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The airport was hot and crowded and Ben couldn’t see Morgan anywhere. "Exactly how long can it take a woman to go to the bathroom?" he wondered. A quick glance at his watch summed it up nicely. "Too damn long." Angling his head around the sudden surge of people passing by his seat at the gate in hopes of a glimpse of Morgan exiting the ladies room, he was rewarded with nothing more than a pair of mahogany skinned teens dressed like prostitutes entering the undoubtably cramped airport lavatory.
This was taking way too long. Small airports drove him crazy. But he could hardy expect expedience in this third rate banana republic. He was lucky to be catching this last flight back to the states on such short notice.
“Sorry I took so long.” Morgan's unexpected voice jolting him from his musing.
Ben watched her slide into the seat beside him, “I barely even realized you were gone.” He replied with a smirk.
“Have they called our flight yet?” she inquired, ignoring his attempt at sarcasm.
“Should be any minute now.” Ben answered, giving up on any attempt to lighten the mood. They were both simply too tired to keep up any pretense of banter.
As if on cue, a deeply accented voice shouted from the only ticket counter that flight 526 to San Diego was boarding. Rising to his feet, Ben grabbed for their two bags of luggage while Morgan slipped her knapsack over her shoulder. Following her to the boarding area, Ben was reminded just how thankful he was that they were finally on their way home. This trip had been far less relaxing than either one of them had expected.
They were only three people from the head of the line, when someone bolted from the midst of the constantly shifting crowd towards the line of boarding passengers, tripping over a poorly placed bit of stray luggage crashing into Ben. Fortunately the heavy luggage helped to balance him and he didn’t lose his footing. Morgan turned to see what the commotion was about only to have a dirty green duffel bag thrust into her arms.
The woman at the other end of the duffel was obviously both a native and distressed. Her long hair was disheveled and her nostrils flared with each word of her native tongue that rattled out of her panting mouth like tired gunfire. Morgan understood a mere handful of words of the local dialect, but the pleading and urgency in the young girls eyes made Morgan accept the offered duffel almost reflexively. The girl definitely needed help, but what kind?
The girl cast a quick glance over her shoulder as if someone were hot on her heels, and spoke once more, pleading with Morgan one last time in her breathless voice, before plunging back into the seething mass of people crowding the backwater terminal.
“What was that all about?” Ben asked looking after the young girl.
“Ben.” Morgan’s frantic whisper forced him to turn and look at first her then down at the duffel bag she held in her outstretched arms as it began to move.
They both stared at the duffel; the marching of feet came to their ears. Morgan reacted instantly, grasping the handle of the duffel and letting it fall casually to her side, ignoring the movements and facing forward, looking like the tired and impatient tourist she had been moments earlier.
Ben gaped, “What the hell are you doing?”
Morgan gave him a sharp look, “Be quiet...”
“No,” he hissed, “we don’t even know what’s in there, Morgan, and have no idea who that was. What if she was a smuggler—.”
Morgan scowled, “Lots of things are possible, but she was in trouble...”
“Please, Ben, just wait for the soldiers to pass.”
They exchanged glances and Ben turned back. For, indeed were there soldiers coming. A great mass of marching brown camo slid by them like an enormous python. After a pause the line shuffled forward, the native at the ticket counter continuing with his duty.
Ben slid his glance down the squirming bag, then turned to Morgan, “What are we going to do now?”
Morgan gave the bag a fearful glance and surreptitiously looked at the people around them. The masses moved on, leaving a wide space where the soldiers had been as if it were contaminated. The people in line looked as listless as ever, while the few foreign tourists appeared terrified right down to the depths of their instant camera hearts.
Morgan and Ben exchanged glances as whatever was in the bag gave a tentative poke at the side of her leg. Ben waited for her answer, sweat traveling down his face, and she realized that she had no idea. They needed to take this flight home, staying was not an option, but the bag? Morgan felt a pang of regret at her own virtuous actions and another twinge of shame at her reaction. She had done the right thing for the time being, it was a matter of finding what was right for the next moment.
She beat down a flush and looked ahead, “We get on the plane.”
Ben’s eyes widened and he leaned in to whisper to her, “Morgan, are you crazy? We can’t take it on the plane. What if it’s illegal?” He sputtered at her, “We can’t even carry that many bags!”
Morgan’s demeanor shook, to his momentary satisfaction, and she glanced at the bags they had put on the floor to accommodate tired arms.
“Especially not one that’s squirming,” Ben softened his voice and touched her arm, wishing he hadn’t been so snappy. “Leave it here...she’ll come back and get it. Be sensible...”
Morgan was looking at the bags nervously. Ben tried to fathom her thoughts, but found he couldn’t. Knowing Morgan, she was trying to think of a way to endure through. The ticket line shuffled ahead, and Ben realized it was their turn. He grabbed the bags and scooted them forward.
The attendant looked rather bored with it all, and he asked for their tickets in a thick accent that nonetheless bled with apathy. Ben handed them over, glancing back at Morgan, who seemed to have reached some conclusion, her hand gripping again and again the duffel’s handle.
The attendant looked at Morgan, and raised his question, “The Bag?”
Morgan didn’t hesitate, “It’s our cat. She hates travel. She can’t stay at home alone, though.”
The attendant raised a brow and stared patiently at her. She remained stolid, shifting her grip on the bag’s handle. Ben glanced between them, a prayer caught between his teeth.
The man shrugged, “Cats make me sneeze. Go on.”
Ben walked forward, a nervous sweat overtaking him. Morgan followed, her lips tightly pressed to prevent nervous breathing. Her breath came almost as rapidly as the girl’s had, her face shining with the same fear. Ben shouldered open the door leading out to the field, not trusting Morgan’s shaking hand to do so for them. He glanced at her again, remembering at once why they had come together on this trip.
They stepped out onto the field. A noise like a hundred pebbles hitting a tin roof followed and they paused in wonder just before it burst into the blasting of automatic weapons. Screaming commenced enthusiastically, they turned to see the entirety of the airport stooped as if in worship of the great camouflaged serpent in their midst. The next man had stumbled out the door into Ben, looking back as wide-eyed as they. Half to them and half to the gods he murmured, “I’m getting out of here before I get killed...” He stumbled towards the plane.
The wailing cries of babies and the frightened screeches of children became the only sound as the congregation rose to its feet, to begin life as it was, pretending nothing had happened. As the next passenger passed Morgan and Ben, the blood flooded back into their limbs.
The bag gave a violent quiver, and Ben squeezed a voice from his throat, “Let’s get on the plane.”
He picked up the bags. They walked to the plane and mounted the stairs, seeing nothing in spite of their wide eyes. In slow moments, the plane was filled, the cabin stuffy and smelling of man in ways the modern world never did. Morgan held the bag in her lap, her hands protectively draped over it. She could still feel the squirming, weaker now, and she could feel breathing, but worst of all she could feel the heartbeat, the steady warm pulse, suggesting awful life beneath her arms. Ben didn’t look down at it, but it was a green blotch in his peripheral vision.
They waited in nervous silence, and Morgan’s heart beat in time with the one in the bag. The co-pilot came out of the cockpit, one hand to his radio in his ear. He spoke the native tongue first, and Ben saw Morgan mouth the words, a technique that she hadn’t used since their first week. Secondly, he began English, telling them everyone needed their seatbelts on, and they should turn off electronics and quit smoking. He smiled some, and there was a tired laugh at his pun. Ben laid his hand on the armrest, hoping Morgan’s would find his, but she didn’t seem to want to move them from the bag. He tried to let the tension out in preparation for a long and uncomfortable flight. He shut his eyes but suddenly felt warm fingers in his own.
He sat up in time to see the co-pilot put his hand more securely on his ear and furrow his brow, “....It seems flights stopped...some commotion down in the building...”
He hailed the pilot in his native tongue. Ben looked at Morgan, nerves twisting his stomach once again.
Her eyes had gone wide, welling tears, “Ben...”
He looked around at the other discouraged passengers. Morgan nodded, her implacable determination showing once again. Ben opened his mouth to speak, when she turned towards the co-pilot. The co-pilot turned back around with a harsh laugh and pressed his radio to his ear again.
Morgan whispered, “They’re going to fly anyway.”
Ben barely contained a surge of elation that suggested he throw his arms around her. Instead, he squeezed her fingers.
The co-pilot continued up front in English, “The commotion has been handled. We’ve been given clearance to fly. Our first stop is going to be Germany, and then London... Those getting off at London should exit the plane to the left, and be careful of your steps please. Thank you for visiting our country...”
Ben sat up blearily. He glanced around the plane, the words ‘London’ and ‘Stop’ making it into his subconscious’ Freudian rendition of “The Lion King.” He felt twice as heavy as usual because Morgan’s head rested on his shoulder, one arm slung over his waist and the other snug around her green duffel bag. He poked her awake and smiled. She smiled back and stretched carefully, keeping the bag on her lap.
They reached the terminal, meeting their friends at the newsstand. As they were sighted they were greeted enthusiastically. The two men took the bags from Ben and hauled them up. The girl finally released Morgan from her hug.
Todd spoke, “How was the trip? Did you get to stop any poachers? How was working with the lions?”
Ben smiled at Morgan. She shrugged, “We didn’t see much action, but we got to see and help rehabilitate some victims of the poachers. Lions are beautiful, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to destroy them.”
Ben nodded, “Yeah, but the country was hellish, it’s like a war zone all the time. The only laws they can enforce are the ones that have foreign help, like ours that helps the endangered animals.”
Whitney whistled, “That’s a shame.”
The second man nodded, “But you came back in one piece.”
“And with some goodies, apparently! Hey, guys, what’s in the bag?”
Morgan glanced at the green duffel they had forgotten about on the plane. It wasn’t moving.
AN:Exactly 1500 added words. *sigh&faint*
For I'm a rover
I'm a rover of high degree.
An' when I'm drinkin'
I'm always thinkin'
of how to gain my Love's company
-I'm a Rover, via Great Big Sea