I wonder what would happen to those faces hiding in the walls when everything comes crumbling down. What would happen to those children whose faces are carved deep into the ashy white, whose lives depend on air and blood that comes from us? What would happen to these faces, to these lives, to these images?
And what, I wonder, would happen to us?
Flying above Lawrence showed much more than would be expected. Instead of the dusty, yellow town, a sprawling green mass emerged. Grace, the river, seemed to glow like a blue snake, weaving its way through the town. Tiny fingers slipped into the cracks of the town, isolating small portions, surrounding them by a green-blue haze. The brown bridges melted into the blue, looking merely like sticks above a small stream of water. Beyond the river and the homes stood the vast greenness of the fields.
It would have been a beautiful sight had we had the opportunity to appreciate it. But the flooded grounds looked grim and hopeless, and all of the cries and tears from beside me took my breath away – and not in the good sense. It pained me to see them crying, just as it touched me to see the crumbled town, so far below.
The teenage girl, who in the cramped plane was pressed against me, lifted her head slightly so that she peered out the window for a moment, and then ducked down again. Her dark brown eyes were wet with tears. She brushed a strand of limp blond hair out of her face, and blinked several times.
"It's so awful," she whispered, looking down at her lap. "I just can't believe how awful it is."
I was tempted to answer her, but the level of awkwardness was high enough, so I just stayed quiet, looking out the window onto the flooded town. It didn't feel to me like something tragic had happened. I felt no pain, no remorse, and certainly no loss. My hotel room had been on the ninth floor, and had taken the water quite well, with no damage at all. I was just starting my second month at Lawrence, but now I supposed I had to leave and go somewhere else. So far, with no other place to call home, I was going with the rest to some hotel somewhere far off. It was going to be like a refugee camp, except we were supposedly going to be treated better. So far, it wasn't much different. We were cramped, dirty, tired, and we hadn't eaten in two days.
On the girl's other side was a young, pregnant woman, who slowly rocked her small, crying daughter back and forth in hopes to quiet her. The girl was screaming, and the mother looked wiped out. As the plane moved away from Lawrence, the teenage girl next to me reached over for the toddler.
"Here," she said, carefully taking the young child. "I'll hold her. Oh, shh… What's the matter, sweetie? We're going to be fine. We're going to be fine." The teenager wiped the young girl's tears away, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "See? Just fine." With gentle rocking motions, the teenage girl began to sing softly, lulling the young child to sleep. I watched, fascinated, as the child stopped crying and finally fell asleep on the teenager's lap. "Here," said the teenager, carefully lifting the child and giving her back to her mother. "She's all tuckered out."
"Thanks, um…" The mother stopped, blushing, and it became clear that she didn't know the girl's name and felt ashamed to ask.
"Marissa," the girl said, seemingly unaware of the awkward moment. "And you are?"
"Sylvia. And this here is Brooke." Sylvia gestured at her sleeping daughter. "Thanks a bunch. I've been trying to get her to sleep for days, but she's just so edgy. You've got a lovely voice." Marissa laughed.
"I've got a lovely voice? Oh, that's a first. It's fine, really. I like kids a lot."
"But you're only a kid," I said, speaking up, unable to keep the small smile off my face. The two turned to look at me, and Marissa raised one eyebrow.
"Maybe," she said seriously. "But I still like younger kids."
I didn't respond. It was clear she hadn't understood the humor in the comment, but that was okay. This girl seemed like a serious, solemn young woman, and I respected that.
"Where are your parents?" Sylvia asked curiously. "Or family, something?"
"My mom's somewhere on another load," Marissa said quietly. "Don't know where my dad is. I haven't seen either of them in four days." She looked down for a moment, her thin blond hair shielding her face. "I don't like not knowing where they are."
"I'm sure they're thinking of you," Sylvia said softly. "I know I would be terrified if I was separated from my children." Her grip on the sleeping Brooke tightened, and the child shifted uncomfortably in her sleep. "I'm already frightened enough. This baby… I'm due soon, and I can't find my husband. He's also… he's also somewhere out there. Brooke…" Sylvia blinked several times, and continued in a hushed voice. "She keeps asking when he's coming and where he is, but I just don't know. I've called, and asked, but nobody knows…"
"They said they'll get everyone's name at the hotel," I said, speaking up once again. "That's what the government official said."
"Like the government knows anything," Marissa snapped. "Stupid goddamn government."
"Well, we're all going to be in the same place," I pointed out. "I think it will be easier to find out where people are and how it'll work then."
"Who are you, anyways?" Marissa asked coldly. "What do you know about it?"
"I asked questions," I said simply. "If you're so curious to know, my name is Evan Kramer. I'm twenty-three years old, I have a degree in business, and I really have no home. I was staying at a hotel in Lawrence when everything flooded. I'm just as screwed as the rest of you. Is that good enough for you?"
"No," she said flatly. "Why are you here if you don't actually live…"
"He's just as homeless as we are," Sylvia murmured. She looked up at me, and asked tentatively, "Right?"
"Right," I echoed softly, turning back towards the window. We were clunking along at a strange speed, and my fear of heights suddenly came back to me as I looked down and noticed the tiny cars along the highway. The nausea hit me, and I turned away quickly before the water I had drunk earlier could come up. I was suddenly happy that I hadn't eaten. In such close quarters as these, throwing up would be very uncomfortable. The sleeping middle-aged man on my other side shifted in his sleep, and slowly the nausea went back down. It had never been like this when I was on big planes, but there was something different about this tiny rattling plane.
"Well, how long will this stupid flight be?" Marissa asked suddenly, clenching her fists. "I'm tired. I'm cold. I want to sleep. Where are they even taking us?"
"Somewhere far," Sylvia mumbled. Her head was nodding, and she was falling asleep.
"Well, I don't get it—"
"Marissa, be quiet," I whispered softly so that only she could hear, nudging the girl gently. "Can't you tell she's exhausted?" Marissa turned to look at me, and her wet brown eyes caught the meager light and held it. I met her watery gaze levelly, and added, "You should also sleep. I should also sleep. Please, can you just be quiet?"
She fell silent, and I leaned back against the shaking wall. Yes, this was worse than any other flight I'd been on. Maybe the difference was the size. Maybe it was the fact that this was a cargo plane, not a passenger plane. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was on the floor, leaning against a shaking wall, and all around me were people whose pain was something that I just couldn't feel or comprehend.
I dozed off for a bit, lulled to sleep by the roaring engine and the soft, rhythmic breathing of Brooke on Sylvia's lap. The man next to me also snored, but it was a disjointed, cackling noise. The toddler, on the other hand, had even breaths that seemed to be so perfectly on beat they could be a metronome. Without even realizing it, I fell asleep, joining the rest of the plane in dreams.
I woke up to the heavy rocking of the plane. Everything was shaking, and almost everyone was awake. A teenage boy across from me sat with his head between his legs, mumbling to himself. His father held both him and his wife as the plane jumped.
"Turbulence," a man a little away muttered. I recognized him as Jim Valencia, the owner of the grocery store. "Goddamn plane. Turbulence." I turned towards the window, and peeked out for just a moment. The plane was tipped to the side, its wings dipping low as it turned. We were flying above a city, and while I might have normally tried to guess which, I suddenly didn't care.
"We're landing," I said quietly. "That's why all the bumpiness. We've got to go through the clouds."
"Well, thank you professor," I heard someone mumble, but it was dark, and I couldn't see. I was tired, I realized, and hungry. I hadn't eaten anything solid in almost three days.
The plane didn't land smoothly. It jostled and bumped until it crashed down on the runway. Someone near the back of the plane started clapping, but then they stopped, sensing the emotions on the plane. Around me, everyone started getting up, whimpering as their too-stiff legs crumpled underneath them. I stood up slowly, and then reached over to help Sylvia up. Brooke, who had woken up, had made her way into Marissa's arms, and the teenager seemed fine with carrying the young girl. I took Sylvia's hand and pulled her up. She grimaced, clutching at her stomach, and stumbled. I caught her gently, supporting her, and still carrying her, helped her stand.
"Thanks," she grunted, trying to steady herself. "I'm fine. Really."
"You're at least eight months pregnant, and you're not fine," I retorted, not letting go of her. "At least let me help you until we find your husband." I caught glimpse of Marissa's tight expression and added, "And until we find Marissa's parents."
"Don't worry about me," she snapped. "I'm sixteen, for god's sake, and I can take care of myself."
"Fine. Then you can just watch Brooke." I paused as the crowd began to move, pushing forward. "Ah. Looks like they opened the doors. Come on. Out we go." We began to move ahead, partly propelled by the moving masses, and partly out of our own will to get out. Once we did, we found ourselves on a long strip of concrete with buses lined up, waiting to take us away. As we squeezed in, I couldn't help but think again about refugees. Because, honestly. How different were we from them?
All thanks to a flood. We were the animals, getting off of Noah's ark. But Noah had a new world, I realized. And what that meant for us, I had no idea.