“Imagine that you are sitting in a nice comfortable seat on the plane and you just clicked the seatbelt. You look out the window and see the men piling luggage onto the side of the plane. Take-off will be soon. You are not afraid.” 

The calming voice on the tape droned on. I listened, wishing my heart wasn’t suddenly pounding at the thought of being on an airplane.

Now the flight attendants will review the safety instructions,” the voice continued. “In the unlikely event of a loss of oxygen…”

Loss of oxygen!! I turned off the cassette recorder. I had to take deep breaths to calm down. I wasn’t on an airplane. I was on the ground, I kept telling myself. This is just practice. If I’m this scared for the practice, how on earth will I ever go on a real plane? I gazed out the window. Fingers of sunlight sifted through the palm trees outlining their soft, swaying motion. The sky was splashed with amber and violet. I never tired of looking at the Miami sunsets or the glorious palm trees. I loved living in perpetual summer.

Just then, I heard a familiar knock, and Avi stepped into the apartment. “Libby, hi, how was your day?”

“Fine,” I said. Avi smiled at me, and we both headed to the kitchen. The supper I prepared was warming in the oven. There was Avi’s favorite – fried chicken and broccoli and rice. I’d prepared a big salad with lots of vegetables. We sat down to eat and talk over our day.

“How were your classes?” I asked.

“They were fine. I plan to learn with Reuvie a little earlier tonight. I hope that’s okay with you. This chicken is delicious. Thanks, Libby.” Avi took another piece.

“It’s okay,” I said. I knew how much Avi looked forward to learning with his chavrusa every night.

Did you have the teaching job interview today?” he asked.

“It’s tomorrow.” The thought of the teaching job interview made my shoulders tense. “I have to present a model writing lesson in front of 22 little boys. How am I going to do it?”

“Hey, where’s my confident wife? You can do it. Look how well you’re doing with that flying school job.”

I smiled. It was an easy job. It was only two nights a week. I just answered the phone and handed applications to people who wanted flying lessons. The only hard part was when people would ask me about flying. I didn’t know anything about it. I wished I shared Avi’s confidence in me about teaching.

He looked up from his plate. “So, I’m looking into an amazing vacation. We can do that New York trip.”

I chewed my salad carefully.

“You’ll see. Once you’re on the plane it will be fine, and you’ll love the view.”

I stopped chewing.

“Libby, did you listen to the tape I got you?”

I nodded slowly.

“It’ll help. And I’m sure working at the flying school must be helping.”

If only the tape and the flying school job would help. I couldn’t even listen to the whole tape, but I didn’t want to tell Avi that. He was looking forward so much to this vacation.

Why was I so terrified of flying? It didn’t make sense. I’d had this fear since I was a small girl, and I really didn’t know why.

“Mom and Dad are coming this weekend. I invited them for Friday night dinner.”

“You did?” my whole body tensed.

When I was washing the dishes, Avi came to help dry. “Libby, I’m sure the model lesson will go great and I’m sure you’ll conquer this flying fear.”

“Thanks.” I handed him a plate. I loved his positivity.

“When did you get this fear?”

“Oh, maybe when I was born.”

“That’s not likely.”

“Avi, maybe it was from my grandmother.” She had raised me since I was very little, when my parents died. I thought of my grandmother. She never considered going on an airplane, but that was probably because of money, and Grandma Bea would never take a vacation. Thinking of her brought back unpleasant memories. I was not going to go there, not right now.

That night after supper, I drove to the flying school and Avi left for his chavrusa. The job was easy. I’d been there two weeks, and in all that time only a handful of people had come into the office to apply for lessons. Most of the time, I helped people fill out forms or did background checks on the computer or answered the phone, which didn’t ring that often. Mr. Boren was kind, and I had a lot of time to recite T’hilim or dream up ideas for stories to write in my journal.

That night, just as I sat down at my desk, two men stepped inside. I recognized them from the first time I’d come to the office to apply for the job. They were Arabs who spoke fluent English. The man with the mustache approached my desk. He spoke softly, but there was an impatient edge in his voice. “We have waited two weeks for this school to process our application. Where is the woman who was here before?”

“I am sorry, sir. She is not working here now. How can I help you?” I felt self-conscious for the small Jewish Star I always wore that dangled from a small chain around my neck.

“We must start the lessons right away. We paid in full,” he said.

I nodded slowly. “Yes, sir. Please hand me your passport and I will make sure everything is in order.”

“I don’t have it here. We went through this with the other woman. She told me in two weeks we would be processed. The clean-shaven man, who looked to be a bit older than the one with the mustache, stepped over and slammed his fist on my desk. I started.

“I must speak to the boss right now!”

I swallowed. “We can’t process anyone who is not an American citizen without a US passport.

“We paid for the lessons.” The man’s voice rose.

I nodded and headed to Mr. Boren’s office. I had a bad feeling about these two men. They were rude and explosive. I felt there was something not right here.

I knocked on Mr. Boren’s door. “There are two men waiting to see you. They say they have no passports. They aren’t American citizens. They want to start flying immediately.”

Mr. Boren was busy studying a book on flying. He looked up for a second. “Very well, tell them to come in.”

I cleared my throat. “Mr. Boren, I don’t think they are…I don’t think they should get flying lessons.”

Mr. Boren shook his head. “Send them back here, please.”

I stepped back into the reception area and told them to go to the back.

The men hurried to the back.

I glanced through the applications they had left on my desk. Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi appeared to be relatives. Atta was 33 and the ruder of the two, and al-Shehhi, the one with the mustache, was 23. Nothing seemed out of order on the application except for the missing passports.

I was just letting my imagination go. Was I shaky from reports in Israel of terrorist attacks? Still, a little voice inside me prodded. Was there something here concerning? I tended to go with my instincts, and my instincts were flashing danger signs. Why wasn’t my boss listening? I felt we should contact authorities and find out more about these two.

Mr. Boren was walking the men out of his office. “Yes, we will commence your lessons next week, sir. Everything is in order. We have our flight school in Venice with an impeccable reputation for flight instruction.”

After the men left, I turned to Mr. Boren. “I don’t have a good feeling about those men, sir.”

Suddenly the door burst open. “I forgot something,” Mr. Atta exclaimed, as he strode over to the table and collected some papers there. He glanced at me. Had he overheard me? Was there a message in the look he’d thrown me?

 To be continued…

Susie Garber is the author of Please Be Polite (Menucha Publishers 2022), A Bridge in Time (Menucha Publishing 2021), Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in Binah Magazine and Binyan Magazine, and “Moon Song” in Binyan (2021-2022).