When Fortune N’tobe looks to the sky, he can only see escape:
escape from Soweto’s poverty
escape from a life with no meaning or future.
But to reach a land of promise and plenty, Fortune must make the most dangerous journey imaginable – a journey very few have survived.
When Constance Partridge-White looks to the sky, she can only see death:
death that will fall and take her
as it fell and took her mother.
To conquer her fears and reclaim herself, Connie must journey to where tragedy began: she must travel to South Africa, and return the boy who fell from the stars.
Red light on.
Count one second.
Red light off.
Each click louder than the last; each flash of light drawing fresh beads of perspiration from her upper lip.
Captain Price doesn’t seem worried.
Or maybe he is.
Maybe he’s just hiding it, playing the nonchalant hero. Hamilton wouldn’t put it past him.
She should say something, but that would mean a conversation, which in turn would lead to a maddening desire to punch him in the throat.READ MORE
‘Never been too keen on women in the hot seat … all those hormones swilling about in a confined space … I know it’s not a popular opinion, but you have to admit that under pressure you lot do have a tendency to – how to put it delicately – buckle?’
That wasn’t putting it delicately. That wasn’t putting it delicately at all.
‘Especially at that special time of the month – if you get my meaning.’
Hamilton’s feet feel warm, so does her face; she’s being broiled slowly over a small red warning light. She looks at it again and wonders if the light really is hot; it looks hot, and she can definitely feel heat coming from somewhere. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe there’s a fire in the undercarriage.
Perhaps Captain Price hasn’t seen it.
No, of course he’s seen it; it’s lighting the cockpit like a whore’s kitchen.
So it’s a test then. He’s waiting to see what I’m going to do about it.
Or maybe he’s waiting to see if she’ll simply crack. Hamilton promises herself she won’t fall apart. She’s worked too hard and sacrificed far too much: one marriage, all her friends, and the relationship with her parents who have no qualms about telling her she should stop messing about with aeroplanes and start disgorging grandchildren – even if she is … confused.
‘For God’s sake, Sophie, just have some children,’ her mother had said, while her father nodded from his armchair without taking his eyes off Top Gear. ‘They’ll give you focus, then you’ll see that you’re not a … you’re not what you think you are.’ Hamilton remembers the disappointment in mother’s eyes, and feels her throat tighten.
The light winks at her.
‘Sir, that warning light …’
‘Undercarriage,’ Price says without looking up from his cornflakes. ‘Does the milk seem a little off to you?’
‘Smell that.’ He holds the bowl under her nose. ‘I think the milk’s off.’
Hamilton delicately pushes the bowl away and tries again: ‘Captain, about the warning light …’
‘Yes, it’s the undercarriage.’ He takes another mouthful, dropping some down the front of his pyjamas. ‘Bollocks.’
‘And we need that to land don’t we?’
‘Don’t be clever, Hamilton,’ he says, wiping himself down with a serviette. ‘No one likes a clever second. The warning light, yes I’ve seen it.’ He gives up on the cornflakes and looks around for somewhere to leave the bowl. In the end he just pushes it under his seat. ‘Undercarriage,’ he says again, picking at his teeth with his little fingernail.
‘I know what it’s for.’
‘Always comes on as soon as we start the descent. I have asked, screamed, begged them to fix it, and they say they have no idea what the problem is, so we all just live with it, I’m afraid.’
‘But if it’s flashing like that, then maybe there is something wrong. Maybe we should—’
‘Not everything up here is a drama, Hamilton. You should try to man up.’
Yes, that’s what you want isn’t it? You want me to ‘man up’: grow a penis and a pendulous set of testicles – and God forbid they grow bigger than yours.
The warning light is still blinking.
The light that cried wolf.
‘What if it isn’t broken?’ Hamilton says. ‘What if we try to land and we can’t put the wheels down?’
‘Look, I’ve told you: the light is fucked. There’s nothing wrong with the undercarriage and there’s nothing for you to worry about, so stop whining – unless you want to tell me what we should do. Is that it? You think you know better?’ He sits back and folds his arms. ‘Okay then, First Officer Hamilton, with your eleven hours in the co-pilot seat, tell me: what should I do? Come on, what’s the plan?’
She should say, I apologise, Captain Price; I spoke out of turn.
She should say, Fine, have it your way, you tosspot.
But then she thinks of Tricia waiting for her at home.
She thinks of her fathomless eyes, her unyielding heart and her cold pale skin.
She thinks of the child they’ve yet to meet and the lives they’ve yet to live.
She thinks that she’s handing those lives – and those of one hundred and fifty eight people – to a man who flies 747s in his pyjamas.
Trish would never forgive her.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Price stares at her, a dark red flush rising from his collar.
‘Ladies and gentleman, this is your first officer speaking. Traffic is rather heavy over the capital this evening, so the tower has asked us to hold off on our final approach for just a few more minutes. The captain and I extend our apologies and hope to have you down very soon.’
‘I asked you a question, first officer.’
Hamilton doesn’t like the way he says ‘first officer’. She imagines he says ‘head waiter’ in much the same way. She places the mic in its cradle and pulls back on the yoke. ‘With all due respect, sir,’ she says, due respect meaning none at all, ‘if you’re wrong about the warning light, then I’d rather you were wrong on the next flight: the one I’m not partially responsible for; the one I’m not on.’
‘I’ll see you grounded for this.’
Hamilton begins to power the engines. She looks at the light. The winking stops.
‘Do you understand me? When I’m done with you, you won’t set foot in a cockpit again.’
‘I’ll take her to two thousand feet, level off and try the undercarriage. I think it’s best to make sure it’s working there, rather than fifty feet above the runway. Radio the tower. Tell them we’re investigating a possible mechanical failure.’
Price shakes his head and snatches the mic from the cradle. He does as he’s told, after a fashion: ‘… and the police. I’d like my first officer arrested for mutiny … Yes, I am being serious.’
The warning light goes dark. Price snorts and shakes his head. ‘You’d have made a fine captain someday, Hamilton.’
Hamilton takes a deep breath and aims the jet at the moon. ‘And you’ve been a monumental prick for this entire flight, sir.’
She pulls the lever to lower the undercarriage and is almost relieved when nothing happens. She tries again. This time they hear a wet grinding sound from somewhere below their feet. The plane shudders and the undercarriage warning light starts blinking; they look at each other.
Captain Price licks his lips.
‘Try it again,’ he says calmly.
She pulls on the lever.
The plane shudders again.
Something goes pop.
Something else goes bang!COLLAPSE