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A Touchstone B ook

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Touchstone A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020 This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the authors imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright 2014 by Kate Pullinger Originally published in 2014 by Doubleday Canada All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Touchstone Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. First Touchstone hardcover edition May 2014 TOUCHSTONE and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc. For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at Jacket design by Rex Bonomelli Jacket photograph Andreia Takeuchi/Flickr Select/Getty Images Manufactured in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Pullinger, Kate. Landing gear : a novel / Kate Pullinger. pages cm 1. Life change eventsFiction. 2. Family life Fiction. I. Title. PR9199.3.P775L36 2014 813'.54dc23 2013043608 ISBN 978-1-4767-5137-5 ISBN 978-1-4767-5138-2 (ebook)


I first came across the stories of landing gear stowaways in an article in the Guardian newspaper in 2001. A body had landed in a supermarket car park in London, not far from where I live. The two investigative journalists working on the story discovered that this young man was only the latest in a series of airplane stowaways to fall into or near this car park over the previous decade, released as planes lowered their wheels before landing. The journalists traced the identity of this most recent stowaway, traveling to Pakistan to meet his family. A myth circulates in some parts of the world that you can climb into the hold of an airplane via the landing gear. In fact, most people who attempt to stow away in this manner die en route, crushed by the enormous wheels of the plane as the landing gear retracts, or freezing to death once the plane reaches cruising altitude. But occasionally, people survive these extraordinary journeys and manage to reach their longed-for destinations.

pro log u e

sprin g 2012


I went to Dubai from my home in Pakistan because I heard I could earn good money. There was a man in my village who had been working in the Emirates; he was injured on the building site where he worked when a section of scaffolding fell on his foot. He had a lot of stories about what life was like in the workers camps, so I knew what to expect. I liked the look of Dubai; I liked the idea of living in a place where everything was new. The plane was full of men like me, leaving home to work abroad, although I was one of the youngest. When we landed, we were transported to the camp where we were to live. The conditions were not goodtoo many men. But I was happy, and when I got to the building site the next daytwo hours by bus either wayI was happier still. I wanted to work. Now I had a job. Now I would be paid. But it turned out that getting paid for the work I did was not as simple as I thought it would be.

Y A C U B A T T H E A I R P O R T: K A R A C H I

At the airport, I followed the instructions Ameer had given mefor which I had paid the last of my Dubai moneyand found the unlocked door that led outside to the planes. I had less than fifteen minutes after darkness fell to find the correct airplane. Id been home from Dubai for a while, but there was no work in Karachi. I told Raheela, my sister, I was going back to Dubai. We spent a long time over our good-byes. She could tell that something was up, but I told no one my real plans, not even her. Wed lost our parents when we were teenagersour father in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, our mother a year after thatso we were used to finding our own way. Even so, I found it hard not to cry when we parted. From the ground, the planes looked enormous, their lights blinking in the dusk. The air stank of petrol and tires. But I found the plane I wanted, and no one saw me. I climbed over the giant wheels and shimmied up the landing gear and folded myself onto the little shelf, which was exactly where Ameer had said it would be.


I have to go to the supermarket today, otherwise my family will starve. Well, not starve, exactly. In the event of a war or cataclysm of some kind, there is enough food in the house to last forhow long? The pantry. The fridge. The storage jars. The cupboard full of breakfast cereal. The shelf of tins. The peas that have fallen out of their bag and are rolling around in the bottom drawer of the freezer. The tahini that is older than my teenaged child. We would last at least one month, maybe even two, before we would have to eat those jars of red wine preserves given to me several years ago. Except that isnt the point. The fact that there is already a ton of food in my house and I am on my way to buy more is not the point. While there are plenty of wars and cataclysms happening elsewhere, as far as I can see, stuck as I am in the one-way traffic system, Richmond is its usual placid, wellfed self this week. The family expects meals. They know that fairies do not replenish the cupboards in the night, but how, why, when, and where the food comes from is not something that interests them. It is not something that interests me either. But I am a good wife. I am a good mother.


There is almost no room for me on this shelf; there is no secret entrance into the cargo hold. I finish the shopping beneath the supermarkets harsh lights and zombie-walk Muzak; the boy at the checkout is unaccountably cheerful, and this makes me smile. I am crushed into this too-small space; I have been here for an eternity. I push the loaded trolley across the car park, battling to keep its wonky wheels on track as it veers toward a row of shiny bumpers. Freezing hot, then burning cold. I pop open the boot of my car and then for some reason, I have no idea why, I look up, into the clear blue sky. Suddenly, I am released. And I see him.

Landing Gear I am free. It takes me a long moment to figure out what I am looking at. I am flying. A dark mass, growing larger quickly. I am falling through the sky. He is falling from the sky. The earth is coming up to meet me. I let go of the trolley and am dimly aware that it is getting away from me but I cant move, I am stuck in the middle of the supermarket car park, watching, as he hurtles toward me. Almost there now, my destination. I have no idea how long it takesa few seconds, an entire lifetimebut I stand there holding my breath as the suburbs go about their business around me until... Ive arrived, at last. He crashes into the roof of my car.


He looked perfect lying there, the roof of my car like a crumpled velvet blanket. I stood like an idiot and waited for people to gather round, waited for sirens to ring out, alarms to sound. But there was only silence. The sound of my breathing. The sound of me staring. The sound of me not knowing what to do. And then he sat up and said, in perfect, lightly accented English, Am I dead? I nodded and tried to think of the right way to respond. I think so. You must be. Or I am. He climbed down off my car. Is that your trolley? He sprinted over to retrieve it without waiting for my reply. Please take me with you. Im starving. Okay, I said. Ive got food. The car was wrecked. Well get a taxi.

part one


april 2010

Later, much later, after it was too late and Harriet had too much time to dwell on it, she realized that it was all the fault of the planes. Everything that happened, all of it, all of the... stuff was the fault of the planes. Or rather, the fault of the volcano. If Eyjafjallajkull hadnt erupted, billowing into the jet stream vast plumes of ash laden with shards of ice, shutting down airspace over the whole of Europe, none of this would have happened. Jack wouldnt have been suspended from school; Michael wouldnt have spent that week in Toronto; Harriet would never have contacted George Sigo; shed still have her job and her son would still believe that people are fundamentally decent. In the middle of April, life was normal; by the end of the first week of May, life had changed.


It was the day after the volcano erupted that Harriet noticed the sky. Extraordinary. The day before, shed been too caught up with the chaos in the radio newsroom as the airports had closed, one by one, north to south, like roman blinds being pulled down over the entire country: GlasgowEdinburgh ManchesterBirminghamHeathrowGatwick. In order to read the news properly, shed had to learn how to pronounce Eyjafjallajkull, along with a host of other Icelandic names. News bulletins had been bumped up from once an hour, to twice, to every fifteen minutes. Shed stayed late and left in a car her boss, Steve, ordered, the underground having long since stopped for the night. Once home, she found her son, Jack, asleep on the sofa, clutching his gaming handset, surrounded by pizza crusts, sticky glasses, and other debris. The next morning she got up early. Shed slept well and felt a kind of lightness in her bones; she was clearheaded and unusually calm. She had a quick shower and put on a summer dress for the first time that year and this feeling of lightness continued and, if anything, amplified. She walked to the corner shop for milk and newspapers, but shed only gone a few meters when she had to

Landing Gear stop. The world felt entirely different. Spring had arrived and pink cherry blossoms carpeted the street. The air was luminous, the sky was clear. The neighborhood felt peaceful, the houses benevolent with their big clean windows and sturdy front doors. She hugged her cardigan around herself and began walking once again. A moment later she realized what was different: there were no planes. Richmond had emerged from beneath the flight path. The air was sparkling. The sky was silent, completely silent.


Emily buried her father the day after the planes stopped flying. He had died the week before, a massive stroke that killed him instantly. He was sixty-one and had been a widower for many years. After taking early retirement from teaching maths at secondary school, he had lived on his own in the semidetached house in Shepherds Bush, where Emily had grown up. All the neighbors came to Chiswick New Cemetery to see Ted off. Turned out hed had it all planned and paid for, including the custom-made coffin in the shape of a perch; hed been a weekend angler all his life. The giant silver fish, Teds final joke, startled his friends instead of amusing them, and they pretended it was nothing out of the ordinary, which Emily knew would have infuriated him. In an effort to cheer up everyone, Cory Newton, who had taught with Ted for many years, said, He shouldnt be gone, but he did enjoy his life. Emily smiled at him miserably. Her face ached from crying and smiling, smiling and crying. One of Teds neighbors, Karen, was set to deliver the graveside humanist eulogy Ted had requested, including a reading of Audens Stop All the Clocks Teds favorite poem, Karen said. Teds only poem, Cory replied. But when she got to the line Let aeroplanes

Landing Gear circle moaning overhead, Karen paused and looked up into the clear blue sky. There were no aeroplanes. Emily felt her heart rip open in that moment, as though there was nothing between her and the endless, empty sky, as though God had stopped the planes as well as the clocks so that Ted could make his way to Heaven without being buffeted or damaged. Except she didnt believe in God and neither had Ted. In fact, looking around at the graveside gathering, Emily realized that probably no one present believed in any kind of God, except perhaps Monica and Tariq Hussein, but even with them she wouldnt have been surprised to learn that faith had slipped away. The extraordinary silence and beauty of the day overwhelmed the people gathered there and instead of celebrating and honoring their lost friendEmilys father in his sleek silver-scaled boxwith stories and jokes and songs as he would have wanted, they were mired in misery.


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