The warm wind burned the pixie tips of already slightly sun burnt ears. He pressed the two white buds into his ears, and pressed PLAY on the shuffle. For the first time ever, he turned the volume up until it hurt. He knew what was coming. He knew it.
He looked up into the sky, as though perhaps the sky would change its mind at the last moment.
It was imminent now; he felt it approaching.
He walked down the steps wondering if he would ever fly again, wondering if the thought itself was absurd paranoia, but even so, he was somewhat amused that instead of appreciating this last flight, he had slept through almost all of it, even missed breakfast.
Another step, like the last tick of a clock. When the moment came, he recognized it immediately. It was as though the sparking atom had communicated itself across the Gulfs of the entire world, on a cellular basis, passing this consciousness on beyond the Sulu Sea, swarming through the islands of life in every other hemisphere.
It was dizzying for him, as usual, being more sensitive than the average human being to the subliminal. What could he say to this young woman in her red headscarf, walking beside him?
He still had the chemical residue in his brain of a dream on the plane, and he was still making sense of that, putting words to colors, while walking over the glowing cement. The train of passengers moved slowly towards the small airport terminal on the island. But even from a distance, it was obvious that tourists had been instantly transformed into refugees. And so very smoothly, with his mind’s eye turned inward, still piecing together the dream, his hand slipped into his unslung backpack, and around the hard body of his camera.
His slow motion walk carried him to the shade, and the growing circus of suddenly desperate human beings. His hands were assembling a lense and filter (for the sun, and dappled light).
He pressed the ‘on’ button.
It was so deathly silent among the gathering hordes that he was able to hear the soft electronic squeal of the battery loading up.
It was a moment repeated at airports all over the world. People frozen in their shoes, cellphone in hand, attempting to communicate with family, with friends, to gather more information, to make arrangements. But none of these people had a signal. And that confirmed the icy new reality. People stood helpless and silent and suddenly the moment manifested on all at the same time. Wasn’t it as if the atmosphere itself had sucked up all the errant signals and waves and in a blinding flash of furious anger, exploded a shearing white light back at us that melted our golden city, turning to dust a city of blood.
Hugh could feel their thoughts. You could cut it with a knife. He thought this unspoken conventional wisdom was a typical response to the inexplicable: to blame God for man’s mad deeds.
If it had been any other international airport the answers would have been more obvious, television screens would have been lit up with CNN. And shortly thereafter the status of every flight in the world would change from DELAYED to CANCELLED.
The peculiar silence here came from shock and awe.
He felt the skin on his arms prick as he lifted his camera.
Realities were fused, one by one, into the digital memory of the chip.
While clicking one electric memory after another, the dream unraveled itself softly. It went like this:
You arrive at an expensive restaurant you have always meant to visit, and somehow imagine the people around you that you have imagined, suddenly becoming real human beings, just as you yourself become real to them. Can Rome and Paris continue to exist without our being there? What about other places we pass through like zoos, prisons, schools, offices and airports? When we die is it any different? Do we live under the assumption that nothing can exist without our being conscious of it? Do we think our consciousness prevents us from being able to die? Does the world need one person’s consciousness to exist? And when we die, will the world need us to imagine it into existence, and will the world want to imagine life again for us on some other world like this one?
Just then the music from his iPod transitioned from Enya’s Orinoco Flow to Green Day’s Holiday.
He put the buds in his pocket, but could still hear a soft bleating coming from his pocket. He moved among them, watching their faces, and the bags, the burdens they would be carrying with them.
A solitary figure at the head of a dense queue put down the big plastic receiver of an old, creamy white telephone. He went to a board and pushed a mechanical handle that flapped metal plates into place on a modest overhead board. Metal pushing against metal, to produce a loud, demonic, jarring noise. It took Puerto Princesa airport little more than half an hour to do what every other airport in the world had done.
ALL FLIGHTS CANCELLED
UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
Hugh led the mobs of people out of the building. He noticed military vehicles arriving, and 4x4 police vans, many of them, lights flashing, sirens blaring. Motor scooters were being fought over, so he decided to walk. Shouts, screams, shots, and he put the white buds back into his ears:
“…this is the dawning of the rest of our lives…”
He noticed cars rushing in the direction of the airport he was walking away from. He noticed the people in the cars had panicked eyes, and did not even notice him. Not long after that, the road was gridlocked with traffic, with some motor scooters moving between the paralyzed traffic.
It was a long walk, long enough for the weather to change. Gusts tore at his shirt. He wondered about the bags he had abandoned at the airport. Was there anything he would need? Perhaps his ACG shoes. The rest was just clothes, and he was prepared to do without those. The notebook? Perhaps now was a good time to begin to learn how to live without computers.
The warm wind pushed him. One more thing before I let go of that as well…
Further along the road he found a man with a bandanna around his head, wearing a Harley Davidson shirt, and sporting plenty of tattoos, stuffing his grinding jaw with what looked like a cheeseburger.
“Hey man,” he said in a lazy Texas drawl, “it’s just a hurricane.”
Hugh glanced up, nodded to him, turned around and took two steps backwards looking at the road behind him, and then with a last sidelong glance at the American, went on along Rizal Avenue.
As the hard rain began to fall he stepped into the internet café, and placed his Lonely Planet on the counter, brushing the rain wet cover with a leftover paper napkin.
“Is the internet working here?”
“Sure. It’s cable so it’s working just fine.”
“Can I have half an hour?”
“You can have all the time you want…”
“Can I have a coffee, and an extra napkin?”
“Anything you say buddy boy.”
He was the only person in the café for the first 10 minutes, but by the time the mob arrived, Hugh van Lewen was completely hypnotized by what he was reading.
A hydrogen bomb had been detonated over Jerusalem in the early afternoon; 14:43 local time. What was peculiar was that that was all CNN knew. For several hours now no one had updated the news at CNN. Through Google he tracked the information at source, finding bloggers and citizen journalists close or practically in situ. There was a grainy photograph taken from a redirected flight bound for Tel Aviv. There had been a lot of reaction.
Peculiarly the only streaming footage shown was of Lahore, also devastated. New York and London…still there. Every click of the mouse now took on a chilling significance. Another Google search, and a completely new set of results:
Google: blogs nuclear destroyed
Tehran joined a host of Middle Eastern cities.
The crowd outside were banging on the windows, an Irish female was conveying – shouting – the news as her boyfriend conveyed it to her. Her voice began to break.
The mayhem outside finally woke Hugh out of his reverie. He thought this next instruction tapped into the black keyboard would be the last time he’d ever use a computer, anywhere, ever.
He typed in the Google search box: Philippines typhoon tracker
He studied the information and then clicked on an image.
‘..unusual track…hard to predict…record intensity…gusts up to 340 km/h…’
When he stepped outside he stepped into another world.