Their Final Flight

I mouthed ‘I love you’ towards my boyfriend as he gripped my hand tightly. It wouldn’t be worth saying out loud, not with all the rest of the noise going on. Our eyes locked in a second that seemed to last an age. Not nearly long enough though.

“Brace! Brace! Brace!” came the instruction over the tannoy.

This was it. We were going to die.

90 minutes earlier . . .

“Come on, come on! I want to look at the shops,” my rather over-eager and excitable partner said, tugging my arm. It was adorable for the first, oooh, hour or two. Now, I wished he was more like me for his first flight—petrified. Actually, no, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I was well used to flying by now, with all the business trips, but I was always nervous, uneasy and unable to sleep the night before. The thing is, it’s completely natural to be scared of flying; hurtling around thousands of kilometres above the ground, not to mention the take-off and landing, is hardly natural. I don’t understand what's wrong with people who aren’t scared of flying!

My partner had dragged me into a trainer shop. To be honest, I didn’t really have to be forced to go in. I liked trainers almost as much as he did. “Oh wow! I really want these . . .” he exclaimed, holding up a pair of Jordan mid tops. I’m glad he didn’t say ‘need these’. He so did not need them. Or any others for that matter. He was a complete sneakerhead—I mean I thought I was bad, but he took it to a different level. Half of his luggage was footwear—the pair to wear to the beach, the pair for the evening, the pair for walking around when not at the beach, the pair to wear inside the apartment, the pair to wear if it rains on a Tuesday . . .

“I’m getting them,” he declared a few seconds later. He turned and smiled at me. “They are going to look great on you when I’ve finished with them.”

True. I don’t buy any new shoes these days, I just get whatever he’s finished with. It works out well as I don’t like to wear new sneakers; I prefer them with a bit of character. I looked down at the battered Air Force One mid tops on my feet and wriggled my toes. They were perfect. I’d wear a pair until, well, forever, really, but that’s not part of our deal. When he’s bored with them, he takes them off my feet and chucks them on the fire. “Not good enough for a tramp,” he’d say. Then he would slip off the pair he was wearing and slide them on me. And that would be my only pair until the situation repeated itself.

Except last time. He did the first bit (chucking the battered white DC Commands into the fire) but not the second (giving me his pair). He said he had changed his mind and wanted to keep them for a bit longer. I had to beg for him to give me his well-worn Nike AF1s as replacements, which he eventually did—but not before making me go all weekend without any sneakers and forcing me to go down in the lift to the post room to check for mail in just my socks—even though we don’t get mail on a Sunday! I think he might have let me have a pair to go to work in but I wasn’t 100% sure. So, in the end, I agreed to treat him to a holiday and he finally relented. I’m not sure I wasn’t storing up problems for myself later by giving in.

Last night, he slipped off my AF1s in the way that meant they would be ashes soon, but instead of throwing them in the fire he surprised me by only slipping off his Osiris Bronx and putting them on me. The old ones didn’t get burned. He said that as I was kindly treating him to a holiday for his birthday, he was treating me by allowing me to have two pairs for the holiday. Furthermore, he was going to wear the old AF1s tonight. I wasn’t about to argue; I loved seeing those beaters on his feet and I was even happier that I was going to get to wear them again after. Man, I was so turned on! It was probably just as well I usually can’t sleep the night before a flight. I made damn sure he didn’t either.

But anyway, it looked like I'd be wearing some Jordans soon, and he now had some hand luggage to carry around for the trip. He hated carrying luggage on a plane, so I teased him once or twice about it on our way to the airport. I got a few laughs out of it, but once he made it clear he could easily fix the problem by throwing my AF1s in the bin I didn't mention it again.

We breezed through check-in and before long we were waiting in the departure lounge. I sat down and slipped off my loose sneaker to give my foot a rub.

"Here, let me do that,” my partner suggested.

Normally I'd say yes like a shot (his foot rubs were to die for) but I felt a bit nervous in such a public space. However, the lounge was sparsely populated—it was either going to be a quiet flight or everyone was leaving it to the last minute—so I agreed.

My partner pulled my leg across his lap and started massaging my foot through my white sock. He motioned for me to bring my other leg up. I complied, and he slipped off my other shoe and went to work on that foot. I was in heaven.

When he stopped, I opened my eyes to see him smiling at me. God, I was so lucky to have him. I swung my feet off his lap and let them hover above the floor while I looked for my kicks. Finally, I noticed them stashed underneath his seat.

"Can I . . .?" I started before being cut off with a firm 'no'. Bastard, I really did hate him sometimes! I sighed and put my socked feet down on the floor, and that's how I remained as the lounge slowly filled to about half full. I clocked one lad who was constantly looking at my socks. He wore tight black jeans, a black polo shirt and low black AF1s that allowed me to catch a glimpse of his black socks. That was me once—all in black. How times have changed.

I brought one foot up to rest on my knee and moved it around in circles while I wiggled my toes. The poor lad didn't know where to look, and in the end, he quickly disappeared into the toilet. My boyfriend had been watching what was going on and gave me an appreciative smirk. He was such a bad influence!

The tannoy buzzed into life to announce that boarding had started. My boyfriend jumped up excitedly, eager to go.

“Come on, get your shoes on, slowcoach!” And with that he was off.

“Hey, wait for me!” I called after him, pulling on one sneaker and half hopping after him while trying to wrestle the other one on. He was already down the tunnel and out of sight. By the time I got onto the plane he had already nabbed the window seat, of course. “You snooze, you lose!” he crowed, grinning at me like a Cheshire cat.

This was going to be a long flight! I buckled myself up and smiled back at him, then gestured toward the seating arrangements he had created in his haste to grab the window seat. “Of course, this does mean that if you need the toilet—and you will need the toilet after that large coffee you drank—you’ll have to ask me to move. So, I’d start playing nice if I was you . . .”

His eyes widened slightly at the veiled threat I had casually dropped on him, and then narrowed as he tried to work out if I was being serious. I said nothing more and put my head back in the seat and shut my eyes with a huge smile across my face. That’s how I stayed during take-off. This was my routine, a form of meditation. I would stay like that until the plane finished climbing. Except this time, it didn’t finish climbing. This time, there were a series of large bangs. I looked out the window to see flames coming out of the engine, incinerating the goose feathers that remained after the collision. Then an eerie silence fell.

The plane started to level off and then shortly after, to descend. That’s when the panic started. I reached over and gently put my hand on my partner’s leg. He turned to me with a look of pure fear. I mouthed ‘I love you’ towards my boyfriend as he gripped my hand tightly. It wouldn’t be worth saying out loud, not with all rest of the noise going on. Our eyes locked in a second that seemed to last an age. Not nearly long enough though.

“Brace! Brace! Brace!” came the instruction over the tannoy.

This was it. We were going to die.

And then we hit the water.

We were shaken violently as the plane bounced once on the river. Some of the overhead lockers burst open, spewing their contents dangerously into the air. After what seemed like an age the noise and motion stopped, and the eerie silence returned, only occasionally broken by confused whimpers. I glanced out the window to see that we had indeed landed in the river and were slowly drifting on the current.

The cockpit door flew open and the captain appeared. “Cabin crew!” he bellowed. “Start evacuation. Now!”

I looked down at the floor of the cabin and saw water starting to trickle down the aisle. Nearby, the cabin crew were trying to release the door and the escape slides but the mechanism was stuck. I glanced across to my partner. He looked frozen in sheer terror.

“Hey,” I said quietly to no response. “Hey!” I repeated more forcefully, causing him to turn toward me in a startled manner. “Get your shoes off—be ready!”

“What?!” he stammered.

“Seat belt unlocked. Shoes off,” I repeated. “You’ll need to go down the slide to evacuate.”

“Oh. Oh, right.” He slipped his feet out of the sweet pair of 97s he was wearing and perched his socked heels on the seat to avoid the increasing amount of water swilling around in the cabin. It was an act of futility, of course; they soon would be wet anyway.

I got up and crossed to where the cabin crew were trying to get the door open. The water came up above the toe box of my AF1s and I gasped at the sharp coldness when it soaked my feet. In a short time, we had managed to force the mechanism and people were starting to evacuate down the chute into the cold water below. I helped people who needed it onto the slide, and the cabin crew assisted others further down. I made sure my boyfriend got out quickly, fearful there could be an explosion. He didn’t want to leave me but I told him firmly to go. I watched with relief as he disappeared down the slide, hitting the water with a noisy splash. The other evacuated passengers helped him out and up onto the wing, his t-shirt and jeans glistening in the low morning sunlight.

I turned back to the line of people who were waiting to go down the slide. The lad who had been staring at me in the departure lounge was now at the head of it. I automatically looked down and saw that he was shoeless, his black socks underwater. How the tide had turned, I thought, allowing a moment of humour to fall on me. Hard on its heels came a tenuous relief that it looked like we were all going to get out of this relatively unharmed.

I smiled at him and motioned for him to duck his head as he was a tall lad. He gave me an anxious smile in return and wordlessly crossed his arms over his black polo shirt and launched himself down the chute. I think the force of entry must have pulled his shirt off because when he was hauled up it was missing and he stood there shivering in his tight black jeans and dripping socks.

“It’s your turn, Sir,” said one of the cabin crew politely. It was remarkable with all the crap that gets thrown towards them that they still managed to be utterly polite and correct. I looked down the empty cabin and just for that moment my mind wandered to all the shoes left behind, all the moments in their former owner’s lives that they bore witness to, only soon to be consigned to a watery grave. Sooner them than the people who had worn them, I thought, as I went down the slide.

I hit the water fast and immediately went under. It was freezing cold but I didn’t care. A cold silence enveloped me and time seemed to slow. As I started to rise, sound gradually filtered through to me, and when I breached the surface, well, it was as if I had been reborn. A hand shot towards me and, with the help of my boyfriend, I clambered onto the busy wing. We hugged each other tightly, reluctant to let go.

I looked across to the rest of the plane that languished absurdly in the water, waves from the approaching armada of rescue boats gently rapping its fuselage, then down to our wet socks. Sure, we had lost a lot of nice sneakers today, but in the end it didn’t really matter. Shoes, clothes—all those material things—none of that really matters. They can be replaced at a drop of a hat. Not everything can.

Helicopters buzzed above us, as a swirl of sirens joined them in the air, but it was all distant noise to me. I had what I needed right here in my arms. I kissed him, feeling his warmth, thankful that this was not our final flight.

Written by sneaked666
Edited by sz1415sneakers

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