After ten weeks without a splinter of fuselage, the international news networks began to withdraw. The story wasn’t moving forward, editors informed correspondents by email and mobile phone. They couldn’t justify keeping good people out there on a what-if. Of course, they’d send the crews back when the plane was found. But not while the only news was no news. It was over all right? Good night. Let the local guys cover for them. The press briefing room lost a few citizens each day, a fact the remaining journalists tried to hide in their evening reports with clever camera angles. The coveted front seats cleared of lens bags and fancy microphones. Gen got up.
As a stringer for a local agency, his natural place was at the back of the room, cabin class. No cameraman to help him shove his way into the front row; no network acronym to tape across a prime seat. Now he upgraded his notebook and coat to a chair right in front of the podium as the big guys packed up expensive equipment. How come you’re still here, one of the last TV anchors asked him. It’s not happening man. They’re never going to find that thing. Gen shrugged. He lived here. His time was cheap. And he could speak Chinese, as well as Malaysian. He was a translator.
A translator eh? The American journalist leaned over and dealt him a card. Joe Messner, ANN. Give us a holler if anything looks promising. He pulled out a couple of twenties, slid them into Gen’s hand like you’d tip a waiter in a gangster movie. We’ll pay you. And then he was gone – but not far. The door had barely swung shut before the shouting started, a festival of angry Chinese voices breathing fire on the other side of the wall, demanding to know why the media had given up on their relatives. Gen could hear Messner struggling for control. He turned the card over, saw the phone and fax numbers rearrange themselves into rent, school uniforms, dental work, and made a decision. He would go and translate Messner’s conversation.
The crowd was incendiary, a bag of flammables in the hold, a firework display waiting for a match. Grief had taken reason hostage. Gen had to fight his way to his new friend’s side. The American was not grateful to see him. Why are they so pissed, he asked, as though Gen was personally responsible. What are they saying? Gen leaned in. They think the Western media has abandoned them, he said, patting a hand in the air to try and appease the crowd. They say you don’t care about Asian lives. Asian deaths. Messner shook his head no, not the case, but the crowd read the gesture as a dismissal of their concerns and surged forward. There was a flash of metal as a blade – a box cutter or maybe even just a nail file – was thrust toward the two men. Gen moved instinctively in front of the American, the forty-odd dollars between them turning him into a bodyguard without a contract. A fist reached the translator’s chest and stopped flush against it, but the blade had gone – vanished, mid-air, without a trace. A good thing, thought Gen. Still, he felt a peculiar fluttering in his chest, a sensation that was not entirely dissimilar to an itch but was located just beneath his ribs.