Today, my flight to Lisbon begins with recollections of a pilot who decided that life had not been worth living after his mistress broke off with him. Naturally, the ideal way to respond was to depart this world and take with him at least two hundred passengers. Locks that are designed to prevent suicidal passengers from entering the cockpit work in favour of pilots with suicidal tendencies. In this particular story, the pilot diligently waited until his co-pilot departed to the toilet, an inevitable event, then locked the door and proceeded to enact a carefully rehearsed crash in the Indian Ocean. Mind you, it was a very considerate plan, and he went out of his way to ensure that passengers would not actually witness the horrific crash. He first flew above forty thousand feet, forty-five to be exact, until, twenty-three minutes later, the oxygen ran out and all crew and passengers experienced a fine state of hypoxia. With everyone now either dead or unconscious, he proceeded to descend to a very low altitude to avoid radars and, more importantly, to not disturb the sleep of his country’s officials with the disruptive news of a plane flying way off its scheduled course. Six hours later, the plane finally disappeared into an ocean with valleys that dip as low as four thousand feet.
Equally dramatic, yet far less sensitive, was another recent pilot’s suicide into the French Alps. At least in this case, he made sure everyone knew he was far too depressed to be flying a plane. But is it really reasonable to expect airlines to constantly check the mental wellness of their pilots? After all, it’s enough that they have to constantly check and maintain their planes which, and I apologise for sharing too much information, are really not very trustworthy machines.
These stories conflate and inflate as I start recalling other stories of random, mostly unexplainable mechanical failures that bring planes down even as their passengers dream about the holidays they carefully planned, and the loved ones they are eager to meet. Planes as majestic as the Concorde can crash in less than two minutes from something as trivial and unexpected as debris on the runway. I kid you not. Even ice crystals, one of nature’s most visually intriguing phenomena flaunting hexagonal columns, hexagonal plates, dendritic crystals, and diamond dust, can turn deadly and cause a sudden stall, bringing down a state-of-the-art aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean. The problem is I read far too much, to the extent that I am aware of exactly what happens when tons of metal, kerosene and human bodies smash into the sea. Even your seatbelts, which you are constantly reminded to keep on, can slice you in half.
I drown in these unpleasant stories on this Tuesday afternoon as I avoid looking out of my cabin window, not only because they are replaying in my head, but also because I would like history to note that despite everything I knew about these dangerous and unreliable vehicles, I still chose to travel by plane for the selfless cause of historical discovery. Priceless manuscripts do not belong in ancient walls. They belong with researchers and truth-seekers. Eventually, they may even belong in the professional hands of renowned auctioneers. The thought of an auction at Sotheby’s, and the price this ancient manuscript would sell for is enough to keep me distracted until the plane safely lands at Portela Airport.
Excerpt from The Rage of Fatima, in When Her Hand Moves by Omar Imady