The third week of October, 2001 I’m at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport waiting for my departure to Las Vegas. I had just concluded a five day visit home. I arrived at the airport two hours early as requested.
As I’m going through security I notice two black-bearded men wearing turbans. Immediately, my imagination takes over. I see two members of Al-Qaida or the Taliban who are up to no good.
After going clean through the metal-detectors I walk through the terminal toward my gate. Behind me, the two black-bearded men with turbans. I feel uneasy. I just hope they aren’t going to be on the same flight as me.
I arrive at my gate and sit down, watching the two Al-Qaida members pass, apparently on their way to another gate, thank goodness. I still have well over an hour before departure. My mind transitions itself from horrible thoughts of September 11 to pleasant, innocuous thoughts of my family. And how it was so good to see them again. Through pleasant memory and heart-warming reverie, I sit before the big jet that would soon whisk me safely to my adopted home of Las Vegas.
The pre-boarding announcement is made just as I’m envisioning myself as a small child, tucked securely in my bed as Mother sings to me a nursery rhyme. I watch the wheel-chair bound passengers board, then the first-classers. A bit later, us — the coach section. Just as I stand, I almost fell right back down. They’re back! Oh no, Al-Qaida. . . on the same plane as me. What should I do? Should I turn back? Skip this flight? I don’t want to make a scene but images of September 11 are pounding a heavy hammer against my skull. . .
But wait, if that little boy and girl who are smiling aren’t afraid, then neither am I. Right? . . . Right! I board and go dizzy down the aisle to my seat. . . . . I take a deep breath, then fasten my seat belt . . .
And then, I look up. . . They’re here, looking right at me . . .I take another deep breath and then turn toward the window. I feel something bumping me in the back. I slightly turn my head. My peripheral vision ensnares a black beard . . . a turban . . . Oh no, Al-Qaida sitting right behind me . . . I’m doomed. My neck will be the first, the first to be slashed. . . They’ll reach up over the back of my seat with their box knives and cut. . .cccccuuutttt my thro. . .my throat.
We’re up in the air, above Nebraska or something. I had calmed down, take a magazine from the flight attendant and immerse myself in it. . . . And then, fumbling behind me . . . and whispering . . . Oh no, this is it . . . they’re getting ready . . .
A bit of turbulence . . . perhaps a good thing. . . a diversion to their plan. But then, more fumbling, fumbling for their knives. I’m a goner . . . I brace myself, close my eyes and think of my family again, – my niece in her beautiful wedding gown, the happy faces as she walks down the aisle.
The fumbling has stopped. A few hundred miles later, calm skies. A big sigh of relief.
Time passes . . .
Below, mountains . . . too late to turn back and ram this jet into the Sears Tower. . . maybe we’re safe . . . But, again . . . whispering, fumbling, feet under my seat scrambling. . . maybe they have a different target in mind. . . Again, I brace myself, close my eyes, relive my life… After a long spell, I reopen my eyes. I’m still alive. I look out the window.
Below, brown desert-looking land. My ears pop. We must be descending . . . And then, the “Fasten your seatbelt” sign lights. And, the pilot speaks. “We’re approximately fifteen minutes out of Las Vegas. Please stay in your seats . . . .
My ears pop again, we’re dropping. Somebody in front of me has hit the “summon flight attendant” button. Oh, it’s the old woman with the shawl in row six. The flight attendant goes to her, bends down and cups her ear to hear what the old woman wants. I see her shake her head, a negative.
The flight attendant leaves row six and is walking down the aisle toward me. She is saying something but I can’t hear what it is. . . She’s getting closer . . .closer. And then, “Does anybody speak Spanish? There’s a woman on board who speaks only Spanish and she needs help.”
Right then, one of the men behind me, the Al-Qaida guy with the black beard and turban rises, saying, “I speak Spanish.” The flight attendant says, “Follow me.” The man slips into the aisle and follows the flight attendant to the front. We’re dropping, my ears are popping.
The plane lands safely, everybody’s happy. Rolling toward the tarmac, outside my window the Statue of Liberty looming large next to the Pyramid with the Sphinx guarding its entrance. . . The New York, New York and The Luxor, yes I’m home, thank goodness. . . .
As I deplane I thanked the two men behind me, the two men with the black beards and black turbans. I simply said, “THANK YOU!”
It was such a surreal experience and again, I thought “what were the chances” but then I was reminded that many events and occurrences in life are not, at all, by chance. l will never forget that day, never. I was provided another lesson, and for that, I’m most grateful. . .
Copyright 2021 by Ricky J. Fico & Golden Renaissance Productions