A tale of hijacking and and flummoxed Germans, to be told in two parts.
Three things happened in rapid succession after the food was served.
The first was that the stewards made an about face with the garbage bags, under the logical assumption that nobody would actually eat what they were serving.
The second was that all the Germans stampeded for the bathrooms, causing blockages of stupendous proportions in the aisles. (I, wisely, had declined the airline food in preference for something oozing out of a paper wrapped packet proffered by one of the card sharps after I fleeced him thoroughly at Indian Poker.)
The third is that a cacophonous wailing rose from two rows ahead, with much crying and ululation from the throats of a cluster of black garbed women. It turned out that when the stewards had come around with food, they turned to their male companion to rouse him from his nap. Alas, it turned out that his nap was of the more permanent nature, and upon discovering this the women promptly fell to weeping, wailing, and rending their clothes. After a hasty consultation in three languages, it was decided that there an emergency landing should be made to deal with the deceased, so we came down somewhere in England, where a troupe of technicians duly entered the plane and attempted to extricate the gentlemen from the seat.
Being the only actual English speaker in proximity to the scene, my translation skills were pressed into service and I relayed the words of the technicians in Greek to the Armenians, who translated into Turkish for a fat sweaty old man, who in turn translated into Punjabi for the swaying women. It transpired that the gentleman, who had been rather corpulent (strictly speaking, still was) had been dead long enough for rigor to set in, and he could not be easily removed from the seat. The technicians proposed breaking his legs, an idea which was met with horror, and they decamped briefly to return with another technician, who actually dismantled the seat in order to get the man out.
Now, of course, the question was what should be done with the body. The British refused to accept it (understandably, as who wants a body floating around for someone to claim it? And perhaps this was all a clever scheme to get amnesty.) The airline refused to ship it back to Pakistan, because most of his family was on the plane bound for New York, and they didn’t want it sitting unclaimed in the airline hangar. And besides, the man had paid for a ticket to New York. Surely, he deserved to go to America.
So it was that the PIA bird of doom rose into the skies once more, with the man laid on on an awkward bier composed of the dismantled airline seat (which no one could quite reassemble) and draped in a gaudy sarong donated by a kindly hippie who generously stepped forward after being apprised of the situation. The man’s family members continued to sit around him, weeping and wailing, while gastrointestinally distressed Germans sped past them to the overflowing toilets. I regretfully bid adieu to my Armenian friends and moseyed back towards the nose of the aircraft to report on the rear of plane doings for my father.
After what seemed an interminable period, the plane finally began to descend over a pictaresque city, although the water didn’t look quite right to me and the skyline looked downright unfamiliar. I had only been to New York a few times, however, so I dismissed my concerns. The Germans all breathed sighs of relief as we landed, but my father began shaking his head.
“This is not New York,” he muttered. “This is Toronto.”
As soon as the cabin doors opened, the Germans rushed from the plane in a sea, scattering luggage behind them as they went, and descended as one to kiss the ground. The Muslims on board watched with interest, because they didn’t remember the German contingent praying at any point before, and anyway they were facing the wrong direction. My father’s feeble cries of protest were drowned out.
“Das icht nicht New York!” he cried. “Das ist Toronto!”
Presently the Germans boarded again, escorted by a bevy of Canadian beauties sporting Maple Leaf flags (and not much else), and carrying jars of Maple syrup. They recoiled visibly at the scene of utter turmoil in the aircraft, but they put their game faces on.
“Welcome to Toronto,” they said. “Would you like some syrup?”
After getting all the passengers resettled, the Canadian women departed with alacrity and the plane began to taxi down the runway, with no explanation as to our unscheduled stop, and we rose yet again into the friendly skies.
After a mercifully short flight, the familiar landmarks of New York began to appear, although the shattered Germans turned to my father to confirm that the city below was in fact New York.
“Jah, jah,” he said. “Das ist New York.”
We were already 24 hours late, but we weren’t out of the woods yet, because as soon as the plane ground to a halt, it was swarmed by IRS agents.
Now, personally, I’ve always felt that the IRS gets a bum rap. I mean, everyone has a job to do, right? And I think we should all respect that and move on. Luckily for the agents, no one on the plane with the exception of about ten of us understood who they were or what they might be doing–as it happened, they were searching for an infamous mullah who had been reported aboard the plane. (And he was, at least, until he “suggested” to the pilot that it might be beneficial to land in Toronto–he had clearly been tipped off.) About the time the agents hit the body, they gave it up as a bad tip and trouped off the plane, to return to the dark and steamy abyss of the IRS bureau in New York, and the rest of us gratefully decamped as well.
A gnawing concern grew in our bellies as we waited for our turn to get off the plane–M would have shown up at the airport the day before, and missed us, and probably didn’t know what to do since our flight didn’t have a number. We didn’t have a phone number for M, and even if we did we couldn’t have called him because we had no money. Perhaps we could take a taxi to the place in Long Island, and hope he would be there when we arrived to pay the astronomical bill. But we might actually, for the first time ever in my memory, be completely fucked.
The Armenians gave me a deck of cards to entertain myself with on the adventures ahead, and I made them promise that if they were ever in California, they’d look us up. The family of the deceased managed to retain one of the IRS agents, and were interrogating him via a harried looking customs official. The Germans looked in vain for the tour guide who was supposed to meet them, and eventually left in a dispirited flock, the smoke from the hookahs the cabin staff had just lit drifting over them into the sunset.
And there, waiting at the gate, was M–my father had written the wrong date on the postcard, and M thought we were right on time.