The plane hung in the air, briefly, and then it didn’t. It pivoted, dipped one wing and hit the ground. The impact threw up a plume of dirt. The plane did not explode.
There was an Asian man riding a bicycle and eating a loaf of bread and there was me. We were the only two witnesses.
My gaze kept shifting from the sky where the plane had been to the ground where it now was. The Asian man did the same. I was hunched over with my head tilted back. My chin rested on the rental car’s steering wheel.
The man carefully set his bicycle down by the road, bending slowly at the waist to do so. He started walking towards the crash. I got out of the car and jogged a few metres to catch up. I fell into step with him and said, “I don’t understand why it didn’t explode.”
“I don’t remember hearing the crash at all,” he said. In fact, neither did I. “What does it mean,” he asked. His name was Kim.
The plane was mostly intact. The wings and tail had broken off and lay at unusual angles to the fuselage, which looked bashed in on one side. The wreckage steamed like compost. It was, by default, the worst plane crash I’d ever seen.
The plane looked like it would be soft, but as nothing seemed to be burning or collapsing we decided it was safe to approach. We entered the crash site, which the field had become. The plane had become a wreck, the passengers casualties or survivors and we’d become witnesses to what would still become a tragedy.
The plane was large enough to seat maybe sixty passengers and they were likely all dead.
The dirt thrown up by the crash had coloured everything. We saw parts of plane, luggage and bodies that were all dirt-coloured. It was like looking at a sepia photograph. We found a woman who was still alive.
“I was in a plane crash,” she kept saying. She didn’t know who she was.
The bones in her left hand had been crushed. The hand hung from the end of her arm, which she held against her chest with her other hand.
We told her it would be alright and we put her in the back of my car. Kim put his bicycle in the boot, bending the front wheel trying to get it in. He sat in the back next to the woman.
Kim knew where to find a hospital and gave directions while he reassured the woman. She repeated that she’d been in a plane crash.
It occurred to me that we would probably have to speak to the police. It seemed like I already couldn’t remember the plane crash clearly.
The woman had a small cut on her head that had stopped bleeding. The trickle of blood that ran down to her eye browned as it dried.
The news of the plane crash had reached the hospital before we had, but no one knew where it had happened. They were waiting to send ambulances out and had set up a ward for survivors. They had trained for this kind of situation. They had consulted the manuals that had been prepared.
We admitted the woman and a nurse came and took her away.
My wife was still expecting me home for dinner in a couple of hours. I hadn’t returned the rental car and had probably missed my own flight. I wondered whether my wife had heard about the crash, if she’d think it had been my plane. In our own way we were victims of the crash too, I realised.
Kim still had his loaf of bread. He was using a blue payphone. He spoke in short sentences every couple of minutes, chewing his bread while the other person spoke. After everything that had happened I couldn’t understand how the other person could have so much to say.
I went to get some change to call my wife.
I large woman with an oxygen tank and a cigarette she never lit watched me cross the car park. We watched each other for no reason but that we were the only two people out there.
“A plane crashed,” she said. “Did you hear?”
I shook my head in just one direction, slowly.
She stared at her cigarette, intensely, as if it would explain anything.
“Poor souls,” she said, after I passed.