You are on page 1of 11

The Weight of Air

“Delta Flight 783 to Dallas-Fort Worth has been delayed due to technical
issues. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to have more information and a
timeframe shortly.”
As Faith watched the information screen, a chorus of “Damn,” “Great,” and
“This sucks,” circled behind her and echoed throughout Gate E15 at the Chicago
O’Hare International Airport.
A man standing next to Faith said, “You better believe this is goddamn
inconvenient. Delta assholes.” The man appeared about seventy years old and stood
slouched. His eyes, dark slits hidden in the dropping folds of his eyelids, watched the
“Projected Arrival” entry change from “February 7, 2000 4:00 PM” to “Delayed: TBD.”
Faith looked down from the information screen and at her watch. It was 3:30
PM. She sympathized with the old man’s bitterness. Delta had delayed or cancelled the
last two flights she was booked on.
The old man walked around Faith and sat by chairs facing the gate agent’s desk,
his eyes still pinned to the information screen above the desk. He smelled like Old Spice
and soap. Liver spots covered the tops of his hands, his forehead and temples. He was
bald and the lighting above cast a perfect halo around the man’s shiny head. With only a
jacket on and a newspaper tucked under his arm he had no luggage or briefcase Faith
could see.

Lao 2

Faith was still standing with her rolling carry-on, facing the information screen.
She felt awkward, as if the center of attention shifted to her. At 5’11 barefoot she
towered over most of her friends in Dallas and colleagues at the news station. Her boss
joked that she almost didn’t get the job as the station’s meteorologist because of her
height. “Americans want to see a female forecaster’s entire torso, not just her head and
the ceiling.” He laughed and padded her on the back after he said it but Faith felt he
wasn’t entirely joking.
Since most of the seats were taken at the gate, Faith sat next to the old man.
Across from Faith a young man in a tank top watched as she sat down. He had one
sleeve tattoo of a dragon, its mouth spewing fire on his wrist and its body coiling all the
way into the arm sleeve. Faith saw another tattoo on his neck, peeking out of his shirt
collar with a vaguely familiar shape. He smiled at her and she crossed her legs and
looked down at her bag.
Faith tapped away on her BlackBerry, answering work emails. After years of
schooling to become an atmospheric scientist she earned had her PhD and could go
anywhere. She chose to forecast weather on the news for people who would no doubt
curse her name under their breath for not predicting it would be ten degrees cooler at 6
PM than she’d forecast. For her, weather and atmosphere was always a science of
unpredictability and the unexpected.
With all the technology and advancement in the research of tornados, scientists
only knew that moist, warm air needs to interact with air that is cooler and faster in
order to create one—that is the extent of scientific knowledge on tornados. There is no

Lao 3

one hundred percent accuracy when it comes to any type of weather, but of course you
never say that to the thousands of viewers wondering if they should take a sweater or
wear a sleeveless shirt. Faith believed things were most likely to happen when we least
expected it, so she always expected something.
“You look as if you’ve lost something,” the old man said. He watched Faith for a
response and then turned back to look at the information screen. “Why is it that every
damn time we need be somewhere on schedule something happens but we’re right on
time when we have absolutely nothing to get to?” The old man’s eyes were still
transfixed on the information screen while he spoke.
Faith realized the old man was speaking to her and for a moment debated
whether to answer.
“I think that’s called Chaos Theory,” Faith said. “It was thought up by a
meteorologist in the Sixties. The unpredictable will always happen because it’s not
possible to predict everything and that’s the only thing we can depend on.” The old man
slightly nodded his head as he scanned the information screen. “Science can tell us how
the unpredictable happens but not why, where, or when.” Faith watched the old man for
any reaction and continued. “Just a small change in the atmosphere now can drastically
change the behavior of a system many years from now.” Faith saw the old man’s blank
expression and thought she may have said too much.
The old man turned to Faith. “So, you’re saying some asshole mechanic had a
bad night yesterday and that’s why we’re not in the air?”
“You can probably go farther back,” Faith said.

Lao 4

“Yeah, the government! It always comes back to our goddamn government,” the
old man said.
Faith looked around to see if anyone was listening to their conversation and
turned back to the old man. “I imagine it’s something more natural like a bird flapping
its wings in California causing a tornado in Japan ten years later. Really, it only takes a
little bit of pressure and time to cause absolute anarchy in our environment,” Faith said.
“I know about pressure,” the old man said. He looked at Faith for a moment and
his narrow eyes grew wide. “I know you! You’re the tall weather lady on ‘Forecast with
Faith’. I saw your show this morning. You look better in person.”
“Thanks, I guess. Um, that may be my last show. I had an interview for a
position at the National Weather Service in Chicago which went well, so hopefully I
won’t be the ‘tall weather lady’ anymore.”
“Unless something goes wrong of course. Your whole chaos theory would blow
that plan to shit,” the old man said. He looked away from Faith, stared at the tattooed
man sitting across from them and smiled. The tattooed man looked away.
“It’s not really my theory,” Faith said. “I was just trying to explain…”
“Your last show, hmm? There is an interesting finality about that. Almost sad but
freeing, don’t you think?” The old man was now looking back up at the information
screen as he spoke to Faith. “Humanity is swimming in a stinking cesspool of
disappointment. Why should we get our hopes up, right?” The old man unfolded his
newspaper and read.
Their conversation had taken a strange turn and she was happy it was over.

Lao 5

After ten years forecasting weather and running ‘Forecast with Faith’ she did
understand what it felt like to drown in her own “stinking cesspool” of apathy. Staring
into the darkness of the camera lens in front of her, she no longer cared about what was
on the other side. She didn’t care about anything because it didn’t have any
consequence or importance. She could tell someone to carry a jacket or an umbrella but
in the grand scheme of life it didn’t really matter. Chaos theory did not apply to her life.
There was no beauty or complexity in anything anymore; there were only probabilities
of disaster.
Faith put her papers away and watched faces all around her, calculating
percentages, predicting who might lose it and when. She created a forecast. It calmed
her.
“Mrs. Rosa Alvarez your daughter has been located. Please meet her at the
Dunkin' Donuts in Terminal 3.”
The tattooed man said, “Ha, some spic lost her kid. Fat ass couldn’t stay away
from the donuts ahahaha.” He was talking to someone on his cell phone. He looked
anxious as he moved his whole body around in the chair to watch people walk by with
his cell phone held up to his ear the entire time. His gaze always came back to Faith and
her legs.
“United Flight 320 will be boarding shortly. Please make sure to speak with an
agent if you have not been assigned a seat.”
The terminal speaker cracked on and off as various gate agents delivered bad
news, good news and the worst news of all—cancellations. They reminded Faith of TV

Lao 6

weather forecasters who simply act as messengers but are always the first to be blamed
for bad weather, something neither the forecaster nor the agent have control over.
The gate for Dallas was now crowded. People stood around in various states of
distress watching as the “Delayed TBD” message on the information screen flickered
but never changed.
“I really can’t believe you wore that,” said a mother who chastised her daughter
for wearing tight jeans and a cut off shirt. “I said something comfortable, not dress like
a slut!” On the word slut she made sure to whisper in her daughter’s ear loud enough for
everyone around them to hear. The daughter slammed her body into the empty chair
next to her mother, shaking all the seats attached in the row. She put on a headset,
turned up her music and almost like an invisible barrier her mother stopped talking and
turned away.
A mother, her daughter and son all held hands as they walked into the gate.
“Mom, can I get the chips, I’m hungry.” The little boy pleaded as he fumbled
around with a Game Boy Advance.
“Sure, honey, just grab it from my bag—”
“Mom, I want some too!” The little girl furiously kicked her legs under her chair
as she spoke.
“Sure.”
As they moved toward the agent’s desk people formed tighter groups. They all
expected an announcement shortly. A Muslim family sat in the last empty seats next to
Faith. The older Muslim woman wore a long blue garment covering her entire body

Lao 7

except her head and hands. On her head she wore a headscarf. A little girl dressed
similarly, held her hand and smiled at Faith. The little girl’s L.A. Lights flickered pink
as she swung her legs under her chair. The older Muslim man placed the little boy on
his lap and began talking to him in Arabic, gently swaying back and forth as he spoke,
whispering something into his ear.
“Mr. Walker please return to your party. Mr. Walker please return to your party
your flight will begin boarding shortly.”
The old man, now engrossed in his New York Times, rustled a section straight
then folded it over in half. Faith looked over at the paper and noticed an article
reporting a botched plane hijack in Brazil. The hijackers demanded money but were all
killed, along with two passengers.
“Disgusting,” the old man said, “They can’t even get that right. There really is
no hope. Someone needs to save us. Someone needs to write a message in the sky,
‘Wake up’ in bold red letters.”
Faith turned toward the old man, whose face had never left the paper. She griped
both arms of her chair as she began to think of probabilities again. She ran through a list
of all the airplane accidents she could remember. Only the hijackings stood out:
May 7th, 1964. San Ramon, California. Pacific Airlines. Francisco Gonzales, a
passenger, shoots both the pilot and first officer.
September 15th, 1974. Phan Rang, Vietnam. Air Vietnam. A hijacker detonates
two hand grenades in the passenger compartment.
December 7th, 1987. San Luis Obispo, California. Pacific Southwest Airlines.

Lao 8

David Burk, a fired employee, shoots the pilot and first officer.
July 23rd, 1999. Tokyo, Japan. All Nippon Airways. A mentally ill passenger
stabs the pilot causing the plane to crash.
“What the fuck is this?” the tattooed man said. He was standing from his chair,
pointing at the Muslim family. He still held the phone up to his ear. He looked around as
if someone would justify his surprise with a response. “There is a whole family of towel
head jihadist about to take my flight.” He looked at the old man and turned his gaze
back to the Muslim family.
People shifted in their seats, some leaving the gate. The family looked away and
continued to talk with their children.
“Yeah, keep ignoring me camel jockeys. No way are they letting you guys on
this flight.” This time the tattooed man addressed the family and held the phone away
from his ear.
The back of Faith’s neck grew warm. The tattooed man’s collar shifted and
dipped as he leaned forward toward the family revealing the swastika on his neck.
The old man looked up from his paper as he shouted, “Leave them alone and
close your mouth before I shove your phone down your damn throat and you never fly
again.” He neatly folded the paper and handed it to a man next to him who nervously
accepted.
The tattooed man climbed up on his chair and began jumping, shaking the
attached chairs. People scattered from their seats. Police quickly restrained him and
dragged him away as he yelled out, “He’s a hero! He’s a hero! He’s a goddamn hero!”

Lao 9

Faith watched the tattooed man mouth the words ‘good luck’ as he passed the old man.
The old man nodded, smiled, and looked away. No one else seemed to notice the
strange exchange, but Faith felt something was not right.
The Muslim father looked at the old man and said, “Thank You” and nodded
before looking back down at his son. The old man nodded back and looked down at his
feet.
Faith let her paranoia pass since the old man did more than anyone else to help
with the tattooed man, no matter how odd he seemed himself.
“Good news folks! Delta Flight 783 to Dallas-Fort Worth has been cleared for
flight. We will be departing in a few seconds. Please make sure to have your boarding
pass out. We will be going by your group number.”
People gathered their bags and huddled together. It was now 6:30 PM and the
lights on the tarmac glimmered in and out of view as various vehicles and planes moved
back and forth. Faith watched a mass of faces, analyzing eyes and suspicious body
language.
“Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we would like to begin boarding on flight
783 service to Dallas-Fort Worth. All first class or Business Elite customers, those that
need extra assistance or families with children are now welcome to board.”
The old man stood up from his chair, quickly bent down to reach something at
his feet and put it in his pocket. He turned to Faith and said, “Pressure.”
Faith watched as he made his way on the plane, disappearing into a crowd of
wheelchairs, folded up strollers, and children. Faith felt strange again.

Lao 10

Having found her seat, Faith recognized the back of the old man’s head two
seats in front of her on the side of aisle. She turned away and looked out the window,
where carts maneuvered around and away from the now moving plane. Faith wanted to
be outside where things were cool and light. Inside, the air was heavy and thick.
Flight attendants made their way to the center aisle as they went through safety
information over the intercom.
A half hour later, the flight attendants made their way to their seats as the plane
sped up. Babies cried as the plane rumbled and shook, tilting up into the sky. Faith
looked around as people read magazines or sat with their eyes closed. The man in the
center seat next to her unwrapped a sandwich, the smell of tuna filling the cabin. With a
deep hum, the plane righted itself. The cabin lights were low and everyone was asleep
or in some state of diversion.
Faith looked over at the old man. He put his jacket under the chair in front of
him. In his hand was the thing he had picked up. Faith recognized the tattooed man’s
cell phone that never left his ear. Faith watched the old man’s thumb hover over the
phone’s red ‘ON’ button. This is it, she thought.
Faith looked away and out the window, watching the sunset and orchestra of
light around them.
It’s all about pressure, Faith thought. The pressure was always dependable. It
was always there. It was always certain. It can crush you or you can breathe it in.
At sea level, humans are under a constant state of high pressure from the air
molecules around them pressing over a ton of force over every square inch of their

Lao 11

body. Yet, humans live because of the air inside balancing everything out. Faith felt
some days it was so much harder to breath but she does what everyone else does and
just keeps breathing.
The old man’s thumb still hovered over the ‘ON’ button. She watched the side of
his face move as if he was talking to someone. He looked above himself and squeezed
his eyes closed.
Faith waited. She turned away and watched the deep blue of day fold into the
orange and purple of night. She never realized how beautiful it all really was and at that
moment she was happy.
The ding of a call button went off and Faith turned toward the sound. Above the
old man’s seat a small light was on. He reached for the air-conditioning nozzle closing
his eyes as a stream of air moved his thin strands of hair. A flight attendant walked over
to the old man’s seat, leaning in as he spoke. He handed the phone to the flight attendant
who laughed and walked away. The old man closed his eyes and leaned back against the
chair. His mouth was slightly open as he drifted to sleep.
Faith turned away, looking out of the window at nothing in particular.
Something will happen someday, she thought. People are dependable that way.
Everything is possible with enough pressure and little time.

By Daniela Lao