I spun the tiny bottle with a swirling dream inside it, as I reconsidered my decision for the umpteen time.
“You have made an excellent choice Mrs. Bradwood. Travel is one of our most favored category of dreams. I am certain it will quench your wanderlust quite well.” The petite salesman at the counter chirped at me. The trademark smile of this pretentious circus was plastered on his mouth.
Lily tugged at my arm. “Mom come on, try it right now!”
“Good morning Mrs. Carrie Bradwood. Please proceed to seat 17-B.” A steward greeted me in a crisp, clear voice as I stepped in the airplane.
“Carrie you have been my closest friend since middle school. If not you, then who?” Natalie grumbled as she stashed our bags in the overhead cabin.
“I just think your sister would be offended if you chose me as your maid of honour instead of her,” I tried to reason.
“Good morning ladies. My name is Carol and I will be your hostess on this flight to Texas.” A slightly plump airhostess dazzled us with her smile. “May I please ask you to fasten your seatbelts and listen to our safety instructions.”
“Carrie!” Natalie whispered. “This airhostess looks so similar to you!”
“She does?” I craned my neck to get a better look at her.
“Yes. Your body structures are alike too. I bet she would be 5’5” without those pumps.” Natalie’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Do you have an estranged twin sister that you never told me about?”
“Don’t be silly,” I rolled my eyes.
“Oh I read somewhere that every person has seven dopplegangers in this world. I bet this Carol is one of yours.”
“Give it a rest please, Natalie.”
I reclined and closed my eyes as the plane leveled up after take off. When I opened them next, noon was upon the vane. The western sky was flaming gold with streaks of purple and crimson. Shadows veiled the undulating landscape below the plane.
A sudden turbulence jerked me out of my stupor. Natalie sat up next to me, pushing fingers through her tousled hair. Another violent jolt made all the passengers look around in alarm. Airhostesses walked up and down the aisle and tried to calm us down. The plane dipped abruptly and all of us slid down in our seats. Then a few passengers from the front seats screamed.
“Is that from a fire?”
A male voice crackled on the speakers and explained to us that one of the engines had overheated and failed. The pilot was trying for an emergency landing.
Pandemonium raged through the flight. Cabin lights were dimmed. Passengers crowded towards the emergency exit in panic as airhostesses tried to maintain order. A terrified Natalie clutched my hand tightly and buried her face in my shoulder. It was then that I saw a bright orange flame spread over the right wing and realized in horror, ‘this plane was not landing safely.’ I turned my gaze back to the inside of the plane and saw Carol staring at the fire too. A spasm rippled through her taut face and I knew that the exact same realization had hit her.
Our eyes met and understanding sunk in. She came and sat down in the empty aisle seat next to me.
I took a deep breath and felt the tension leave my body as I exhaled. “You know, sometimes, in the end we all have to give up or let go.” I said aloud. “But we need not regret that decision always. Pause for a moment and acknowledge what you are giving up and why. Say goodbye and that regret will turn into peace of mind.”
Carol stared at her hands and nodded her head.
“I love my family. I have a beautiful daughter Lily who is as defiant as her father is protective,”I told her.
Carol looked at me and said, “I love my job. My dad couldn’t afford my education and is very proud of the fact that I am an independent woman.”
I squeezed her hand and then turned to Natalie. “I would have been very jealous if you had chosen your sister over me.”
Tears trickled down Natalie’s face as she gave me a tremulous smile.
“Would you like some peanuts?” Carrie asked. “I want to do my duty one more time.”
“I would love some peanuts,” I said and watched her go as the world around me faded to nothing.
…Continued in Part III