This story is based on a true event but all names, times and locations have been changed.
Meet and Greet
Heathrow airport was the usual frantic scramble as Sarah searched the faces around her looking for Fliss. There she was, in her turn spinning slowly and scanning the crowd.
“Cooee – Fliss,– over here.” The two women embraced lightly. “What a crowd, come on let’s get coffee. You look lovely, is that a new dress? The blue really suits you. I had to come straight from the hospital; I hope Sammy won’t mind me meeting her still wearing my uniform.”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you turned up in a sack as long as you were here when she came through the gate. Quick there’s a table, grab a seat and I’ll get the drinks. Coffee Okay?”
“Yeah great, cappuccino if they have it but anything really.”
“I can’t wait to see them Fliss. Three weeks seems such a long time. Why do they have to go off like this? When we were kids, a family holiday at the beach was all we expected and now all the students I know are going off to India or America or Thailand. I really didn’t want her to go you know, then when you said that Tom was going to be there some of the time as well, it made it so much easier.”
“I know love. Anyway from the post cards they sent it seems that they have had a great time and soon we’ll have them back here. Back to college for both of them next week and a bit of normality for a while.”
“Lovely. What time is it due, have you looked at the board?”
“Yep, on time, arriving eleven twenty seven. That’s only another fifteen minutes shall we have a trawl around the shops and then make our way over to the arrivals?”
“Smashing, but don’t let me spend any money, Dave’ll go mad if I buy anything at the prices they charge here.” Gathering their belongings, they threaded between the tables.
“Fliss, what do you think that means.” Sarah pointed to the information board. “Look the arrival details have disappeared from beside the plane number.”
“Oh no, I’ll bet it’s delayed. Typical. Lets go and ask at the information desk.”
The uniformed receptionist stared straight ahead, she looked tense and As the two women approached, she visibly straightened and pinned a forced smile onto her lips.
“Good morning ladies, may I help you?”
Sarah took the initiative, “Yes please, we are here to meet some passengers on your flight from Mexico and the arrival time has disappeared on the board. Is it delayed?
“I’m meeting my daughter Sammy – Samantha Carlisle and my friend here is meeting her son Tom – that’s Tom Reddy. They met up while they were there and then they are coming back together. They’ve been there for three weeks.”
Sarah consciously stopped herself, she always gabbled in these situations, filling the spaces with totally irrelevant information. “Giving too much away Dave called it.” As they stood a moment in silence the young girl in front of them glanced around before calling to a uniformed man standing close by. “Mr Barr, these ladies are meeting passengers from Mexico.”
Sarah and Fliss glanced at each other. They both had a quick thrill of disquiet. This was odd – there was an electric charge around them, an intuition. They had unknowingly clutched each other’s hand.
“Good morning ladies, my name is Steve, Steve Barr. I am the customer liaison officer, could you come with me for a moment.” Steve put his hand under Sarah’s elbow and gently began to shepherd her away from the desk.
“What, come with you, come where, we just want to know the arrival time. Why do you want us to go with you? What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry madam, if you could just bear with me for a moment; we need to go over here to the VIP lounge.”
Sarah glanced at Fliss, her brow wrinkled in puzzlement. She spoke more firmly. “Mr Barr, all we need is the arrival time. We have to get down to meet the kids.” He turned and looked directly at her for the first time, “We have a little problem at the moment and it would be far better if you waited in the lounge. There are already some other people in there and we want to speak to you all together.” Now, his eyes held the truth.
“Oh God.” Sarah’s hand flew to her mouth as tears sprung to her eyes and she gripped Fliss’s hand even tighter. It was wrong, all wrong, this was not a delay this was so very, very wrong.
Dazed they followed Steve Barr across the terminal building, they no longer saw the hustle and bustle, all either of them could see was the smiling faces of their babies. They sat together in the lounge clinging to each other’s hands, linked in fear.
Now, it comes: A uniformed employee appeared at the front of the room, a young woman in a nurse’s uniform stood beside him. He tried a smile, it was forced and ghastly. “Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Peter Smart, I am a senior customer service representative. We have asked you to come in here because I’m afraid we have some worrying news.”
Sarah gasped, her lungs had shrunk, she couldn’t get enough oxygen into her body, her heart pounded and the world spun. She glanced at Fliss who was motionless, her face chalk white, tears streaming unchecked across her cheeks.
“Our flight from Mexico, which you have all come today to meet, has, at the moment, vanished from the Air Traffic Control Radar. Somewhere a woman screamed, a man sitting beside Sarah groaned “No, oh no.” Somewhere else in the room another woman spoke out “What do you mean it’s not showing on the radar, what does that mean. Where is it?”
“I’m sorry at the moment we have no more information, all I can say for certain at this time is that the plane is not showing where it should be. I know that this is extremely upsetting, we are doing our very best to get as much information as we can. Please try and keep calm and we will be back to you with more news as soon as we have it. Miss Kershaw,” here he indicated the nurse, “is here to help if anyone needs anything.” With this, he hurried away leaving a room suspended in disbelief, denial and despair.
The sound of Ravel’s Bolero speared the air and in her pocket Sarah’s phone vibrated. Automatically she dragged the tiny grey handset from her jacket. The screen was lit, with a miniature picture of her beloved daughter, – “Sammy calling”. She had jumped from her seat and was half walking, half-staggering to a quiet corner as she jabbed at the receive button. “Sammy, Sammy is that you – Sammy.”
The line was weak and noisy but she could hear the precious voice “Mum, hello – Mum it’s me Sammy. Mum, I’m so sorry, can you hear me? Don’t get mad Mum please.”
“I won’t get mad, are you Okay, Sammy is everything all right.”
“No, not really, I am such a fool Mum. I missed the plane. I am so sorry I went to the shops in town to get some last minute bits and then the taxi got stuck in traffic and we were late and they wouldn’t let me check in.” Sammy was crying at the other end of the feeble connection. “I am sooo sorry Mum, I can’t get another plane now until tomorrow and you’ve come all that way.”
“Is Tom with you Sammy?”
“Tom no – we were meeting at the airport. He went straight from the hostel, I should have done that. He’ll be nearly home by now I should think. Mum I am so stupid, will you still pick me up tomorrow.”
Sarah looked up and back into the room. She saw her dear friend in the middle of a group of other relatives. Anguish swirled around them, unbearable pain was etched on their tear drenched faces as they clutched each other in mutual hopelessness. The airline reps moved amongst them with lists of passengers from the downed airliner.
“Oh Sammy, I will be here, just come home. I will be here whenever you arrive.”
“Mum are you OK, I’m sorry about this – are you alright you sound funny.”
Now wasn’t the time to tell her, she would know soon enough. “I’m fine my love, just come home as soon as you can. Just come home now.”
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