Keven adjusts his uniform then sneaks in a few eye drops. He turns and smiles at the first passengers entering the plane. Brushing his yearning for Montreal aside, he surveys the turboprop’s interior; the passengers he’s attending to this evening. Business class today, not his favourite.
A young woman sits alone, the sole first class passenger; her eyes, a startling green, stare from a face pale, withdrawn; her auburn hair pulled into a ponytail. Keven remembers her waiting at the gate as he strode towards the boarding entrance: face calm, eyes half closed, one of many midnight passengers.
Before take-off, Keven squats in the aisle. “Would you like anything to drink on the flight?” he says, voice flat.
She turns towards him. Vertical pupils survey Keven, preparing to glimpse into his soul. He draws back.
“I’m sorry,” he says,
Tears fill her eyes. “So am I.”
“Do you have a place to go?” Keven asks.
“The hotel won’t take me now.” She grabs a tissue and closes her eyes.
“I’ll be back.” Keven checks the other passengers and buckles up for take-off. This is his last shift and Yu is waiting for him in Montreal.
Keven’s thoughts turn to last year when the senses-enhancing mutation was identified. Her type of people, the type who travel first class, “stay clean.” Their word for isolating. Each time a new virus appeared, they let other people, working-class people like him, take the chances. Now, with this mutation and its unknown origins, they are as vulnerable as everyone else.
Keven tries to smile at the irony, but his lips won’t move. She’s different.
The plane reaches altitude and Keven brings her orange juice, wanting to test the mutation’s progress.
“When did you notice?” he asks, handing her the cup.
“Just before boarding. In the washroom.” She takes a sip of juice, purses her lips, and returns the cup. “I’m thirsty. Is there anything else to drink?” she asks, voice hoarse.
He returns with a water bottle. She sits huddled against the seat, arms against her body. Keven feels a kindness in her. And strength.
The flight from Toronto to Quebec City is under two hours, not long enough for the full transformation, which takes a day, but Keven knows the plane will turn around if he reports this to the pilots. The paperwork will take hours and Yu is waiting for him.
Of course, the woman will stay in Toronto, admitted to a research hospital like all the others. Keven cringes.
“How did you get through the gate?” he asks.
“I don’t know.” The woman blows her nose, the now empty water bottle tucked in the seat pocket.
Keven has seen people without picture ID slip through the gate.
“It smells bad in here.” She puts a wet tissue to her nose, mouth open.
Keven takes earbuds out of a storage box. “Nothing I can do about that but, here, these may help. For later. They’ll dull the noise. You’ll still hear.”
Shaking, the woman clutches them in her hands. “Will this ever stop?” she asks.
Keven doesn’t answer. He needs to think. “I have to check on the passengers,” he says. Brown eyes expressionless he walks past people half asleep, weighing the woman’s strength. He’s heard stories of the research hospital, the experiments – a fate undeserving of her. Maybe she can help.
Nodding to Kim, the other attendant, he returns to sit beside the young woman. “I have a friend in Quebec City who can give you a place to stay.” Keven hands her the required gift box, slip of paper with name and phone number hidden under his thumb.
Her lips tremble, the smile dissolving as she takes the gift. Her hands clench the box, paper crumpling under her palm. Her breathing is shallow.
“Why are you flying to Quebec City?” Keven asks as she puts the earplugs in.
“My family owns Silken. The clothing store?” She takes a deep breath. “I’m bringing in more inventory.”
“How many stores in Quebec City?” he asks.
“Three.” She groans. “The air is hurting my body.”
Keven finds a blanket. She pushes it away.
“The vents. Can you stop the airflow?” she asks, body shaking, face glistening.
Keven leans over and adjusts the vent. “You’re changing too fast,” he says and checks his watch.
“How much longer? I don’t think I can take much more.” The woman shifts in her seat, stands up.
“You need to relax. You don’t want to bump your head’” Keven says. “We start landing procedures in a few minutes.” He gives her another water bottle. “This will help.”
She takes a sip. Her eyes grow wide.
“What’s in Montreal?” she asks through chattering teeth.
Keven feels his face getting hot. He looks down.
“I sense a deep longing,” she says. “That’s all.”
“My husband.” Keven stands back. “How far away can you feel?”
“Just you so far.”
Keven frowns and walks towards the cockpit, preparing for landing, opening and closing panels.
He returns and stands by the woman.
She furrows her brow. “I feel so much pain on this flight. Even you. What caused your pain?”
Keven hesitates. “Don’t we all experience pain in our lives?” he asks.
“This type of pain is new to me.”
“Well, I’m Asian in a white world; gay in a world full of judgment. What do you think?”
The woman looks out the window, at the lights twinkling in the dark vastness below, the glow of Quebec City on the horizon. “I guess I’ve always been on the inside, never looking out. My parents are like rocks, gave me what I needed. I always had friends.” She grimaces. “Everything will change now. They hate mutants.”
“People get scared. When someone is different,” Keven says.
“Why aren’t you scared of me?” she asks.
The plane angles left, the lights of Quebec City filling the window. Keven sits in a seat across the aisle and steadies his breathing. He leans back and removes a contact. A black rectangle sits within the brown iris.
“You have a choice, with the mutation.” He puts the contact back in and points to the slip of paper. “There is a way to control the effects, hide them so you can live a normal life.”
She slides her finger over the paper.
“Why are you helping me?” she asks.
Keven squats beside her.
“I feel a strength in you. A positive force. Maybe you’ll make a difference for us.” He smiles then, his eyes warm as he walks to the attendant’s seat. And Yu is waiting for me, he thinks.
The plane taxis through the red and blue runway lights to the gate. When the door opens and the woman exits, she glances up at Keven.
“Thank you,” she mouths and lowers her eyes.
Keven watches her slide the paper in her pocket as she walks up the airbridge.
M.G. Thomas is a beginner writer, exploring literary and dystopian fiction, and fantasy. She prefers writing flash fiction and short stories. Most of her stories include some element of human rights or responsible stewardship of our planet, both of which resonated with her as a child. Her first publication, a piece of flash fiction: “Vase, fleurs et fruits,” appeared in The Potato Soup Journal and dealt with the LGBTQ community. Music inspires her writing. She finds the written word copies the texture, rhythm, and flow of a musical composition. Along with detailed and well-articulated music, different cultures – the food, dress, architecture, and language - spark her imagination. When not writing fiction, M.G. Thomas teaches piano privately. She is actively involved in the music teaching community, organizing festivals and conferences, running programs for students, and writing reports. She’s learning the violin and is a member of a local string orchestra.