Jocelyn was fast asleep when she was startled by the co-pilot’s announcement that boomed through the PA system,
“Ladies and Gentlemen, due to unforeseen circumstances, we are forced to land at the next Airport. We regret, we will not be able to arrive in New York as scheduled and apologise for the inconvenience caused.”
“Oh, what could it be? No, no! Can’t be that” whispers and murmurs amongst the passengers, gradually increased, to a crescendo and resonated in the cabin.
Jocelyn was shaken, and her thoughts ran wild. Is it an engine problem? What if the plane crashed……..?
“A……m….ma! Aren’t we going to New York?” asked James still half asleep pulling his mother’s hand, “Now where are they going to land Amma?” Jocelyn gathered her son James close in her arms.
“Don’t know dear. Nothing to worry. You go to sleep dear,” She patted him back to sleep.
Jocelyn turned to her fellow passenger; maybe he could allay her fears. He had been beside her throughout the flight and the only person she had been speaking to since the United Airlines flight left Mumbai. She was taken aback to find that he was not in his seat. Maybe he has gone to the washroom, but why be away so long? Could he have had an accident in the washroom?
In her thirty-five years of life, Jocelyn had never been on an aircraft. Being their first flight, mother and son sat fascinated looking through the window as the jet glided, swallowing several hundred kilometres per minute. Clear light-blue sky, with different shaped white clouds sailing beneath it. As they watched, the sun descended leisurely to the west, the clouds and the heavenly region turned to pink and red.
“Look, Amma, so beautiful!” said James.
“Yes, it’s so…. delightful dear,” said Jocelyn, ruffling his thick curls, her eyes lovingly resting on him. Sadness lurked behind her pretty dark eyes. She smoothed down her black hair that was drawn back from her forehead and tied in a bun at the nape of her neck, accentuating her beautiful facial bone structure. A thin gold chain with a cross around her olive skin neck was her only adornment.
Just six hours into the smooth flight, Jocelyn was alarmed by an abrupt shaking of the seat beside her and a heavy thud. Turning her eyes off the window, Jocelyn saw her co-passenger, a very tall, young man, lying on the floor of the aisle and having an epileptic seizure. She quickly rang the bell for the flight attendant, so did some of the other passengers. But no staff responded immediately.
Jocelyn laid her arm on her son’s shoulder who sat staring with his mouth open, “He is having an epileptic fit dear- like your uncle Ravi. Sit in your seat, while Amma helps him,” said Jocelyn.
Without any hesitation, she attended to the man on the floor whose body was undergoing a series of jerking movements. First, she made sure there were no objects near him that might injure him.
“Please give me a hand to roll him over to his left,” she asked the passenger who had come to help and was kneeling beside her.
When rolling him over, Jocelyn said to the passenger, “This will prevent his tongue moving back and causing a serious block to his breathing,”
After his jerking movements subsided, she took the pillow from the seat and placed it under his head and loosened his jacket and shirt. At this point, the flight attendant arrived.
“Oh! Thank God, you are here. You can take over now. Hope I have done the right thing?” said Jocelyn standing up and moving away.
“Yes, you have. Thank you, madam,” said the flight attendant as she knelt beside the patient.
Dinner was served a little later. Half-way through the meal, Jocelyn observed that her co-passenger did not touch his food, but sat staring ahead. He looks so pale, he should be eating his dinner! Maybe I should tell him to eat. Turning to him she asked,
“Why don’t you have something to eat?’
“I don’t feel like eating. I feel very tired after the seizure that I suffered.”
“Have the hot tea with some extra sugar. It will boost you up.” She passed over her sachet of sugar on to his tray.
“Thanks. Yes, I’ll try.” He made the tea with the extra sugar and drank it. After a while, he sat up from his reclining position.
“Thank you, I feel much better. You must be the one who attended to me before the flight attendant could come to my help. Were it not for your prompt care, I may not be seated here. Thank you ever so much,” he said with an obligatory smile.
Jocelyn noticed that his English was accented. Wonder which country he is from? She thought.
“Maybe you feel like eating now,” she asked
“Indeed yes,” he said laughing out loud.
His deep-tone laugh would attract anyone. Also, he is so handsome with dark hair except for his hooked nose, which gives him a hard look, mused Jocelyn.
Eating his dinner, for courtesy sake he engaged in a conversation with her.
“My name is Victor, your name?”
“Jocelyn.” Placing her hand on James, “This is my son James,”
“Hi James, I am Victor. How old are you?”
“You are a good looking young man.” Victor moved forward and looked at the iPad in James’s hand, “Are you playing Chess, enjoy playing the game?”
“Yes, very much,” responded James.
“He won the year eight Inter School Chess championship last year. He is very bright,” beamed Jocelyn with pride.
“Are you going to New York for a conference?” Asked Jocelyn
”Ah………..,” he hesitated for a second and then answered, “Yes, yes. Are you going to visit relatives or friends in New York?”
“No.” she was reluctant to talk about her problems. Yet being a long journey ahead she welcomed the distraction of a conversation.
“I am going for my son’s treatment,” her voice shook, eyes shone with unshed tears.
“Why? What treatment?” Jocelyn observed that though he seemed preoccupied, now he showed some interest in their conversation.
“My son has leukaemia………, I am taking him to a hospital in New York for treatment. He needs to have a bone marrow transplant, and we have found a suitable donor there. This treatment is not available in my country. I am from South India.”
“But isn’t Medical treatment expensive in New York?”
“Yes, I am aware of it. Although we are not well off, I am determined to get the treatment that will cure my son. I sold all my property, my gold jewellery and borrowed money too for this treatment.” She hesitated here for a moment and then continued, “My son is everything to me. My days and nights, my every breath and my heartbeat are focused only on his recovery.” She felt the familiar squeezing pain in her chest, whenever she spoke about her son, which now emerged as tears easing the pain. Hastily brushing them away she said,
“Excuse me, I couldn’t contain my emotions.”
“I understand. What about your husband…… partner?”
“He died in an accident a few years ago.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
Jocelyn continued, “I am confident that James will respond to the treatment and will be cured. I am praying to God. Please pray for him. He needs the prayers of good people like you.”
On hearing her sudden naïve request in her grief-stricken voice he looked at her, with a mixture of disbelief and compassion in his eyes. He hesitated, rubbing his face with both hands, delaying his response. Perhaps he sensed that the lady was waiting for his answer.
“Yes, I will,” he said, moving uneasily in his seat, outwardly surprised with his response.
“Thank you, Victor, thank you again.” She smiled as tears glistened in her eyes.
“Let Allah have mercy on your son.” The words just came out. He sat back and closed his eyes.
Jocelyn said, “Thank you,” placing her hand on his that was resting beside her. “Oh, you are so cold! Here, use this extra blanket,” She covered him with her blanket. You need another warm drink.” She buzzed the bell for the flight attendant.
Victor sipped the warm drink that the flight attendant brought for him. Then turning to Jocelyn said, “I feel warm now, thanks for your concern.”
Lights were turned off for the nights’ rest. Except for few reading lights, the cabin was dark. Jocelyn noticed that Victor was restless, looking at his watch and walking up and
down the aisle. He is unable to settle down for the night, poor man, she thought. She was tired and sleepy, as she cuddled together with James she saw Victor walking towards the washroom.
After an anxious wait for a further announcement, the captain’s voice boomed through the PA system again.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we will soon commence our descent into Oslo Gardermoen Airport. Cabin crew, please prepare for arrival. Passengers when disembarking please take all your belongings with you. Rest assured you will be put up in Star hotels until you check in for New York, which will be within twelve hours. We are experiencing a minor technical problem. However, there is no need for alarm and on behalf of United Airlines; I extend our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience. Thank you”
Jocelyn felt a maddening terror, and a surge of adrenaline, Now, she was sure the plane was going to crash. Is this the end of our lives? Her throat went dry. James looked up at her with fear in his eyes, he was speechless. She gathered him in her arms, she heard his heart hammering against her chest.
“Nothing bad is going to happen, dear. It is only an engine problem. Be brave. Holy Mary help us,” she said, as she made the sign of the cross.
There was commotion amongst the passengers. Their thoughts were running wild. They were petrified, that their lives and dreams were being snatched before time. You could hear whispers, “The plane is sure to crash, we would all die, never thought that we would die in this manner.” One or two passengers were on their mobiles, with tear tinged faces whispering “I love you baby,” and “Love you very much.” They thought perhaps, that they were having the last word with their loved ones. Over this were heard bursts of ‘Oh! My God! Oh! Jesus save us.” Some passengers huddled together chanting prayers and waited. Jocelyn sat shivering, with her arms around her son.
Within half an hour the Pilot made a smooth landing at Oslo Airport. The passengers clapped their hands in appreciation, while some sobbed with relief.
The Pilot spoke again, “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened until the seat belt sign is turned off.”
While everyone waited, two airport security officers and armed police boarded the aircraft, marched straight down the aisle to the aircraft’s rear. An argument in deep voices ensued, soon after a stout man with dark, wavy hair and wearing a brown leather jacket was handcuffed and roughly escorted off the plane while he swore loudly.
The murmur rose again but subsided when the Pilot announced, “Everything is under control, nothing to worry. Please disembark quietly when the seat belt sign is off.”
The next evening, they reached JFK airport in New York on another flight and the passengers were given priority at Immigration and whisked through to the baggage claim.
After a good night’s sleep at her host’s home in New York, Jocelyn came downstairs with her son.
“Good morning dears! Slept well? You need more rest after so many hours wait at Oslo Airport,” said Stella, Jocelyn’s’ friend and host.
“Good morning Stella. We slept well, didn’t we James? Hm…..mmm smells delicious!” said Jocelyn, inhaling the aroma of bacon and eggs cooking on the stove.
When Jocelyn walked over to the breakfast table, the full-blown face of Victor, her fellow passenger, stared up at her from the newspaper. Picking up the morning’s Washington Post, in amazement, she read the headlines, ‘Miraculous Escape from Death of the Passengers on United Airlines Boeing 777.’
Jocelyn’s body turned cold and clammy. Feeling faint she sat down at the breakfast table. Stella snatched the newspaper from her and read out loud, with an expression of disbelief and concern in her tone. “Three hundred passengers, onboard the United Airline Flight No UA789 were miraculously saved by the terrorist’s apparent change of mind.
“The man in this photo gave his name as Victor. His real name and country of origin are unknown. Sources have revealed that when interrogated by terrorist special investigation unit officials, it was found that Victor and his accomplice Ron had planned to hijack the United Airline Flight and crash it into the sea. “
Stella paused and looked up at Jocelyn’s pale face, “Are you alright Jo?” Jocelyn could only nod, she was shivering. Stella continued.
“When questioned it was revealed that six hours into the flight Victor had a severe epileptic fit from which he had been free for many years. He lost consciousness and before the flight attendant came to his aid a fellow passenger, an Indian woman seated next to him provided the first aid that he needed.
“So, it was you Jo?’ asked Stella looking up from the newspaper.
Jocelyn could only nod again.
Stella continued to read, “He said that once he recovered, she persuaded him to eat and drink to regain his strength. He was surprised by the empathy and care she showed to a fellow human being. Her compassion and love were beyond race, religion, or colour. Further, he narrated that she was a single mother, taking her son who was suffering from rare cancer to a New York hospital for treatment.
“In his confession which has leaked out, he stated, ‘The environment I grew up in, and all the brainwashing led me to carry out this mission. I have never known love and sympathy in my life. I never realised that love was so powerful. I thought about the charming little boy, his mother and the innocent passengers that I barely knew. What animosity do I have against these innocent people? What harm have they done to me or my people?” Stella paused here, she needed a breathing space it was too daunting for her.
Then she continued reading “I felt mortified at the mass murder of innocent people that we were going to commit. There was no way to convince my accomplice Ron, other than to betray him and surrender myself. I am glad I made this decision.’”
“Oh! My God, Oh my God! Oh Gosh! Stella, can’t believe I was on that flight with a terrorist beside me and………. if he had gone ahead with his plan………..!“ Gosh! James and I won’t be here today.” Uncontrolled sobs and tears rolled down her cheeks.
Stella let her cry, sat beside Jocelyn and put her arms around her, “Jo dear, I know it’s a terrible shock. Thank God nothing happened. Please calm down. You are upsetting James “
“Yes, Stella, I should be thanking God.” Then, turning to James, “We are fine dear.” She hugged and kissed him on the forehead.
Wiping her tears with a tissue Jocelyn pondered over poor Victor’s many trials and tribulations.”
“Come on Jo! No more worries,” said Stella.” Bringing the breakfast to the table, she continued, “What you both need is a good breakfast, then you ring the hospital and confirm James’s appointment.”