A thick plume of black smoke and ash hung in the air in a heavy haze, almost completely obscuring the lurid red glow of the waning sun. Below, a cloud of grey plaster dust twisted and writhed amid the sea of debris as intermittent eddies of wind gusted by.
Everything was still.
All that could be heard was the distant wail of an ambulance siren, which rent the bitter evening air like a butcher’s knife through a carcass. It would’ve been hard to believe that only minutes ago the place had been alive with crowds and commotion and excitement; for now it stood empty. It seemed that time itself had stopped: that every clock, timepiece, wristwatch in the world had ceased to tick.
* * *
I can feel it throbbing around my wrist. Each tick drags me one second further in the countdown, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, reverse it, or slow it down. A bead of sweat trickles down my temple. Why hasn’t it arrived yet?
My eyes flit back and forth along the conveyor, scouring the endless succession of case after case for the small, black briefcase – but it doesn’t appear. I clench my fists, and I can feel my palms moistening. The seconds are dwindling away, and I can prevent them no more than the tumultuous thud of my heartbeat. I need that case. Right now, I don’t have the luxury of time.
There are only five minutes left.
“Please remove all sharp items, liquids, and flammable or explosive substances before entering security” blares a nasal, robotic voice from a speaker somewhere in the room. I shudder. What if security has found it? But they can’t have – we disguised it so well back in Peshawar.
Has there been a delay? The dread creeps through me like an icy chill. But there’s nothing I can do; nothing but wait and listen to the...
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...ll child screams to her parents. An explosive argument is occurring between a passenger and an assistant over at the check-in desk. The seconds keep ticking. I bite my cheek some more, and my mouth fills with blood.
The pulse in my wrist quickens, and I can feel it throbbing against my wristwatch in time with the incessant ticking.
Obscure tannoy announcements
I can still hear my watch tick, tick, ticking. Every second pulls me closer to the end and I know I can avoid it no more than the tumultuous thud of my heartbeat.
I can feel my nerves tingling like they’re being stroked with the blade of a sharpened knife.
The ticks seem to be getting louder and faster; echoing the tumultuous/intense thudding of my heart against my ribcage.
I’m frozen by sudden panic and my mind is offering me only one thought: they’ve found it, they’ve caught me. It’s a customs officer.