance before you. You finally make out that one of them is Zurich.
‘You’ll have to hurry,’ she says. ‘Gate B4. To the end of the corridor, sir.’ Hurrying suits you fine. You march as quickly as you can, glancing over your shoulder, scanning the people in front. It’s a nearly endless airport corridor, fading into the distance, into the grey of the surveillance tape. It could be anywhere. Sydney or London or LA. Even Zurich. You still recoil at the sight of any person in uniform. And, here in Singapore, they seem to be everywhere. It still isn’t clear where gate B4 is, and you aren’t going to ask.
The time banner along the bottom of the monitor could be counting up or down. All that is clear is that it is moving rapidly. And the footage is exactly like that shown to juries.
You stride towards a big screen in the distance, as if every set of hands behind you is reaching out to grab you. The view is now from above. You are a small speck, hurriedly checking the display. Letters, numbers and destinations shimmy, merging in and out of one another. Focus you fool! There it is: B4. That’s in Terminal 3. You have to catch a Skytrain. Jesus…how hard are they trying to make this?
A middle-aged couple you saw alighting from your plane also stare at the screen. ‘Zurich,’ she says to her white-bearded husband. They are heading for the Skytrain too. You tag onto the back of them. They are speaking German. That’s good.
Inside the carriage. Look at the floor as the doors shut, almost hold your breath through the short, crowded journey. Hope to hell the plane hasn’t left.
Skytrain’s doors open. You stride towards the sign saying Gate B4. It is on the other side of another security checkpoint. The sign confirms Zurich and Now Boarding. There is a long queue waiting, so it can’t have left. You realise you are breathing frantically. The numbers at the bottom of your vision are spinning madly.
To security in a daze, tumbling your things into a plastic tray. No laptop, fortunately. But there’s the unused prepaid phone. You should have turned it on to look for messages, but it’s all been so rushed. The walk-through scanner makes no noise. Is that a trick too? They must be working on smarter scanners, particularly in a place like this. Scanners that can tell what is going on inside your head.
The bloke with the electronic wand looks as if he knows already. He says nothing. Nobody at security does. The big queue is for economy. Only a few punters wait in the business class line. Thank god…the final door to the walkway is just metres away. Boarding pass and passport out, reminds the announcement.
Shuffle to the queue and immediately draw a long, frightening stare from a short woman in grey security garb. She is roving up and down the line. Demands your paperwork then checks it closely. Too closely. She places the passport photo right up against your face to make sure they match.
Your face must be drained of all colour by the time she hands back the documents. She nods. Grimly. You can go. Too scared to look back. The next woman, in an airline uniform, offers a broad and almost sincere smile, but you don’t engage. Let her scan the barcode on your boarding pass. Charge onto the plane.
Collapse into your seat. Look forwards. You will the other people to come aboard quickly, so the doors can be shut. At least this is more like it: a nearly self-contained capsule next to a window. You are on the left side of the plane. There is no one directly beside you.
A couple with a baby follow a few moments later. They set up on the other side of the aisle.
In a South African accent, the pilot lists places the plane will be passing over before heading towards the Straits of Malacca. If you wish to follow the progress of the flight you may do so on the Flightpath channel.
No, you don’t need reminding that Zurich is still such a long, long way away.
You’ll be in the air for more than thirteen hours. So much time for someone at the other end to organise your reception.
The air-conditioning doesn’t work. There are problems with a generator, a voice informs you all apologetically. No cool air until they close the doors, and they can’t do that until everyone is aboard. The baby is screaming.
The staff pretends not to notice that it is you. Bring orange juice and champagne as if the man in your seat is simply any other traveller. Not that you have much stomach for alcohol. It’s now 4.15 in the morning, your time. The pilot adds that it is bitterly cold in Zurich. Minus 7 degrees Celsius with snowstorms expected. It’s hard to imagine any such thing as you sweat in the thirty-something-degree heat of this metal tube.
A large movie screen in front. Shelves around. There is soft leather and polished wood. But your world is still framed on a black-and-white monitor, the numbers are still rolling at the bottom of the screen.
It’s now twenty-three to five, by your wristwatch. The baby is still screaming. Business class! What business is a newborn involved in…the annoying everyone else business? You try to supress such uncharitable thoughts – calm down, calm down – but the plane should have left at twenty-five past. They made you rush. All the usual anxieties rise and grip your throat. It’s no consolation when a small puff of cool air reaches your pod at last, suggesting the doors are closed. The plane still isn’t moving. The plane still isn’t frigging--well moving.
At fourteen minutes to five a couple of electric motors fire up noisily, and the plane gently rocks from side to side. But it doesn’t leave its moorings. Sweat runs even more copiously than before. The delay has to be all about you. Sanctimonious and self-centred or not, it’s only logical. It has to be. They’ll be coming to get you at any moment.
It is twelve minutes to, down to the second. The plane slowly starts moving back from the gate, then forwards. The ride across the tarmac is bumpy. The woman across the aisle is calming the baby in a broad Australian accent, switching effortlessly to German to talk to the man you assume is the baby’s father. You don’t risk looking at them. You swing your head to the left, and realise it is raining heavily.
Rows of Singapore Airlines jets are parked on the puddle-strewn tarmac. It’s five o’clock, and you are still wilting in the heat. But it looks as if you are finally taking off. The blast down the runway seems slow and turbulent. But as the wheels leave the ground, you sigh with relief. It is only then that the time ticker stops, that the picture turns to widescreen and colour. It is only then you can enjoy, briefly, the surely they can’t stop us now sensation.
That’s it for the city of gardens. And imprisoned opposition leaders. Now for the home stretch to the land of chocolates, multipurpose pocketknives and looted Nazi gold. No, not that last one! Must give them the benefit of the doubt. At least until they let you in.
Water rushes along the outside of the glass in small rivulets, making crazy quicksilver patterns. It distracts you for a minute, but there are thirteen and a half hours to go.
The plane is up to cruising altitude. You are back in the non-place that is the air, away from laws and borders and judgment. Propelled by raging fire.
The hostess asks, ‘Do you want to have supper before you go to sleep?’
As usual you hold your arm up to shield your eyes. ‘Yes.’ You are pretty sure you won’t be able to sleep, so you may as well eat. And drink. That urge has returned too. Just to calm things down.
How long will the food take? Straight to the bathroom to slay some time before the food service. The bathroom is surprisingly large. Rows of Hollywood lights on each side of the mirror, and along the top. You wash your face with water that is Non-potable. Not for drinking. Check your hair. There are blonde roots growing out already. Is that possible?
You surprise yourself with how alert you are. Even questioning why they’d write a sign saying ‘Non-potable’ when they already had the dummy’s version ‘Not for drinking’. But there’s still a trembling otherworldliness to everything. Staring into your own eyes, tracing their numerous lines and gunk-filled corners, you try to decide if they are betraying your heightened worries and suspicions to everyone.
You are drifting back to Plan A. Easier to be brave twelve and a half hours from anywhere. It won’t be revenge, you tell yourself. Merely continuing to do what you do, what was always planned. Doing what annoys them the most: throwing back the covers on their grubby secrets. But this time, the whole world will sit up straight. You can almost sense the shock.
Back in your seat. Steal a glance at the doll-like hostess as she sets up your table. Could have walked straight off the brochure.
‘Are you going home?’ she asks. You realise that she has heard no more than a few grunts from you. Has assumed you are Swiss.
‘No,’ you reply. You hesitate. You aren’t really sure how to finish the sentence. The correct answer you’d like to give is: ‘Yes I’m going to a place that will become my home, at least for a week or two. Then I’m going to set civilisation ablaze.’ All you offer is an abrupt ‘no’.
‘So, a long way,’ she replies. You haven’t a clue what this means. You hope that she’ll leave it at that.
You eat. You drink, a lot. Enough to wipe you out, you hope. It must be safe to go off duty for a little while on such a long leg.
The hostess helps to lay out your bed: there’s some weird and complex manoeuvre that has to be done with the backrest to make it lie down fully flat. You try to sleep on your side, knees together. Like the letter zed.
You drift off every so often. And wake with a start each time. There are people in uniforms next to the bed. An announcement comes that the plane is being redirected, for reasons that can’t be revealed. You dream that your arm and leg have been shackled to the seat frame.
Eyes: dry, crackly at each end. Chest: still beating hard. No, thumping. A weapons-grade headache starts behind your eyes and seems to press forwards. You lie there, holding your head in your hands softly, as if it were an overripe fruit, about to burst its skin. You remain in that state. Half asleep, half awake. Shivering.
Eventually you stand up, bladder throbbing. Shake your hands and ankles to wake yourself. To confirm there are no cuffs. The alcohol is still very much in evidence, slurping inside your swirling head. You stumble through the half-light of the darkened plane. Past people sleeping, snoring, watching movies. The floor threatens to rise and plant one on your chin.
You make it to the toilet, just. You sway a little – it’s the movement of the plane you tell yourself – as you stare at your completely bloodshot, frightened eyes. Your pale face is again lit by those far-too-bright movie-star lights.
The realisation comes that this is the face that half the world would like to stamp on. Or are you having yourself on…deluding your egomaniacal self? This train of thinking brings confusion and anger. It goes some small way to sobering you up. But your eyes still throb. You need to lie back down. Soon.
Fold yourself back into bed, this time lying on your other side. Then on your back. You can still smell the supper – roast chicken and vegetables in a pretentiously named sauce – circulating in the air-conditioning swill. You have your sources too, you mumble to yourself, half enjoying a pun you know wouldn’t work in print. You have sources around the world. And there’s nothing they can do about that.
You suddenly reel in your cascading thoughts. It’s no punning matter. Some of these people have been arrested. Beaten. Extradited.
You cough. Sip some bottled water for your dry throat. Lean back, down. At least the baby is asleep.
Try again to expel yourself from the waking world. To summon forth Siobhan – the good, loyal Siobhan – and that special drifting magic where her car can be driven home from the bottom of the aircraft stairs. Where there is instant transmission to a better place.
Nothing goes right this time. The car is wheel-clamped, the apartment is on the other side of the city, the streets all look the same and neither of you have a clue. You realise you are embarrassed in her company. You said too much, too quickly last time. To someone who has always held the line, even more resolutely than you. Who will brook no compromise, no talk of being tired, no talk of needing a pause.
You wrecked everything. Or was that in another dream?
YOU ARE AWAKE again. Staring at the ceiling. Siobhan seems an illusion, a cruel trick, as impossible to grab as those lights out past the wingtips, winking malevolently from the ether. Is she a quisling…is that what these dreams are telling you?
It’s ten past something. That’s as much as you can make out in the half-light. That and the fact you are bored. Can’t sleep. Can’t watch anything, or listen to anything. Too jumpy to read. No idea how long you’ve been awake. You reach for the light switch. The downpour of white is almost blinding. Your wristwatch tells you it is ten past eleven. Some simple maths. You’ve been on the move for almost sixteen hours.
Sixteen hours. Two-thirds of an entire day. That’s how long since you sneaked out. That laundry window. That folding ladder. Help from inside and out.
A hostess shuffles down the aisle. Her long tight dress forces her to move like she has bound feet. It’s the brochure girl, the doll-like creature. You once would have put in some work: pulled out the crooked smile, the deliberate misunderstandings, the vulnerable laugh. Solely to see if it was possible.
Often it was. A half-remembered scene: the fringe benefits of being a maverick, a straight talker. As seen on TV. An aircraft bathroom not nearly as big as the one on this plane. A blonde with green eyes, freckles and – this stands out every bit as clearly – pimples on her forehead and breath that is unpleasantly acidic. Her silver-blue skirt is pulled up over her belt, her airline-issue stockings are around her ankles. Your own legs are awkwardly tangled, hurting your hip. But you persist. Because. Well, because.
Bottles of aftershave and face cream, plastic toothbrushes and combs, all rattle rhythmically in their racks. Finally, from you, a climactic kick-out. Your boot connects with the fold-in door forcefully enough to terrify anyone who is standing outside, waiting to obey a less enjoyable call of nature.
Today, at best, you are an anonymous businessman with hair that doesn’t sit properly. With nerves of squeal.
You must have fallen back to sleep. Despite everything. Memories of another leg-over situation. Less enjoyable at the time, and painful afterwards. The Italian redhead. The locked conference room. The split loyalties and, later, lies. Headlines a mix of Gotcha! joy and outrage. Then the charges. The arrest. The proof we are still prudes at heart.
Siobhan could forgive you on that one – honey entrapment – but the state was never going to do likewise. Clever, you have to give them that. It was the arrest they wanted. And it put you on trial. Not them. Nor the things that had been revealed in those previous months.
If you can get them asking the wrong questions, you don’t have to worry about the answers. Pynchon, you think. But true, whoever said it.
Open your eyes again to view your surroundings, to take in this time-free capsule suspended above the real world. Enjoy for a brief moment a gentle train-like jiggling from side to side as a minor pocket of air assails its metallic flanks. Try to lose yourself again in the cumulative hum of the wind and jets and air-conditioning.
The baby is screaming again. Someone has turned on their reading light. You lie there exhausted, yet with mind racing. Bugger it, you have to kill a decent chunk of time. You have to watch something. You select Truly, Madly, Deeply from the classics menu. Only colour films are classics, apparently.
Movie comfort food. You lose yourself only slightly. You remember most of it anyway. Jamie, the ghost of Nina’s dead, cello-playing boyfriend has returned. He is encouraging Nina to move on. To expunge her too-perfect memories of him. To re-engage with life. You can’t stop from watering up. Use the linen napkin as a wipe. Tell yourself it’s the tiredness and pressurised air that makes your eyes constantly well.
The hostess patters back down the aisle. You place your right hand at the side of your face, blocking any possible view of the shininess around your eyes. You are aware at that moment of how much you have staked on Siobhan and Europe, neither of which you now fully trust. How fragile it all is. Truly. Madly. And the liquid keeps flowing. Deeply.
You don’t risk another film. You don’t need one. Something has been purged. Sheer exhaustion – physical and emotional – is enfolding you in a cocoon. Close to complete sensory deprivation. If there is any turbulence, or a shift in the noise level, you don’t notice it. You drift off again. Incredibly, you dream of nothing.
The cabin lights go on. The noise of breakfast. Zurich is waiting. About an hour and a half to go. That will make it twenty-four hours in all. The longest day. Splinters of light seep through the screen covering your window. You slide it up momentarily to reveal the soft blue glow of pre-dawn. The glimpse brings a frisson. The promise of something illicit.
Breakfast comes and goes and leaves no impression. You complete everything as mechanically as possible. You become a waiting machine.
At last, the pilot advises: We have commenced our descent. You twist and turn the phrase in your mind. You commenced your dissent a long time earlier. If only we would all commence our dissent. Then real changes could be made.
You pull up the window shade definitively and see alps jutting through clouds. Frozen lakes separate them. A dazzling polarisation has painted everything black or silver. Looking at this scene, you could almost believe in beauty.
More alps, more lakes, more clouds, more mountains. A thin line of red above it all, the hint of an imminent sun. Colours slowly seeping into the monochrome below.
Dawn. Switzerland. Technicolor. Hope.
You must return to your seat, secure your tray table. Make sure your laptop computer and other electronic devices are turned off. It is a safety requirement that… Like you could give a shit about any of that stuff. And on a day like today. All you care about is that you are on the cusp of Zurich. You have made it this far. You wish you could fast forward this last little bit and arrive at the closing credits. But it’s all on tape, and the tape is running at the wrong speed. Time itself slows and thickens. The whiteness below moves up to swallow the plane. But in no hurry. No hurry at all.
Rocky outcrops jut through the cotton wool. In the new glare everything returns to silver and black. A gelatin print.
Sudden vibration. The plane leans. The clouds have cleared. The leading edge of the wing is pointing down at a village, a village dropped carelessly among what look like black hills. Vortices of cold air swirl around the ailerons – if that’s what they are called – giving hints as to the true speed. Yet nothing is happening quickly enough.
The lower ground is white with snow. Anything vaguely flat is sectioned off into blocks. Farms, whatever. Hurry up.
More vibrations. Muzak is playing through the speakers. Shudder! The bottom of the plane might have fallen out. No, it’s the wheels clunking down. Clunking like a jail door.
At that moment you realise it. Anything less than the maximum response would be cowardice, would be letting down all those who have gone before, all those doing time. Parliaments must burn. The Big Revelation must happen.
The ground, with all its possibilities, is in clear sight. Maybe a kilometre below. That’s it – where it will happen. The place where you will make your mark in a matter of days. Turn things on their head.
Then it’s all cloud beneath you again. The jets suck up low-lying clouds. Only white outside your window.
Suddenly terra firma is right below. You are seconds from landing. It is snowing heavily. You have never landed in snow. The plane hits the ground hard. You expect it to skid and then slide out of control. The headline flashes: fugitive’s body found in swiss plane wreck.
The plane squirms as grip or thrust levels on each side are equalised. It pulls up quickly and tidily. ‘A magnificent landing,’ you find yourself uttering.
The runway is surrounded by trees, the occasional building. It doesn’t feel like a big city. So this is Zurich. The end of the line. The last hurrah. Siobhan seems real again. You have to trust her and her resolve. There is no viable alternative. Maybe even let her make the big decisions about timing and everything else; you seem so overburdened.
She could be only a few hundred metres away. And she’s the last person who’d object to ramping things up.
The local time is 7.55 am. Your watch says five to six. Neither seems like a real time, neither seems to bear any relationship to the here and now. Nor the view outside. A frozen world. It is minus 6 degrees Celsius out there, the captain announces. You will remain seated until the seatbelt light is turned off.
Every detail stands out. Everything is now important. A nearby plane has edelweiss written on its side. Machines with elongated arms are spraying the wings of icy planes; great clouds of mist envelope fuselages. Your heartbeat scutters in every direction.
The passenger terminal appears in the distance. It is enormous. The frustrating crawl across the tarmac progresses. Certain bits of the ground have been cleared, others are completely covered in white. You continue to take it all in. It’s not your new home, it’s your new operations centre.
The plane taxis and taxis and taxis. Give it the berries, Mister. No response. You pass rows of planes with Swiss crosses on their tails, like so many army knives or hospitals.
Still taxiing twelve minutes later. You’ve nervously ticked every one of those minutes off. And the terminal looks only a tiny bit closer.
You thought fatigue might win out. Induce a state where you were too tired to care. But everything in your system is sixteen beats to the bar. The passion, that deadline fever, is back. Your temples are flaring. There’s a rock’n’roll drummer inside your chest. It’s a line from a song you think, but it is exactly what it feels like. So, so close!
The plane docks gently, at quarter past. The seats jerk forwards and back, like a train gently pulling up at a station. You remain seated.
Cabin crew prepare to disarm the doors, says the South African captain.
Passengers, you may now turn on your mobile phones, instructs the purser. You join the scramble to do so.
At some unuttered signal, everyone stands. You join them. You wait for your chance to walk out, your foot tapping madly on the ground. Your phone beeps. Eight, nine times. You aren’t game to look at it. Not yet. Not here.
The baby is crying. Every malign possibility, every potential grim outcome, circles your fiery cranium to the soundtrack of those young tonsils. Ten minutes pass. Ten whole minutes. You realise you haven’t pulled down your bag or coat. You lift the door of the overhead locker. Slide out the bag. Struggle with the coat, threatening to clout people around you as you pull the sleeves up your arms. More unwanted attention.
You silently shout for the doors to open. Yet as long as they are shut, no one unwanted will come in to look for a man who can help them with their enquiries. Sorry, a man who can help them with their conclusions.
As long as those doors are shut, there is a chance for your heart to slow down. If it ever will.
Eventually the way is clear. You stare through the aperture, into the light. Nobody waits to pounce. You spill out with the throng to the sound of an announcement: Belt 27 is where the luggage will be delivered.
You must walk along the glass-sided walkway between plane and the terminal, where the air is frigid. You must expose yourself to the world for the walkway’s entire length. And it’s long, with a dog-leg in the middle. You follow a man carrying a large yellow plastic bag saying Duty Free. You stare at the bag as you step, step, step, mechanically.
There are people shouting. There are people in uniform. They are up ahead, where the walkway meets the terminal. You slow right down and feel the last drop of moisture leave your throat.
The shouting is about someone else. Or something else. Jesus, such a relief. You catch back up with the Duty Free bag, reconnect your gaze. Reach a sign that reads Exit Zurich on top and Transit, Turn Right below.
She could be within shouting distance, almost pushing against the other side of the customs barrier. There are no words in your armoury to express how badly you long for the moment of contact.
The temperature warms as you enter the main terminal. Everything is as clean and ordered and antiseptic as you always expected. A poster on a wall states: Switzerland: get natural. If a few more things go right, it could say: Switzerland: I love you. You repeat that phrase several times for good measure.
You follow people and signs towards passport control and baggage retrieval. You’ll check the phone messages there. Nobody seems to notice that every muscle in your body is taut. Not even the security guards, or police, if that’s what they are. They could be army; you’re not game to look closely at any of their badges or insignia.
Is it too much to hope that the people in uniform are in the state most passengers are in: the hazy, timeless world of travel…asleep on two feet…not really taking in what is happening all around?
Corridors extend forever. You jump onto a moving walkway, looking into the distance at the signs for gates A, B and E. You keep striding, watching those on the other side of the handrail slide backwards in your peripheral vision.
Onwards, towards passport control and the baggage carousel. Toward Siobhan. You can’t feel your legs. They are independent agents. Charged with purpose. Down a huge escalator, towards another of those ghastly airport terminal shuttles. Another glass-sided Skytrain, another unnecessary degree of difficulty. All you want is to walk in the sun. So to speak.
In those World War II movies, Switzerland was the only place worth escaping to. But it was merely a case of clambering across the border, a few steps ahead of the Nasties. You certainly didn’t have to do all the shit you have to do nowadays. And there is still immigration and customs to come.
Everyone pushes up tight as the carriage doors shut. They are looking at you, aren’t they? Make no eye contact. No eye contact! Escape the crush a few moments later. Far more security personnel in this new building, or new part of the old building. Or this city. It could be a city. A city with no obvious shape. A city that is all corridors and rules and barriers and checkpoints.
Within hours, or perhaps days, you’ll blow its cohesion apart. Nothing will be the same once you’ve emptied that safe deposit box.
You make your way almost blindly towards the passport line. The time banner is at the bottom of the screen again. Spinning like a flywheel. Around you is a blur of faces. Yours in the centre of the screen. You keep each face deliberately indistinct. Each one, you imagine, is staring at you. Taking a new interest in your height, your ethnicity, the shape of your face, the unconvincing darkness of your hair.
Could that be him? they may well be asking. Him? Here? It doesn’t seem likely, but we’d better alert someone.
Before you know it, you are at a counter. The woman behind it says something. Hands everything back. Motions you through the corridor.
The baggage carousel at last. The long U-shaped belt starts moving at the very moment you arrive. The languages that surround are German, French, a smattering of accented English. The screens above Belt 27 flash flight times, slogans for watches and cars. Is Siobhan behind the tinted glass? Watching? Waiting? Hoping?
Look at the screen of your phone. Terror. Texts from Telstra about international roaming. Voicemails from a number you don’t recognise. A text: Take care. Love S.
How could you have doubted, you idiot? Then again, what else is she going to say? You’ve already walked into one trap. That’s why you are fleeing. And ‘take care’…hang on…that is sounding more ominous with each passing moment.
Your bag is slow to appear. As usual. Everyone around you is a spy. Surely. That’s the standard narrative arc. The escapee endures the pain of the voyage, only to fall at the final hurdle. Or the final baggage carousel.
It always happens a few minutes and a few metres from the Promised Land. Still, this isn’t Hollywood. European films are different. Less obvious. A whole lot fucking slower. And you have made it this far without a hitch. Haven’t you?
There’s every reason to believe – isn’t there? – that they’ve had more than enough chances to seize their quarry. That in mere moments you’ll have Siobhan’s warm, yielding body pressed against yours, your nose squeezed behind her ear, breathing in her scent. Inhaling freedom through jet--black hair.
And then, straight back to work.
Red, blue, square, soft…every type of bag stutters around the belt except your dark green Samsonite. The tower of Babel continues around you. French, German, Spanish. Now Chinese or Korean.
Get on with it! Get on with it you slack-arsed Swiss baggage handlers. Hang on, this one looks promising…yes, that’s it.
Plan A, now so close.
You touch the handle of your suitcase. Pat the side like a friend.
‘Hey, Jeremy!’ a man yells. He is behind you, somewhere near the far end of the carousel.
You recognise it immediately as an Australian voice. You turn around. Like an idiot.
Jeremy! That’s not the name you are travelling under. That’s not what it says in the now-frayed passport wedged into your jacket pocket.
But you have turned around. You have stared. You have acknowledged. And now they are coming at you from all sides.