Sleep was out of the question for Mattie after her conversation with Simon. Her intense disappointment was akin to experiencing a profound loss. The loss of Simon’s love. But that was a reality she was unwilling to accept and so she began filling the void with anger though not feeling better for it.
“You’re checking out early, Ms. Saunders. Was there a problem with your room?” the desk clerk said.
“No, the room was fine.” She signed the credit card voucher and thrust it across the counter. “It was this shithole of a country.”
“The airport,” she said to the cab driver. “And not the fucking scenic route either.”
“How much more would you gouge me for a window seat?” she asked the ticket attendant at the airport. And as a parting shot, “What do you do, sit around and think of ways to reduce service while increasing fares?”
Once onboard the jet she took her window seat next to a middle-aged businessman.
“I’m always nervous during take-off.” He smiled tightening his grip on the arms of the seat.
“You should be,” Mattie said. “Takeoff and landing are more dangerous than any other part of the flight. Especially for those sitting near the front of the plane like us.”
“How do you know this? Are you some kind of expert?”
“Yes, on birds. I was a consultant for Vancouver International Airport on controlling bird strikes.”
“You know, the kind featured in the Miracle on the Hudson?”
“That’s rare though, isn’t it?”
“In 2018 the Federal Aviation Administration reported over fourteen thousand bird strikes, about forty a day.”
“Are they dangerous?” Her companion looked past her out the portal.
“Certainly for the birds, but they’ve only attributed to about a hundred civilian deaths worldwide in the last two decades.”
“Only a hundred civilians.” He swallowed.
“They’re more concerned with the damage to aircraft estimated at 1.2 billion dollars a year.”
“Only a hundred civilians.” He picked up the safety manual, checked the oxygen mask in the ceiling and looked around for the emergency exits. Satisfied, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“Enjoy the flight,” Mattie said.
She propped a pillow against the window and tried to sleep. The pain was abating and with it the desire to strike out and hurt others. She’d been nasty to strangers, big deal. Who she really was disappointed in and therefore angry at was Simon and she knew she had to temper her rage or things could go from bad to worse to over. She supposed recognizing this was progress. Now if she could just do something about it.
Simon had told her from the beginning about his involvement in the Council of Warriors, a secret group of prominent Indigenous people from First Nation bands across Canada. The Council decided what issues to respond to and sent the warriors and limited resources to organize and coordinate a peaceful response. Simon was a warrior but unlike most volunteers who got heaped with praise and garnered framed certificates for the mantle in the living room, people wanted to kill him for what he did. In some cases, it was because the protests he organized could delay or even derail mega projects like liquified natural gas plants, fracking applications and proposed mining sites at the cost of millions of dollars. A hired assassin to arrange an accident would represent a good return on the investment for corporate interests. For the growing number of white supremacists and ultra-right-wing nationalists murdering Simon could be celebrated as a victory for race, or God, or country, or all three.
Simon’s involvement used to be undercover, but a documentary arranged by Mattie and sanctioned by the Council had made him a hero to his people and a national celebrity most Canadians recognized and admired. With his cover blown, Mattie thought the days of being a domestic terrorist, as his opponents and the authorities referred to him, were over. His last assignment had been two years ago. Now, as he prepared to take on another one, she realized the stress these events put her under. Three warriors had died in the last five years and though the deaths were attributed to a car accident, a suicide and an overdose, Simon was convinced they were murdered.
“The police don’t like to waste time investigating the death of Indians,” Simon said. The cases were quickly closed.
When he was away Mattie lived with a sense of impending dread. Her heart raced every time the cell phone rang. Now he was going again and not surreptitiously but speaking out as a public figure. He might as well paint a bullseye on his forehead.
And what about the new house? It pissed her off First Nation causes took precedence over their life together.
She had to tell him this was not acceptable and do it dispassionately so he couldn’t dismiss it as hysterics, so he knew she meant business. How could her dream of creating her flock come true if a prominent member kept flying off on his own?
Then again, maybe she should let it go. He’d be home in two maybe three weeks. After all, hadn’t she left abruptly to re-wild Pickles and wasted time on the fiasco in Honduras?
She still hadn’t decided what approach to take when the plane began its final approach into Vancouver International.
“Looks like we made it.” Mattie’s seatmate had slept most of the flight. He was such an aerophobic she was sure he’d self-medicated. He gave her a thumbs up.
“Talk to me when we’re standing at the luggage carousel,” Mattie said. “Fifty-eight percent of crashes occur during the descent, approach and landing,”
The guy shuddered and closed his eyes again.
“Even when we’re on the ground it’s not safe. Ten percent of accidents happen when planes are either taxiing, unloading or loading passengers and baggage, being towed or parked.”
Mattie noticed his lips were trembling, or perhaps he was reciting a prayer. She stowed her pillow in the seat pocket and looked out the window as the jet followed the Fraser River on its approach touching down on Sea Island in the delta not far from her home.
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