Music for Airports
A hand on my shoulder woke me up. I had been in a deep sleep since take-off and, suddenly roused from it, still dazed, automatically I said, “a Perrier,” expecting it to be a flight attendant speaking to me. But looking up at the arm connected to the hand that had awoken me, and then the face above that – his ski-mask, his gun – I saw that it was actually a terrorist, taking command of the plane. The flight attendants were dead in a pile in the aisle. I couldn’t believe I had slept through it. Everyone on the flight was screaming and crying, with the exception of myself who had, miraculously, dozed through the entire ordeal, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports supplanting the sound of the chaos.
I removed my headphones and the terrorist struck me in the face with the butt of his machine gun, blood spraying out of my nose and onto the passenger next to me, an older woman with whom I’d begun a faltering conversation as we took our seats, but whose name – Elaine, Eileen, Eilis – the Xanax had dissolved. The terrorist told everyone to “shut the fuck up.” “Shut the fuck up,” he repeated, “Shut the fuck up.” He told us we were going to fly into the Eiffel Tower. My first thought was why? I wondered who, besides ourselves, we would kill: tourists, a few guides. No one of any importance would be scaling the Eiffel Tower at – I checked my watch – Tuesday at 3pm. So it’s a symbolic thing, I thought to myself; but then, why not the Arc de Triomphe, why not Notre Dame? And as if anticipating the question, the terrorist told us then that other planes, commandeered by other terrorists, would fly into the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame; also the Louvre, and Montmartre. “The French government needs to wake up,” he said, slowly passing his gun over us. “You all need to wake up.” I felt a pang of guilt at the comment, since I’d literally slept through their assumption of the plane, and even had the feeling that the terrorist had glared at me specifically as he made it, singling myself out for special mention. I need to wake up, I thought. Wake up.
I had taken enough Xanax for my injury to barely register, and for the hijacking itself to appear to me more as historical event than personal trauma. The terrorist told us that in eight minutes we would all die and some of us were going to hell, others heaven, and the pronouncement made our deaths seem inevitable to me, shared, in the same way history is unalterable, communal, and the only real thought I had regarding myself in all this was something vague and glad about how relaxed I was thanks to the Xanax. I was aisle but in a two, not a three, and past Elaine or Eileen or Eilis I looked through the window at the clouds, at the blue they swam in, and idly I wondered if in centuries to come terrorists would be looked back upon as more comical figures, remembered like pirates are; men known to kill and seize boats, like terrorists do these ships of the sky, but dressed in a strange attire and too unhinged, too out of the ordinary, to take very seriously. I had fallen asleep watching Hook and it was still on my mind, I guessed; it would be all that was there until the end.