Imagine that you are watching a movie. The first shot is of the moon, then the camera pulls back and the moon gets smaller, and soon you are looking at a bright urban skyline, with the lights in the windows like uneven clusters of paralyzed fireflies. The camera starts zooming in, closer, closer, until it goes through one of these bright windows. You see two men struggling with each other-- one is holding the other’s collar. He is holding a knife.
"Where's the money, Mondale?" growls the man with the knife, through a thick Eastern European accent.
" I told ya so, I don't got it, Petrovich," replies the other, with frightened eyes.
This is exactly what 498 people were watching, rapt with attention. The other two in the movie theater, who were not paying attention at all, went by the names of Julie and Mark Replin. They were married and arguing. Mark had forgotten to pick up the children after school two days ago. Julie said he was irresponsible. Mark got fed up, and left. Their arguments had been getting longer and worse over the past few weeks. He stalked outside of the movie theater into the gray, rainy spring day. Once outside in the fresh air, he started to calm down. He took out his Blackberry and started calling his girlfriend. He walked across the street, not noticing the “Don't Walk” signal, and a taxi nearly hit him. He raised his middle finger and yelled, "F*** you."
Haiter, the Middle Eastern man driving the taxi, swore back in Arabic. His passengers did not understand him, nor were they listening. They were a group of four young folks, all chattering about their stay in Chicago. Haiter was taking them to O'Hare, where they would catch a plane going back to San Francisco.
Haiter thought about his home for the first time in two years. He had been away for so long, he barely remembered anything. Baghdad was far away from him now. He thought of his mother, who had taken him in the dead of night when he was six, taken him out of the house and to America. She wanted to get away from her husband, Haiter's father. He had been a war veteran, and suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder. On one occasion, he had become angry at Haiter's mother, and stabbed her three times in the leg. The next day, in the hospital, Haiter's father didn't remember any of it, and sobbed in regret and sorrow. He loved his wife and son very much, and they had no doubt of that. But they needed to get away. It was too dangerous. But this was all when he was a young boy. And as he got older, his memory got weaker.
"Hey you!" shouted one of the young people in the back. Haiter looked in the rearview mirror. She was pretty, but not sexy or beautiful. She was tall, and had blonde hair and fierce blue eyes.
"Yes, what is the problem?" asked Haiter absentmindedly.
"You missed our turnoff," growled the young woman.
Haiter looked around him. Indeed, they had passed O'Hare and were approaching the suburbs. "I'm so very sorry. We will only have 2 minute delay," apologized Haiter. He got off the highway, turned around, and two minutes later, they were at the American Airlines terminal at O'Hare Airport. Haiter let them out, without another thought to Baghdad.
Angela got out of the taxi and waved goodbye and thank you to the friendly Arab who had driven them there. At first she had been angry that he missed their stop, but she could never stay angry for very long, at anyone.
"Rotten camel jockey," spat Brandon. "Could barely understand English." Well, there was one person at whom she could stay mad, and that person was Brandon. She really hated Brandon. It was hard not to; the other two, Rory and Andy, hated him, too. Rory thought he was a numbskull; Andy thought he was a jock; Angela thought he was an asshole. They all had their reasons, but the feeling was the same. He went to their school, and had gotten word of their trip to Chicago. He had tagged along with them, literally followed them to the airport and onto the plane. At that point, it was no use trying to get rid of him. He followed them everywhere they went, and they were to goodhearted to totally get rid of him. And now he was following them back to San Francisco, where they hoped, after they graduated, they could get rid of him once and for all.
The group moved through security, and over the loudspeaker they heard that their flight was about to leave. They quickened their pace. After a minute they realized that Brandon was no longer running with them.
"Huh? Where'd Brandon go?" inquired Andy. Angela searched above the heads of the crowd; she was exceptionally tall-- and spotted him in line at McDonald's. She groaned, ran up to him, grabbed him by the collar, and dragged him until they were walking in the jet-way. They hurried into the plane, but found that their seats were taken.
"I'm sorry, I think you have our seats," said Angela politely. Before anyone could respond, the flight attendant apologized, "I'm awfully sorry, this plane's full... you'll have to catch the next flight." The posse looked dejected. One of the men sitting in the aisle felt bad.
"I don't have to take this flight. One of you can have my seat." he smiled. The three looked at Brandon.
Back in the terminal, Angela, Rory and Andy conversed with Michael, the kind man who had relieved them of their burden. They talked for a little while, but soon they had to part ways, and they waved kind goodbyes to each other.
Michael Lesser did, in fact, have to take that flight. He just hated to see such young people so sad. Michael was 60 years old, although he looked more like 35. He worked very hard on his physical appearance. He found that children thought he was less threatening if he looked like a movie star.
Once he was out of the airport, Michael Lesser stopped to greet an old friend on the street. His friend was Molly Brown, who was fourteen years old. They talked for a few minutes, making her late for her ballet rehearsal. Her ballet teacher had been having a particularly bad day, and got so fed up that she walked out of the rehearsal. She went to a restaurant where she had an emergency brunch with her psychiatrist, Gwyneth. The ballet teacher told Gwyneth all about her troubles for an hour. Gwyneth left, and having nothing better to do, she decided that she would call her chauffeur early; she was quite well off and got driven around in a limo. He arrived and she jumped in. The driver, who had forgotten about Gwyneth’s appointment and was late for a social arrangement with a fellow driver named Haiter, was going especially fast.
And it just so happened that at that exact moment, the movie was ending, and a crying Julie Replin was stumbling out of the theater, not paying attention to the crossing signals. Gwyneth was on the phone. The driver was looking at his watch. Julie was looking at the ground. The light was green.
And at the precise second that the limousine smashed into Julie, and as her bones crushed and her skull cracked, leaving a trail of blood smeared across the road, Mark Replin, Haiter, Brandon, Angela, Andy, Rory, Michael Lesser, Molly Brown, and the ballet teacher all sneezed.