“Why, of course you’d be able to open the door”, she says, “after all, you’re young and healthy.”
“Yes”, the old lady says, “it’s just that I’m not very strong.”
“That wouldn’t be a problem. But as I said, it won’t be necessary anyway. It’s only for the most extreme emergencies and even then we’d be there to help.”
“I’m sorry”, the old lady says, looking down at her folded hands, “it’s just that this is my first flight and I don’t want to make any mistakes.”
The flight attendant smiles. “It’s going to be a great first flight, madam. Our airline has a perfect track record and today’s pilot is one of the best. Even the weather is great today, so you can enjoy the view from above. You’ll love it. If you have any further questions during the flight just let me know. We’re here to help.”
The old lady leans into her seat and breathes. The flight seems well prepared and there should be no technical difficulties. She is in a plane to Paris, window seat behind the left wing, the row with the extra leg room and the emergency exit. The seat next to her is empty. At the aisle is a young woman whose tight lips have smiled into the distance ever since the old lady asked the flight attendant for help. The seats surrounding the old lady are all taken: behind her is a group of teenagers, in front of her a young couple with a young child. On the other side of the aisle is a fat man, asleep, listening to music and blocking the way out for the other passengers in his row.
The plane starts moving and the passengers ignore the safety instructions. The old lady listens with intent. The crew does seem prepared, if bored by their own performance. After twisting along the tarmac for a few minutes, the plane stops. Then, the motors rev up and the plane pushes forward. The old lady is pressed into her seat, feels dizzy as the plane shoots up, but eventually regains composure. The old lady now loosens the grip of her folded hands and looks around. The young lady is typing on her laptop. The old lady looks through the window, where her old home is slowly left behind. For the first time, the old lady is flying, floating above the earth, and she did it with no problem at all. The old lady is positively pleased with her trip so far.
The old lady waits until maximum altitude and goes to the bathroom. She flushes and washes her hands a last time. She looks at herself in the mirror. She has really done it, her first flight, she, the old lady, 10,000 feet above the ground. She gives herself one last look, opens the door, and shuffles back to her seat.
The old lady takes off her shoes and waits a minute. She turns to the young lady and says “I’m sorry dear, but would you mind getting my glasses from the bathroom? I forgot them there. It’s so hard for me to walk these days.” The young lady doesn’t know what to do but puts her laptop on the spare seat between them and walks to the front of the plane.
The old lady looks around and just as the young woman is out of reach, a flight attendant appears and walks past the old lady’s row and asks her how her first flight is going. “Great, thank you”, the old lady says “but would you mind telling the young lady in the bathroom that I found my glasses?”
The old lady begins to get restless. The young lady continues to work just two feet away from her and the flight attendants continue pacing up and down the aisle, impossible to predict. There is still lots of time before the plane will land and so the old lady reaches her handbag and takes out her mobile phone and headphones. She puts on her headphones and plugs them into her phone. She flicks a switch and all noises disappear. It’s quiet and the old lady selects some of her favourite music, something calm, something soothing, something to make her forget, if just for a moment. She dozes off for a few minutes. When she wakes up she feels slightly groggy, but calm, determined.
Something happened and two flight attendants rush to the front of the plane. The aisles are free and no flight attendant in reach. The old lady turns off her phone and headphones, and places them between her feet. She turns to the young lady. “I’m sorry darling, but I’m feeling awfully sick. Could you go to the flight attendant at the front and grab me a plastic bag?” She adds: “but be quick.” The young woman throws her laptop on her seat and darts forwards. The old lady checks a last time. The man is still blocking the way and everyone else is either asleep or out of reach. She unbuckles her seatbelt.
The old lady turns to the emergency exit, grips the handle and pulls hard. She then pushes hard, but it won’t open. The couple in front of her heard the noise and turn around. “Old lady”, they shout, “what are you doing?” they shout. The old lady pushes again, and this time the door gives way, first a little, then it falls, tumbling out of the plane into the deep. The couple in front of her have unbuckled and their shouts have alarmed other passengers. The old lady now stands in front of the large hole in the plane’s wall, the wind roaring, shouting at her. Other passengers rush towards her to stop her, to save her. The fat man, music loud, still blocks the way for the young man behind him, who crawls over him, unable to gain ground, like wading through custard. The old lady looks back a final time and sees the couple in front of her standing, kneeling on their seats, arms outstretched, grasping for the old lady. The old lady makes a step forward, her right foot above the void. Her centre of gravity is still in the plane though as the man grabs her, gets hold of her jumper, and tries to pull her in. But the old lady fights, leans forward and tries to evade his grip, but he is too strong, holding on to her jumper. The old lady drops to the ground, her jumper turning inside out above her head and her feet are already half out of the plane, dangling above the air and the man holds on but the old lady wiggles out of her jumper and is free. Other passengers watch in horror as the old lady pushes the floor with her hands and she backs out of the plane, backs up and eventually it is over and the man shouts one the last time and the old lady falls, out of the plane.
The old lady falls, she falls fast and yet it doesn’t feel like that. She twists uncontrollably, sometimes able to breath, sometimes not. Eventually she is in a stable state and can see the earth below, rows of houses slowly growing larger. The old lady panics. She had planned it all, step by step, but she had never considered what she would do when falling. She had planned the tickets, the journey, getting rid of other people, she had planned it all, but she never considered what would happen once she left the plane. She had planned up until the fall, but forgotten the fall itself.
What would she do now? She didn’t want to die, she didn’t want to get hurt, she just wanted it all to stop. She turned her back to the earth. And it was then that she noticed her phone and headphones, curled around her leg.
She crouched together and stretched her arms until she got hold of the phone. She wanted to put on the headphones but the pressure from the wind was too strong and so she turned vertical and put on the headphones, speeding head first towards the earth. She turned on her headphones and the roaring screams of the wind disappeared and all was quiet.
It was silent and the old lady regained some calm. She frantically pressed some buttons until music started playing. Bach played, Bach piano music, an arrangement of a chorale. Who else but Bach? Bach soothed her, calmed her, and she forgot about the fall, her imminent and certain death, her death that was but a few minutes or seconds away; all of this she forgot while listening to the music.
And so the old lady fell towards the earth, blissfully unaware of her own death until