Missing by Lisa Chi Li Shan

My bedroom was getting increasingly stuffy – the heat had accumulated under the thick cotton blanket and my clothes felt slightly damp from my own perspiration. The vibrant sunrays had begun warming up the day and the white walls in my room were now tinged with a honeycomb-yellow, just as if someone had decided to paint it to fit the all-year-round summer that Malaysia had. The exhaustion, from getting caught in the traffic bottleneck after dropping my husband off for work at the airport the night before, had taken a toll on me, so before I knew it I had drifted off to sleep without rolling down the binds or switching the television off. I woke up to the glares that blinded my half-opened eyes and to the familiar voice of the same morning newscaster who had been presenting the news for many years. He was in the midst of sharing the weather forecast for the day and his tone remained uplifting and cheery as he reminded the viewers to carry an umbrella just in case they were caught in a storm that was coming. I looked at the clock on the bed stand – 8:05AM. With another 25 minutes left on the clock before it was time to get up, I felt like my day was off to a great start.

“… MH370 disappeared after they lost contact within an hour after take-off. There was no distress signal or message sent…”

All my attention was immediately directed towards the newscaster on the television. I reached for the remote control and increased the volume. His face was expressionless and his tone was completely different from how he sounded just a minute ago. His words were carried in a grave tone. Something in me didn’t sit right and I felt extremely uneasy – it was the airline that Hizwan worked for.

“…There are currently no leads on the whereabouts of the aircraft that was carrying 239 passengers and crew to Beijing.”

Did they say Beijing? My heart started to race faster and my stomach churned even more as I recalled Hizwan telling me he was heading there for two days. I immediately grabbed my phone to check if he had dropped me a text, as he always would when he arrived in another country; but there were no text messages or phone calls from him. In fact, his last-seen timing on WhatsApp was still from the night before. It couldn’t be that he was on that flight, could it?

Suddenly, I recalled that Hizwan consistently writes his flight details into a brown, leather notebook that I had bought for him; it was meant to help organize his busy travel schedule. Now this notebook was the only way I could get any answers. With adrenaline coursing through my veins, I got out of bed to look for this notebook. I had to find it no matter what. I searched high and low for the notebook. It wasn’t on the table, neither was it in his drawer. Where did he usually put it?! Why was it gone?! The heat from my body was trapped in my pajamas and I was starting to sweat from the panic. I had so much confidence in being able to find the notebook, but as I continued to search frantically, it felt as if the chances of finding it were dwindling. Tears started to well up in my eyes – all the feelings of frustration and hopelessness that were bottled inside of me finally erupted and I fell to the bedroom floor crying, just like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum. Was I thinking too much? Could it be that I had made a mistake and he was still on the plane en route to another country?

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to calm myself down. “There’s no way you can find something in the state you are in. Calm down Nora – you don’t even know for sure if he was on that plane.” I chided myself for being so impatient and pessimistic. I took in another deep breath and once I had cleared the thoughts in my head, I opened my eyes and scanned the room once again – slowly and thoroughly. I spotted the spine of the book almost immediately, among the stack of papers that I gathered together in my state of frenzy. I sighed at my own carelessness and picked up the book. I knew that my life could experience a complete overturn in just a few seconds. What if he was really on that plane? I was terrified. What would happen to our family? With all the courage I had gathered, I opened the book to his March schedule. My palms started to sweat and I felt super queasy. All I could do now was to repeat a silent prayer in my heart.

“Please say it’s not MH370. Please say it’s not MH370. Please say – ” I stopped my nervous chants when I saw what Hizwan wrote.

“MH370 KL to Beijing: Arrival time 8/3, 6.30am”

I stared blankly at his writing. How could this be? I had just seen him yesterday and now people were saying the plane’s missing? There were so many questions, but I didn’t know who to ask or what to ask first. It had to be a mistake. How could a plane go missing without a trace? It didn’t make sense. Was Hizwan safe? How would I tell my son and mother-in-law? What could I do now?

My phone started to ring and I immediately picked it up, willing that it was Hizwan at the end of the line, assuring me that he was safe.

“IS MY SON WITH YOU?” My mother-in-law’s voice boomed over the receiver. “Nora, please pass the phone to him. He hasn’t been picking up any of my phone calls or replying my texts. Where is he? I need to speak to him.”

Hearing her anxious voice made me choke up. Everything was happening so quickly and I was still in shock from the discovery. “He.. he isn’t here – ” A whisper was all I could manage at this moment.

“THEN WHERE IS HE? Did you see the news Nora? Is my son safe?”

“He was on that plane…” I couldn’t continue any longer. My fists were clenched so tightly together that my knuckles turned white and I could feel the sweat trapped inside them. There was a moment of silence between us and without saying a word in response, my mother-in-law hung up the phone abruptly. I was left sitting alone on the bed, trying to digest the cruel awakening that had left me in chaos. My emotions were all over the place and my insides were gripping tight. All my feelings were mixing together, contributing to the overwhelming mess that I felt I was. The tears were now flowing uncontrollably and the pain that filled my heart seemed to be suffocating me.

“If you are a family member of any of the victims on this flight, please call the toll-free number at 1800-81-4819.” The newscaster looked solemn as he appealed to the viewers. It was as if he was talking directly at me but I hesitated. I refused to believe that my beloved husband was a victim of this bizarre disappearance. He had to be out there somewhere – planes couldn’t just suddenly vanish.

My phone started to ring again – it was my mother-in-law. “Are... are you sure he was… on the plane? The MH – MH370 plane?” I could hear her sniffing in the background as she waited for my response. Having to admit that he was on that plane out loud for the second time seemed harder and I dreaded having to do it. Why did this have to happen to me and my loving family? What did we do to deserve this?

“Y-yes... I’m sorry mother…” I mumbled. My mother-in-law started to wail and hearing her pain just broke my heart even more. What were we going to do? I was lost and helpless.

“… HIZWAN!! Why… WHY did you have to be on THAT plane? WHY did you have to abandon your family? I already warned you that your job… was too dangerous… but you refused to listen! Nora… w-what do we do now?”

“I-I don’t know mother… All we can do is to pray and wait for more news to come. If I have any news, I will let you know ok?” She agreed and we left our conversation there. Deep down, I knew that I had to call the toll-free number but I wasn’t ready to admit that my beloved husband was on that plane for a third time. I keyed in the e-number and stared at the call button. I had to be strong – for my mother-in-law and my son. I had no other choice. I had to make that call, even though all I wanted to do was to sleep and pretend all of this was nothing but a nightmare. I nervously pressed the button and waited for my call to be picked up. 

“Thank you for calling Malaysian Airlines’ emergency helpline. You’re speaking to Aisyah. How may I address you?”

“My name is Nora.”

“Good morning Ms Nora. On behalf of the company, I apologize for what has happened. Rest assured that the authorities are currently doing all they can to find out what happened to the plane. In the meantime, I would appreciate if you could provide me some details of yourself and the passenger. What is the name of the passenger you are calling for and how are you related to him or her?

“Um… My husband’s name is Mohammed Hizwan Shah Bin Hussein and he was one of the flight stewards on MH370.” Saying it for the third time felt surreal. It was getting easier to mouth those words, as if I was finally accepting the harsh truth. Aisyah continued to ask for more details and remained reassuring the entire time. She advised that I could either wait for the updates via text messages or I could head down to Cyberview Resort and Spa in Sepang where I would receive updates directly from the ongoing press conferences. I knew I wanted to be as close to the investigations as possible but I needed to be here for my family as well. What was going to happen to my mother-in-law and my son? The responsibility that rested upon my shoulders was overwhelming. All I wanted was for Hizwan to be by my side, telling me what I should do. He was always calm and composed, and nothing ever seemed to faze him.

I figured the first thing I should do before making any decision was to break the news to my son. I walked to his room and saw him lying in bed with his eyes fixed on his hand phone. Looking at my son was as if I was looking at my husband. His features were a carbon copy of Hizwan’s when he was at that age. Their sharp jaw line, brown rugged hair, thin lips and caterpillar-like eyebrows were almost identical. He must have sensed my presence in the room as I stared blankly at him. He put his phone aside and asked “Ma, what’s up?”

“Azim…” I couldn’t control my tears and broke down the moment I tried to speak. I thought I wouldn’t have any problems saying it again.

“What’s going on? Ma, why are you crying?” Azim asked quizzically, not knowing how to react from seeing his mother cry for the first time.

“Azim… There’s a plane that just went missing… and Daddy was on that plane.” Azim stayed still and stared wide-eyed at me.

“Does.. this mean Daddy won’t be coming back?”

My heart ached when I heard my twelve-year-old’s question. This was something a child should never have to go through, but it was happening to my own son. I walked to him and sat on his bed. “Mak doesn’t know for sure… All we can do now is wait for more news. Mak is thinking of going to the airport to stay for a couple of days so I can get updates faster. I’ll ask Nenek to come over and stay together with you. Ok?”

“Can we all go together? Please Mak. Please, I want to follow you.” Azim responded almost immediately and looked to me with so much hope in his eyes.

“Nenek cannot travel long distances remember? You also have school, Azim. Be a good boy – keep Nenek company and take care of her while Mak go away for a while. I can update you whenever there is new news about Daddy, ok?” It pained me to reject my son. Not only did he find out his father was missing, he also had to see his mother leave him for a few days. He nodded but kept his head down, refusing to look at me. With tears in my eyes, I reached out to hug my son, promising him that I would come back to the family very soon. It was only then when he started to sob in my arms, as if the shocking news had finally sunk in. I consoled him by assuring him that we were in this together, that his mother would be there for him no matter what.

I immediately made the arrangements for my mother-in-law to stay with Azim and also booked a cab to bring me to the hotel in Sepang. Though my mother-in-law insisted on coming with me, I managed to convince her not to, saying that Azim needed her company while I was gone. When the cab had arrived, the sky was no longer bright and sunny. Instead, it was dull and overcast. All traces of the vibrant rays that pierced through my window earlier were completely blocked by the tar-black clouds in the sky. I sat in silence for the entire 45-minute drive. Staring at the raindrops that pounded the window, I couldn’t help but drift back to the memories that Hizwan and I shared. It was only a few hours ago that he last held my hands, kissed my forehead and told me he loved me. He promised that the two days would pass quickly and he would soon be back. How long would this emotional turmoil last? What if he never came back? Thinking of all these reminded me of all the pain I was going through and I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. No one, especially me, would ever be ready to face the uncertain future, but for my family, I had to persevere and stay strong. I would always look to the light at the end of this cold and dark tunnel, and remain hopeful for the day my family reunites. So long as Hizwan remains out there waiting, I would never lose hope; neither would I ever give up.