3 min

Lives On The Line

I was always at peace sitting at that window. I didn’t come here very often because it takes time to save money for a ticket. Last month tickets to Vancouver were the cheapest. This month it was Tijuana.

I always wondered if that window ever opens. It had a handle, but it was so big, I wasn’t sure somebody could open it. Once I almost asked if I can try, but my haunting shortness of breath kicked in. Maybe that was a sign. I never tried again. I just sat there for hours and watched.

“Like planes?” The bartender was wiping a glass and smiling.

It was my observation post — a small bar in the corner of the duty-free zone on the second floor. It could be empty for hours. I nodded and looked out the window again.

A big plane was being pushed backward carefully from the gate. A lot of lives onboard. A lot of aspirations gathered in one orchestra for a short while.

As a true conductor, a tiny man in a bright green jacket was holding one flag up.


That voice was like an explosion. A big man with plump cheeks and an enormous hat rushed into the bar with all the noise he could possibly make.

“Good morning, sir!” answered the bartender cheerfully. “You want the usual?”

“Sure thing, son!”

The man looked at me and blinked a few times. I turned away to the window again. The green jacket man held one flag to the side, and the other one firmly up.

“What do you drink?” the man in the hat asked.

I looked at him. “Are you talking to me?”

“What do you drink?” he repeated.

“Bloody Maria.”

“You mean Bloody Mary?” he smirked. “Bartender, Bloody Mary for this lovely young lady.”

The bartender put a glass of scotch before the hat man and nodded, smiling.

“What’s your line of work?” the hat man asked.

“I watch lives on the line.”

“Wow, what is that supposed to mean?” he chuckled. “I mean, somebody pays for that?”

The green jacket man dropped both flags on the ground. The gate was empty.

“What do you do?” I asked the hat man. He was visibly glad I reciprocated.

“I drive buses off a cliff.”

“Somebody pays for that?” I imitated him.

“Sure as hell they do!” he exclaimed. “So many repeat customers! Even repeat passengers!”

“You mean…”

“Yes!” He took a big, glorious sip. “Business is so good, I have to keep upgrading my vehicles! One problem, though — sleeping pills barely work anymore. If I have to go one day, they better work!”

He laughed hysterically. I was expected to react but didn’t.

“So what, will you give me your numb…”


The hat man shrugged. Then he glanced at his watch, dried his glass, and dropped a bill on the counter.

“Alright, young lady, take care of yourself! Bartender, keep the change.”

“Thank you, sir! You have a good day!” The bartender cheerfully saluted.

The hat man left.

The bartender turned to me.

“Watch this, young lady,” he said in half-whisper. “He never leaves properly.”

He drew out a big keychain from his pocket and put it on the counter.

Next second the hat man returned.

“Hey buddy, have you seen my keys ’round here?”

“Sure, sir! You forgot them right there,” the bartender pointed at the counter. “As always!”

“Damn, son. You know me too well! Here’s a dollar to make your day brighter.”

The hat man left again. The bartender took the dollar, wiped the counter where the hat man sat, and threw it in the can.

“Told you, he never leaves for good.”

The tiny man in the window threw his green jacket on the ground.

“We all leave one day,” I said. “For the greater good.”

I stood up and pressed the window handle. Surprisingly, the giant window opened very easily. The wind kicked in. I climbed on the sill through the resistance.

“Wait!” exclaimed the bartender. “What are you doing?”

I was standing in the window. The wind was playing with my hair and skirt as if they were flags. The tiny man on the ground was stomping on his green jacket in anger.

“Maria!” the bartender was already near me. “Please, step back down!”

I looked back at him and opened my mouth to ask how he knew my name. Suddenly, my breath went short again. I was standing there, holding the window frame, and trying to breathe. None of my attempts worked.

“Maria,” the bartender repeated hurriedly. “Please, don’t do that. I will buy you your next ticket. Now please, just step down!”

He offered his hand to help. In a few long seconds, I stretched my hand toward him but stopped half-way.

“I know you,” he continued earnestly. “You never fly anywhere, you come here to watch planes. That’s ok. You can come here any time you want. I’ll be waiting for you. Please, get down, I will get you something to drink.”

The man on the ground sat on his jacket and drew a cigarette.

My breath returned.

The hat man showed up at the door.


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