After the crash, there was a lot of speculation about what the man might have been thinking. The truth was that he'd been frightened. He stood in the departure lounge of Cairo International airport and tried not to show it and decided the best way was silence. He was uncomfortable in his new suit and he thought about the things that are alleged to have value.
His men returned and told him his luggage was loaded and the plane would be taking off in half an hour. He didn't respond. Below him, airplanes dawdled on the apron, connected to the terminus by air jetties injecting their passengers. He thought about his mission and then stopped thinking about it and signalled for a drink. One of the men poured siddiqi into four glasses and they drank and filled four more glasses and drank again and when they'd finished, the mission didn't seem so bad.
He sat on his own, his men sat together. He stared at the floor for the longest time, even after the announcement that Joi Air flight JP554 was boarding. He pursed his lips. His stomach roiled. And then he stood up.
He was accompanied onto the plane by one of his men. The other two left. The man was welcomed at the gate and directed into the First Class cabin. He had never before flown first class and he gazed at the luxurious seats and the space and he fiddled with his suit as he sat and tried to make himself comfortable. A flight attendant offered him an orange juice and another offered him headphones. He took both and set them down and ignored them. The captain made announcements in Arabic and English, commenting on the weather and the flight time to Karachi. Doors slammed. Engines hummed. The plane began to taxi away from the terminus and the man wanted to ask the flight attendant if the takeoff would be rough, if the sky was clear but thought he would sound ridiculous so he muttered to himself a phrase about the greatness of God. And then he said to himself, 'God created you and then He causes you to die.' And he repeated the verse as the roar built up and the airplane shook and just before leaving the ground it shook violently left-to-right and he stopped reciting the verse and clutched the armrests and behind the fear the only phrase remaining was, 'He causes you to die,' and because he could think of nothing else in his terror, the phrase ricocheted. He causes you to die. He causes you to die. He causes you to die.
But the plane took off and the man didn't die. Not yet. They reached a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and the flight attendants began moving again and he was given a menu. He looked at the menu and for the first time in 48 hours he thought of something other than the flight. He read and reread the menu. He pondered the menu. Mesclun salad. Porcini ravioli. Morello panna cotta. He looked around. His man was in economy, he knew no-one in the cabin. Across the pods of first class, there were few people to see. Some Englishmen in suits. He thought about where he had come from and what he had done to get here, to this suit, this flight, this menu. He was thinking of this and then he glimpsed, through the cabin window, unshuttered now, landless blue and the clouds beneath and the gravel of the sunset gone and the sky lit gold.
He didn't speak for the entire time he was in the air. He smiled. He pointed. He picked at a selection of fruit. Others chatted across the pods. Or they watched films. Or they worked on laptops. Or they slept.
The plane had been flying for 25 minutes when his luggage exploded. It ripped a 30 inch hole in the skin of the fuselage and these skin panels petalled outwards spitting metal and debris into the sky. The steel beams of cabin floor above the cargo hold blew apart. Within three seconds, the upper fuselage began to tear away in huge strips that unwrapped above the passengers and chunks of metal, support ribs and torn cabling hit the fan blades of no.2 engine causing flameout. The plane rolled left and as more and more skin was stripped away, the forward fuselage and cockpit separated from the body of the plane and plummeted nose-first. The disintegrating body of the plane tipped and yawed and began to descend vertically, gathering speed. Debris hit and destroyed the empennage, some of which flew into the mesosphere and burned up on re-entry. The wing structures also broke away, taking with them sections of adjacent seating.
The passengers experienced an explosive decompression and severe barotrauma. Lungs burst, stomachs split and eyes exploded. Those belted up near the wing were pinned in their seats, others were catapulted out of the plane, their clothes whipped from them in the slipstream, falling naked or partially clothed. It would be three minutes before they hit the ground. Some of those not killed by the decompression suffered heart attacks before then.
The man was one of those still in their seats. He was killed in the first few seconds and his tie was ripped from his neck and then a shard of screen bifurcated his skull and brain matter was sucked out and sprayed into the air. As the plane reached verticality, his body was held immobile and he was hit by more metal and wreckage until his face was no longer human and became a red stripped polyp with indentations, spinning fluid.
The first wing section hit the ground at 150mph, pulverising all those passengers still attached to it. No bodies were ever found. The second wing section landed at an angle and the passengers were thrown out. The man's legs were sliced off and the majority of his head and upper torso would be found some metres away from the crash site, scattered in the extremities of another's corpse. Hundreds of smaller fragments were splayed across the site. And the clothes filled the sky, blotting out the stars, fluttering down upon the ruins of the plane, garish bolts of colour against the white fuselage livery, football shirts, ripped jeans, blouses of all shades, a child's superhero costume.
Joi Air flight JP554 had crashed on a plateau in Israel, five miles south of the village of Ein Hatseva. The Joi Air logo was still intact on one of the wings. A few fires had started. The first responders were ten minutes away. Some would scream, others would sift the wreckage for survivors.
But there were no survivors.