This story is by Reginald de Palm and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Rita texted her friend Lisa, from an airport restroom while a PropClear airplane exploded shortly after taking off.
“Take your shoes off sir! I ain’t going to tell you the same thing again!” He was talking to the man in front of us in line at the airport. I knew him”.
“Talib, my neighbor from across the street. I never knew he worked here. How can I even explain to you my astonishment to learn that Talib not only works at the airport, but that he was actually the one deciding who was being ‘random-checked’ or not. Lisa, can you believe that?”
“And the moment I saw him, I immediately recognized him by his lightbrown/orangish complexion. His half-long hair and black curls that slightly covers his large awkward eyes and the upsetting O-rings of fatigue around them. Not to mention that ugly beard he never shaves. HR must have not noticed him at all during the job interview… preposterous!”
“All of this you’re telling me is incredible Rita. He could easily ‘not check’ someone carrying something illicit that should never make it on board of a plane”.
“You understand… my thoughts too. Exactly”.
Rita described some of her endeavors of the weekend ahead of them. Rita and another colleague, Sandra were going off the Island.
“The good thing was that I wasn’t alone. Maybe if I was alone I would have never pulled it off. Sandra from IT was with me. You know how it is when She puts her aim on getting of the Island. Not even that dirty management of ours can’t stop her. I told her to find out what Talib was made of? Her reply was: “Yeah, let’s poke his character and pick his brain”.
“Ok Rita, but what do you know about approaching a terrorist?” An astonished Lisa told her.
“I told myself, not to worry and knew we would figure something out, but Sandra grabbed me by my biceps and locked her fingernails deep into my skin… just not to break it. She panicked and got me nervous. Blood rushed to all over, except to my brain cells. We were about two feet away from where he stood”.
” ‘Your beard looks ugly’, I said, and immediately got his attention.”
“‘It makes you look old and disturbed!’ I continued to intrigue him.”
“Rita what were you thinking?”
“I don’t know Lisa?”
“What does a terrorist look like?”
But then something happened. He looked right back at her… and asked her if she would rather have him remove it? This immediately made her think. Her brain… now in suspense was working harder. Chirping scrapes could be heard as it tweaked.
She looked at him, trying to see through him, yet in vain. There was like a protective invisible shield around him, repelling her intentions. Any answer she gave now would trigger a discussion or expose her thoughts. He stared back inquisitively… waiting for a reaction on her behalf.
She had already said that it looked ugly, implying that she would like it removed. But now she was placed in the position to decide if it was really going to be removed or not.
Then it hit her!
She told him that her opinion was based on what she liked or disliked… and that he shouldn’t take it to such a serious level. He wasn’t that serious about it, but that was something she could not see through. She was more concerned about his type being a threat and wondered if she could do something about it. He nodded slowly and gave no sign of discontent. This made her wonder if he got mad or if he didn’t care about her lousy comment.
He really looked like one of the terrorists portraited on facebook.
All of this and more was going through her head.
“I must say that I did get a little worried. Talib didn’t say a word. I worried some more. When he finally spoke, he said: “My name is Talib. We have been neighbors for quite a while now”.
This surprised her. She could not believe that he would recognize her. She still did not trust him. Her inner self was battling her like settling a dispute between two worlds. The bag over her fragile ladies’ shoulder suddenly started to feel somewhat heavy and the cigarette smoke in the airport hall got noticeable.
“‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know that you knew who I was’, I replied, in a desperate attempt to cover my rudeness. Can you help me with my bag for a second”.
The two ladies went through the scanner while Talib held on to the bag over his shoulder. After the two ladies had already gone through the scanner he remembered holding the bag. He called to them, but none of them seemed to hear him. After getting a colleague to relief him from his post he passed behind the counter and walked into the busy departure hall.
“‘Hey lady. You forgot your bag, He whispered softly”.
“Give to my friend Sandra, I have to go to the ladies’ room very quick”.
After walking around for a bit she went back to where Sandra was waiting for her in the departure hall. Sandra was innocently trying to keep a straight posture while holding the heavy bag, with explosive material. Sandra believes that a women’s bag should never be put on the ground.
As they stood there Talib came back. He said that he had forgotten to scan the bag and if they could come with him to the scanner to scan the bag. Sandra was more than willing to hand over the bag and follow Talib, but Rita had other priorities. She hadn’t been to the restroom and she was being hesitant to walk back to the scanner with Talib.
She walked up to him and looked him firmly in the eye-sockets, while analyzing his sclera.
He was considering her an acquaintance and had his emotional guards down. Sandra was just a bystander in this and had no clue whatsoever what was about to happen.
About less than two feet from him she lingered, but both her arms were hanging loose beside her. There was something glimmering in her eyes. She was sue the content of the bag may never reach the scanner. He was just doing his job.
Rita opened her arms. Before anyone could say a word or show any sign of remorse or surprise, Talib opened his and made a step forward and threw them over her shoulders. His tall self, made her midsize body look small. The beard she had complained about earlier was all over her blonde hair. There was warmth coming from his chest. His heart had a soothing rhythm. A rhythm like any other. It proved that his blood was also of the same reddish colors as hers.
Rita hugged him back. Her short arms did not fully reach around him at first. She pushed her body closer against his to get to correspond to the pleasure of a full hug. Finally! Her fingers were barely touching each other.
Sandra just stood there. She watched in awe. She could not believe that a person who had critiqued this man’s race and creed so bad, was now hugging him, after she had called him a terrorist.
After this strange hug the two stepped back and tapped each other on the sides of their arms. His hug was soothing but Rita mimicked her thankfulness to be hugged, by returning the favor in the same manner.
This weird moment of inner reflection was interrupted by the loudspeaker call for passengers boarding on the first flight of “PropClear”.
“That’s our call mister Talib. We’ll have to run to get to the gate, not to miss this flight”.
“Hope to meet you soon. What is your name?”
“Nice to meet you Rita”, and he walked off and disappeared into the growing crowd.
“Sandra, can you go to the gate and start boarding? I really need to go to the restroom”.
Without questioning her, Sandra switched the heavy bag from shoulder and walked towards the gate.
Rita went into the toilet down the hallway and locked the door behind her. There was where she texted Lisa and was telling her all about her encounters.
While texting Lisa, she got another message, saying: “Activate now! Activation code 1492”.
Rita never liked arab-looking people and wanted to take out as many Muslims as possible and yet could not bear to see it happen. She did not have the guts to be on the plane and die herself for her demeanor either, so she figured out that since no one came back to brag about those male virgins they have encountered after their martyr, she wouldn’t either.
She calmly waited until Talib’s shift was over to avoid him and pretended she had lost the flight because she had to use the restroom.