This story is by Sofia Emory and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sara sat sandwiched between Sam and Jenna on a budget flight to Singapore. They were using her arms as pillows as it was around eleven at night, past their bedtime. They had said goodbye earlier to Daddy who had to catch up on work in Surabaya. He had told them to have fun on his behalf, she remembered with a smile. Then he had told ten-year-old Sam to take care of his little sister. Sam had stood straighter after that. Sara told the children that she would wake them up when they land. Although tempting pastries aroma wafted from the galley in the back, she would pass. As she closed her eyes, she could hear yawns, people shifting and newspapers rustling.
They were jolted awake by alarms blaring. The plane was stalling, informed the aircrew. Her children asked if they would be all right. She said that she hoped so with a calm voice, even though she was quaking inside. She held their hands in hers and prayed.
“Attention passengers! Put on your life jackets! We’re going to make an emergency water landing.”
Panicked sounds erupted from the passengers. Young ones cried. Sara tried to block out these sounds. With trembling hands, she helped her children put on their life jackets. She chewed on her bottom lip, worried about the kids losing body heat in the sea below. She wished she had brought waterproof pants for them. Correction, I wish we are not on this flight.
“Everyone to the nearest emergency exit!” shouted a stewardess. Heart beating fast, Sara hurried them to the exit.
“Look, Jenna. You love slides, don’t you?” said Sara, putting Jenna on her lap.
“Yaay!” Jenna shouted. The three slid down together.
“Don’t look back!” she told Sam, as they heard a loud groan followed by a whoosh.
Their plane was sinking when Sara turned around. They were lucky not to get rained on by debris nor sucked in together with the plane. Her nose protested the revolting mix of oil, burnt parts and brine, but her children seemed unaffected.
Their raft would not inflate. Dozens of people bobbed up and down in the dark choppy sea. Their bewildered faces illuminated by tiny lights on their jackets. Sara thought that they were doomed, but determined not to show panic.
She took several calming breaths and said, “Sam, can you see other orange rafts? Your eyes are better than mine.” Sam looked relieved to have a purpose.
“There is one slightly ahead to our left. I can’t see much on our right,” said Sam. Sara thought, if he could see it then others could too. They had to hurry.
“Then let’s swim over there. Both of you paddle hard, okay?” she smiled to encourage them. As she pulled both children, she saw that some people had found floating debris to hold onto and some were swimming towards the same direction. Waves threatened to carry them under or in different directions making swimming near impossible. Furthermore, none of them were strong swimmers. Still, they held onto each other so as not to be separated.
It felt like forever until the lifeboat Sam sighted was near.
“This raft is already full,” shouted a big woman.
Sara pretended not to hear. She grabbed the edge of the raft and pulled her children to it. They coughed and panted. With arms like lead, she wiped their faces dry and inspected them for any injuries. My brave kids! They are exhausted. It’s a miracle we’ve got this far.
She searched for any aircrews but saw only passengers.
“Please. Let my children up,” she begged. Two women looked at her with pity while hugging their own girls. Most refused to look her in the eye.
“Please, they are not heavy…They won’t stand a chance out here.”
After a few seconds of whispering, the two women earlier pulled Jenna while Sara held her up. Jenna was too tired to protest. Then an older couple reached for Sam but was stopped by the big woman. Sara glared at her.
“The little girl only, “ she said.
“But..” said both Sara and the old man.
“The raft will tip over,” she added.
Nobody argued against the big woman, who was thrice Sam’s size at least.
Sara screamed, “He’s only ten. Have you no heart?”
However, the woman wouldn’t budge. Sara looked around at the people who only looked back in pity. She wanted to protest more but swallowed it when Jenna cried for her mommy.
Sara inched closer and said, “Ssh. Mommy’s here. You just sit with the kind ladies.”
Jenna saw her mommy and brother were not on the raft and asked, “Why?..”
Sara only shook her head and said, “It’ll be OK” to calm Jenna, while her mind screamed that she had failed her son. The two ladies soothed Jenna like their own girls, so she slowly calmed down. On the other hand, Sam began to shiver. Concerned, Sara rubbed his cheeks and arms with her hands.
Meanwhile, two men approached the raft and were rejected. They looked surprised to see a boy in the water and shot her a questioning look. Sara threw a look towards the selfish woman and shook her head. The men cursed and then moved to the other side of the raft for balance.
Their raft was like a child toy struggling to stay afloat in the sea. It was almost overturned or swallowed by the waves several times.
Sara saw that Jenna slept between the two women, but Sam’s lips were blue despite her efforts to warm him. She thought, she had to get her son up there somehow. If that woman is not onboard, maybe the others will not object to Sam. She was amazed to see her nodding off despite their situation.
She measured the woman and her own strength. Can she pull her down? No. Who will help? Others will see me. Will anyone help that awful woman?
She was horrified by herself. Here she was contemplating murder and seeking an accomplice.
What kind of person have I become?
She hoped the others would not retaliate against her children. Seeing Sam’s chattering teeth, she hardened herself.
Sara moved to the other side of the raft, approached the younger man and whispered her request. She added, “ Please don’t give me away!” She had nothing to offer but her gratitude. After a look at the older man, he nodded. He quietly followed Sara back to that woman’s seat. She was still asleep.
On the count of three, they each grabbed an arm and pulled. While the big woman was startled, an older woman on her left unexpectedly lifted the heavy legs and shove.
As soon as the big woman was in the water, Sara put her hands on the plump shoulders to drown her. This woman had made her son suffer. A lightning flashed. When she saw fear in those eyes, she felt a mental slap.
No! No matter how angry I am, I won’t do that.
Sara loosened her hold and pushed the big woman away from the raft.
She turned her attention to Sam and pushed him up the raft with the help of the man and older couple. The others on the raft protested her actions, but she shouted, “It was my idea! My responsibility. You wouldn’t let my boy up earlier because of her. Now, look at him!”
She looked at the two women with Jenna and asked them, “Wouldn’t you do the same if it was your girl?”
They nodded as well as the older couple.
“We have a grandson about that age. That’s why my wife helped you,” said the older man. The others did not push the matter further.
Sara thanked them and remained outside the raft with the other two men. My penance. She did not know their reasons.Rain began to drizzle. That woman shouted obscenities at her from a drifting flotsam. I deserve that.
Sara had kissed both children on their cheeks, briefly waking Jenna. They smelt of salted fish instead of the usual baby shampoo. She had asked the kind people to watch out for them. Bless their kind hearts. Can’t thank them enough.
Though their fates remained uncertain in this nasty element, she had done what she could. She believed that it was all worth it. She would face the consequences when she had to, clamping down on any thoughts of being separated from her children.
Her adrenaline had run out leaving her body boneless, but her senses heightened. She heard the roaring waves and the thunders and felt every raindrop. Now she just wanted to close her eyes for a second and said her prayers.
“Search and rescue parties from three countries have failed to find any survivors. The plane crashed into the Karimata Strait on its route from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore…” said the announcer on television. Sara’s husband put his head in his hands and wept.