Before I left to pick up Sheila, I checked on the internet to make sure her flight, number 366 was going to be in on time. According to the computer it was. So, accepting that the computer was correct, I hopped in my car, plugged in my Harry Potter audio book (The Deathly Hallows), and began driving the twenty-five miles to the airport.
A freelance journalist, Sheila was returning from a two week trip to Uruguay where she had gone to interview several scientists, who were conducting experiments on a whole new species of plant—one which had the potential for giving us cures for all kinds of cancers.
We had talked about her trip extensively before she left. Sheila, who spoke fluent Spanish, was about as excited as a young teen going to her first boy band concert. Besides her interviews with the scientists, she hoped to gather enough information to create several travel pieces, which she planned to send to a few local, as well as, national publications.
Being it was a Saturday, I wasn’t expecting too much traffic. Unfortunately, halfway there, the flow of cars came to a near halt. For the next 30 minutes, while the traffic crept along like a snail on crutches, I kept checking my watch and thinking, that if we didn’t move pretty soon, Sheila was going to end up taking a limo home, and then I’d feel guilty for at least the next week.
Finally, after about 15 miles of tar-like movement, we passed a burnt out hulk of a car, plus a fire truck, and some police cruisers; at which point, the traffic broke, and we were able to climb back up to highway speeds.
As I got closer to the airport, I debated whether or not to park in a lot and walk inside to meet her, or check out the area in front of the baggage claim, where taxis and limos picked up arriving passengers.
I chose the latter. Good thing, too, because just as I approached the terminal, I spotted Sheila standing at the curb, her bags at her feet, and looking . . . well, looking kind of lost.
As I got closer, I honked and saw her turn; but instead of smiling and waving, she just looked in my direction, like she was expecting a stranger instead of me. My stomach dropped. Had her trip turned out to be a disaster? Had she not been able to get all the interviews she wanted? Had she (God forbid) been accused of being an American troublemaker, and thrown into a South American jail?
Pulling up to the curb, I left the car running while I opened the passenger door for her. Then grabbing her bags, I hustled them into the trunk of my Corolla.
“What did that hotel in South America do, lose some of your clothes?” I said, half jokingly. Her bags had felt surprisingly light for their bulk.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Sheila replied, not even smiling a little. “Just get me home.”
“Okay . . . yeah,” I said, realizing that her mood was the most foul I had ever seen it.
After we drove out of the airport, I turned on an all talk radio station, keeping it real low, then headed back to the highway, where I debated, once again, whether or not to question Sheila about her trip. But there was just something about the paleness of her expression, and her overall demeanor that kept me from going there.
The one thing I did mention was her hair. Chocolate brown in color, instead of being its usual silky, straight, well-quaffed self, her doo looked as if both she and her hair had been caught in a sudden downpour
“Just a little accident,” she replied after I asked. A little accident, I thought! Are you kidding me! It looked as if every bathroom on the plane had exploded!
We continued the rest of the way in silence.
Finally arriving at her condo, I opened her door, then after offloading her bags, I told her, “I’ll call you in the morning.”
Then as I pulled away from the curb, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw Sheila still standing where I had left her on the sidewalk, her luggage surrounding her feet like discarded bags of trash, her eyes staring off into space, like someone who had just lost their best friend.
Trying not to dwell on it too much, I drove directly back to my apartment. Then going straight to my desk, I got right back on my computer. After turning on some background music, I continued working on the romantic YA novel about teenage vampires which I had been writing on and off for the past year.
Stephenie Meyer, watch out!
Immediately, I fell right back into the same groove I had been in before I left for the airport. In fact, I was so on a roll, I totally forgot about eating supper. Instead, I continued working right up until I went to bed.
Then around seven the next morning, I found myself jolted awake by a distressed cell phone call from Sheila’s parents. Since that Friday, they had been ensconced in a cabin up in the mountains, where they had gone to get away from the world for a few days—no house phone, no TV, just a lot of fishing and hiking.
“She hasn’t returned even one of our phone calls,” her mother’s disappointed voice said to me over the phone. “That’s not like her!”
“I know,” I replied.
“What do you think is wrong?” asked her mom.
Not wanting to burden them with the details of Sheila’s sour mood, I said, “She’s probably just really tired from her trip. She’ll call you both once she wakes up.”
“I hope so,” replied her mother, not sounding very hopeful. Then after hanging up, I flipped on my coffee maker, popped a couple of frozen waffles into the toaster, and turned on the TV.
The images that confronted me had me standing in the middle of my tiny kitchenette like a marble statue all cold and frozen inside and out.
There had been a horrible accident during the night. A commercial jet with one hundred and thirty-three passengers on board had gone down in the waters off the coast. All efforts to find survivors had so far proven fruitless.
But that’s not what was forcing a torrent of lava-like tears to stream down my cheeks. It was because of the crashed jet’s flight number.
Flight 366 from Uruguay.