Ashes in the Wind
Justin YW Lau
On Lufthansa Airways, flight number 18, departure time 6:20 am BST, flying from London to Tokyo via Helsinki, a baby was born. News spread like an airborne disease. Raucous whispers flittered around the cabins, snippets of gossip rallying back and forth amidst a solemn chorus of snores and awaking snorts, all combining to compose an airy symphony. A man rudely awakened in 72A grumbled ‘Women’s business’ as he went back to sleep. Most passengers, however, didn’t share his sentiment. They wanted to know who (was she young, middle aged or old? was she 7 months, 9 months or overdue? was she pretty or ugly or pretty? was she a he?), where (first class, it must be first class, that’s where all the space is… we can’t even stretch out our legs in economy!), how (how on earth were they going to deliver a baby on a flying machine? was there even a doctor on-board?), and whether one could get a sneak peek (not that that was going to stop anyone; the seatbelt sign was clearly off). Soon, a crowd had gathered around row 3 in first class (I told you so, came an economic murmur). Amplified mutterings filled the atmosphere as strangers turned into acquaintances turned into tattling neighbourhood mums. The din rose in volume.
Sssh! A doctor heading to Tokyo for a medical conference had been assigned the mission of delivering the baby. He held his hand up as he hovered over the groaning mother; his fist, by the authority vested in him, ordered silence. The atmosphere grew tense. PUSH! he suddenly bellowed, astonishing the audience and impregnating them with a sense of unbridled urgency. PUSH! PUSH! The entire plane hummed and shook with a powerful chant. A rare moment of unprecedented solidarity, a fiery passion pervading each and every onlooker; a host of soaring beings cheering on the universal experience of a mother giving birth. After ten solid minutes of intensive rallying, a shrill cry suddenly pierced the æther.
Born! The doctor glanced at his wristwatch and declared the official time to be 10:52 am. Is it a boy or a girl? someone asked. With tears in her eyes, the mother said, It’s a— But wait, somebody screamed, isn’t that British Summer Time? Shouldn’t it be— What time zone are we in! they cried as the flight attendant rushed to the cockpit to check. Others began blurting out times, each vying for an authoritative say. The flight attendant returned breathless and reported, We’re flying over Russia, it’s currently 13:55 pm, GMT+4, officially. Everyone nodded in approval and breathed a sigh of relief.
What’s his name? asked the doctor. The mother smiled weakly, His name is— Wait a minute, what nationality is he? someone cried. A gasp. How could they have forgotten such a thing! You there, mother who just gave birth, where are you from? somebody asked. The mother managed to croak out, Japan… but my husband is Italian, before chaos abounded. Does that make him half-Japanese, half-Italian? cried a Bolivian. We’re in Russian territory though! observed a Korean. We flew out from Heathrow, he must be English! yelled an Indonesian. But we stopped over in Helsinki, so, Finnish? proposed a Nigerian. But Lufthansa is a German company! declared the Mexican. Is he a child of the air—passport free? asked the flight attendant. A shame we weren’t flying over America, he’d have become an American citizen, and who wouldn’t want to be an American? screeched a Californian. Silence, for a good two seconds, before arguments resumed. What is he?! everyone cried.
We must figure out if this beautiful newborn is under jus soli or jus sanguinis! insisted a man. The law must— Damn the law! exclaimed a woman. He must not be limited by man-made regulations nor be confined to the land! This child has proven itself to be transcendent, transnational, trans! (Not sure about that last one, someone whispered.) Someone proclaimed with conviction, He must be the Chosen One! Another asserted, He is the Messiah! The crowd hurrahed. He has come to save us all! He was special, special indeed. Why else would he choose to be born in the air, free from the land, ascending and transcending human nature’s earth-bound rites and rituals? A miracle, surely—a turning point in history. This child has a great destiny, praise to the new saviour of the world! As such, they must be careful not to restrict, by any means, what he will accomplish. But what, asked the masses, will he accomplish? Why, they must choose rightly for him!
It’s obvious, cried the law-man, It’s of paramount importance that he becomes the President of the United States, or the Secretary-General of the United Nations! Global peace, it is his only way, it is his only aim! The other passengers quickly booed him, with flying shouts of Elitist! and Fascist! and Mudblood! To save the commoners, as a commoner he must rise! Other voices chipped in their two quid: He shall become a humanitarian worker in Zambia! No, let him lead the rebellion against deforestation in the Amazon! He will be the golden face of LGBT rights! The world will witness him leading displaced refugees into the Promised Land! Gender equality to the nations! The next Martin Luther King Jr.! Gandhi! Mother Teresa! May God bless the Pope! Wait a minute, is that smoke coming out from the engine? Oh my god, I think you’re right!
Rough job, eh, he muttered to her, shaking his head at the charred plane, the fire finally extinguished, soot and smoke and ashes rising into the air, mingling with the wind. Austria, check. Bolivia, check. Congo, check. With a list of passengers in hand, she directed volunteers with stretchers as each body was identified, ticked off with a red pen and sent back to their respective countries. Their colleague soon came running over to them and pointed towards the plane. There’s a kid that isn’t on the flight roster, he said, catching his breath, Where do we send him to be buried?
Justin YW Lau (@JustinYWLau) is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed ‘vagabond at peace’. Born in Singapore and grown in Japan as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), he is bilingual and feels most comfortable speaking Japlish, a hybrid of Japanese and English (not to be confused with Engrish). Holding a BA in English Literature from Durham University, UK (‘15), he has been published in various magazines and aspires to be a novelist writing Japan-related fiction. Justin blogs at: Writings of a Vagabond at Peace.
Kunal Jankee was born and lives in Mauritius. He started taking photos as a child, and through time decided to make photography his career. He specialises in fashion photography, greatly influenced by his mother who was a dressmaker in the village he lived in. He has worked as head photographer and videographer for the past fourteen years, and currently works as a freelancer. He has won multiple awards, including a prize in the Nikon International Photography Competition. His photos have been exhibited at Le Louvre, Paris.