Journey of the Magi
by Stephen Kingston
“Climb! Climb, will you!” Captain Johnson bellows, banging throttle to maximum, as though volume and percussive force alone will succeed where pulling on the joystick has so far failed. Engines squeal and whine in protest, and the astonished faces of three women are looking at us from the top floor of the BEA building, as we fly directly towards them. We see them duck when the plane manages a last second lurch, climbing just enough before the loss of airspeed drops us over the pitched roof, so close that sound echoes back like the bellow of a train entering a tunnel. We expect to hear the sickening crunch of the gear ploughing into clay tiles, but instead the sound drops away as we jump the red brick hurdle.
Relief is short lived. We pass down Angus Drive, so close we are almost colliding with lamp posts.
“Climb!” Johnson screams again, but the plane is deaf or recalcitrant. It’s as if it has forgotten how to be a plane, and would prefer to be a double decker bus, but this road is short, and buses can’t jump semi detached houses.
I belatedly think I should take my seat. I like to stand behind the pilots on take-off, so I can see through the front window, see where we are going. I’m holding the back of the captain’s chair now, white knuckled. I’m out of time. Before we can smash into the oncoming houses, there comes a scream of tortured metal from the left wing and the plane is whipped around, anti-clockwise. Centrifugal force sends me sprawling. The movement is violent, unexpected, uncontrolled, and the noise is terrible. A detonation of sound, and a shuddering, snarling, shaking convulsion as our motion is arrested.
I pick myself up in the semi-dark, rubbing my arm. Smoke and dust fill the air and I can smell oil. It’s not silent, but the sounds of collapsing brick work, and the creaking of twisted airframe are just an after-image of the cacophony seconds ago.
“Is… is everyone okay?” Johnson asks.
The radio squawks.
“Railway Services, flight ZA, do you read? Please state your position.”
I look at the radio station. My station. There appears to be a propellor sticking out of my chair, stuffing dangling from a metal shard like tinsel on a branch. If I had been sat down when that happened…
I look out of front window. The glass has gone but the frame is mostly intact. The dust is clearing, whipped away by wind. I see snowflakes falling into the remains of the roof space of a suburban semi-detached house.
“Repeat, G-AGZA, please state your position.”
I pick up the radio, look at Johnson, and then press the transmit button.
“A loft,” I say.
“Copy that. You are still aloft?”
“Not any more.”
“Hold on, I’ll get the attic ladder,” a woman shouts from outside, and while I order a fire crew, Johnson organises the evacuation. Ladder in place, we descend into 44 Angus Drive. Excess adrenalin makes us noisy, but the woman shushes us.
“Don’t wake the baby, he’s still sleeping.”
“He’d sleep through the second coming,” she says, and I think that he probably already has.
It’s 19 December 1946. A year after the war, a week before Christmas; all I can think of is the peace on Earth, and the five of us descending from the starry heights to where the baby is sleeping, like a heavenly host visiting shepherds. No, no, not that. More like the magi journeying to Bethlehem, journeying to a moment, a point in time, where we can, without reservation, be thankful for something magnificent. I could have died tonight. I could have left two orphans and an ocean of grief this Christmas. It’s a thought that makes you stop and consider, I can tell you. To stop and be thankful.
I’ll bring the child a gift tomorrow. Maybe not gold, but something better than a plane embedded in the roof.
A bus. It’ll have to be a big red London bus.