There’s nothing like a brush with mortality to push someone toward achieving a goal. While I plan on remaining healthy, if something were to change, I wouldn’t want to look back and say, “I had a second chance to fulfill my dream, but I didn’t.” So, after five years of toying around with a novel, I will publish it this year.
In the coming months, I will be reaching out to some of you to serve as readers and provide me with feedback as I edit the novel. If you’re interested in being a part of this process, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, although the final product will no doubt change between now and publication, without further ado, here is a draft of the first chapter of my first novel, The Secret of Falling:
There was only sound. I knew there was sound because I could hear nothing.
The woman beside me reached over the armrest, her fingers looking for something to dig into. They found my skin, and it started to bleed. I felt nothing. Her other hand thumbed through her prayer beads, 108 reminders of a life that would soon be gone. She spoke to herself softly. That is what I felt—that spark of life amidst chaos that says, “Please, God, let me have a few more moments.” Smoke shot past the windows. It was thick and black. The woman next to me closed her eyes and dug in deeper, waiting for God to answer in a different way than this.
I gulped hard and the panic crawled down my throat. I could hear the sound now. The screaming sound of metal hitting air.
I adopted the woman’s prayer beads as my own. As she moved them through her fingers, I counted. One. A bead for my mother. I thought of the grief she would feel upon hearing she had lost her only daughter. And then I remembered what had happened to her.
Two. I counted a bead for my father, the ghost who had brought me to this moment so I could feel my mortality one last time.
Three. There was a boy, I don’t know why I remembered him just then. We had shared a blanket once during our senior year as we watched the stars at 2 a.m. in an empty field. Everyone had either left or was too drunk to drive home, except the two of us. I thought he might kiss me, but he never got closer than a couple feet away. He didn’t want to ruin the connection that two people feel when they don’t know enough to think better of it. Instead, we sat there, fearing the vastness of the universe and contemplating the billion random acts that had taken place to bring us together to a single place at that precise time. I wondered where he was now, if he was asleep or awake, and if he ever looked up at the sky and thought about me.
We sat there, fearing the vastness of the universe and contemplating the billion random acts that had taken place to bring us together to a single place at that precise time.
Four. The woman was still flicking through her prayer beads, and I counted one for her. She had travelled alone. I had watched her get on the plane and adjust her hijab. Her face was the color of cinnamon, and every few minutes she would reach up to tuck back a few black strands of hair from it. She wore a wristwatch on her right hand, and I speculated whether that meant she was left handed, or if that was just an American convention. I wanted to know the answer, right now if possible, and I was certain the desire to continue knowing things would continue after my death.
Five. Smoke was in the cabin now. People were choking. I watched a young boy look up with swollen eyes at his mother.
Six. I had wanted a child. To feel something growing inside me and know that it was a miracle. I had never admitted it, and my family would scarcely believe me if I told them, but sometimes I would log onto Facebook just to scroll through photos of friends with their children and imagine my own smile reflected in another human being.
Seven. I counted a bead for my brother, who would hear the news and feel not loss, only guilt. He would not cry. He would hug our grandparents solemnly, as if it were a chore, not allowing himself the pleasures of sorrow. He would be angry with me for forcing it upon him, making him confront a feeling he wanted to push aside. He would miss me more deeply than anyone.
Eight. The woman next to me stopped moving the beads and closed her eyes as her grip on my hand loosened. I counted one bead for me. Then I unbuckled my seatbelt, stood up, and stepped into the aisle. With one foot, then the other, I moved steadily toward the back galley. Women buried their heads into their husbands’ chests, letting them place nonsense words in their ears. The men’s eyes looked up at mine; they were too frightened to cry. A baby wailed as her mother held onto her, slowly squeezing the blood out of her body. Some people prayed. Their eyelids closed and their pupils peered inward into their souls, categorizing the wrongs they had committed, not knowing if they weighed more or less than the good they had created, and asking them to be forgiven, whatever the count. Their lips moved, but their faces were serene, patient. They waited to die.
He would hug our grandparents solemnly, as if it were a chore, not allowing himself the pleasures of sorrow. He would be angry with me for forcing it upon him, making him confront a feeling he wanted to push aside.
I made it to the galley. The flight attendants were huddled on jump seats, their elbows dug into their chests. They screamed. One looked at me, her eyes wide and white and scared. Her head spun on its axis and she slumped down onto the ground. She was dead, her neck broken from when the second engine had exploded a few moments before and sent a jolt through the cabin.
I stepped over her and placed my hand on the emergency exit door. The two remaining flight attendants became alert. They shouted at me, pointing back down the aisle, back toward the smoke. I counted a bead for each of them—nine, ten—and then pulled the handle.