"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have now arrived at Philadelphia International Airport. It's 1.30pm and the temperature is fifty seven degrees. Your cabin crew will shortly be opening the doors. In the meantime, may I thank you for travelling British Airways and wish you a pleasant onward journey to your destination."
Elisabeth Mulcahy began packing her things into her small flight bag. She moved from the plane almost on autopilot, walking past the families with fractious children and business people hurrying to their meetings. She collected her bags from the conveyor belt in silence. Beside her, a mother and father with a little girl were struggling to keep the child calm. As the woman watched for their bags, the father lifted his daughter into his arms and began tickling her. The little girl's tired tears began to dry up as she allowed herself to giggle under her Daddy's attentions. Elisabeth stood transfixed, until she realised she was staring in a slightly rude manner. She averted her gaze and noticed her bag had been going round the carousel, and so she grabbed it and headed through to customs.
Father Francis Mulcahy stood in front of the arrivals gate. He had picked a position from which he could see both the screen which would announce the arrival of the plane, and the sliding doors through which his daughter would soon be walking. To say he was excited was an understatement. He hadn't seen her for nearly six months, not since her graduation ceremony in London. He was used to such long periods of separation from the only girl in his life, but this time was more than a visit. This time Elisabeth was coming home for good. Although he was delighted that she would be living near him again, his joy was tempered by the reasons. She was coming home because he had gone deaf. Completely deaf. The little hearing which he had held onto for the past thirty six years had finally deserted him. He could no longer manage in company to follow a conversation, or hear announcements over loud speakers. He couldn't hear the choir singing in church at Sunday mass. He couldn't even hear the sound of his own voice through the distorted noises inside his head which had replaced his ability to live his life.
Mulcahy glanced upwards to the monitor above his head. The word 'landed' had been flashing next to Elisabeth's flight details for the last half an hour. He was growing impatient now. He just wanted to see her, to check that she really was alright. Even though she was now 25 years old, he still worried about her; just like any parent would.
Elisabeth finally passed the last desk in customs and shuffled amongst the holidaymakers towards the end of her journey. She stepped through the sliding doors and into the noisy arrivals hall. She looked around her, searching the swarm of bodies for the face which she recognised. In the end, he saw her first, and she turned round when she heard him call her name.
Her face broke into wide smile when she saw it was him, and with a joyous cry, she rushed over towards him. He couldn't stop himself laughing as she rode the luggage trolley in an attempt to get to him quicker. Skidding to a halt immediately before impact with a bench, she jumped off and they embraced each other as though they had been apart for years.
Mulcahy stroked her long hair as he held her. Her slight body still felt so fragile in his arms, and for the millionth time he was scared that he might crush the life out of her. Elisabeth hugged him back just as tightly, breathing in his musky smell and feeling the roughness of his cheek against her forehead. It felt good to be back.
She stepped back from him and they smiled at each other as though their faces might crack. "How are you?" she asked, carefully. She watched him watching her closely as she spoke. His careful studying of her lip movements brought it home to Elisabeth that he could no longer hear her voice.
"I'm fine. Fine. Making the most of my free time." He smiled at her, and pulled her close again. "Oh, sweetheart, it's so good to have you home. Come on, let's get back and get you settled."
He moved to take the trolley from her, but she shook her head firmly.
"Don't be daft, Dad. I've brought all this junk all the way from London, I can manage to last few yards to the car!"
They began walking in the direction of the car park, Elisabeth pushing her overloaded trolley ahead of her. To anyone watching, this was just a normal father collecting his daughter from the airport, as Mulcahy had left his roman collar and other symbols of office at home. This was his normal practice when he came to collect her from whichever airport she was arriving at, and there had been many over the years. After one or two embarrassing comments from strangers regarding his enthusiastic embracing of his daughter, he decided long ago that it was better to be a father with a small 'f' where Elisabeth was concerned.
As they arrived at the pay machine for the car park, Elisabeth stood back whilst Mulcahy waited in line. When his turn came, he stepped forwards and began following the instructions on the small screen.
Suddenly, all hell broke lose. A loud siren went off somewhere in the airport. People stopped in their tracks and looked around as a disembodied voice rained down on them.
"An emergency situation has arisen in the airport. Please leave the building in a calm and controlled manner by the nearest exit. Thank you."
The announcement began to loop as people hurried for the doors. Elisabeth glanced around her for their nearest exit and called out to Mulcahy.
"Dad, come on. We've got to go."
She looked at him, and her heart went into freefall from her chest to somewhere near her navel. Mulcahy was standing in front of the machine, calmly rummaging through the coinage from his pockets looking for the correct change and pushing it into the parking machine. He was oblivious to the simmering panic which was bubbling around them both. Elisabeth stepped forward and placed her hand on his arm. He jumped slightly at the unexpected touch.
"Dad? We have to go," she said to him.
Mulcahy smiled and nodded. "I know, but I need to pay for the ticket first." He turned back and continued with his task. Elisabeth felt her eyes start to burn as salty tears threatened to crack her calm composure. She pulled at his arm again.
"No, Dad. We need to go now. It's an emergency. The fire alarm is sounding. We have to leave the building."
Mulcahy took his ticket from the machine and looked around him at the now almost empty concourse. He realised what was happening and felt hideously embarrassed by his own ignorance.
"Oh dear, I'm… I'm sorry," he stuttered.
"It's OK," Elisabeth said, "Let's just get going now."
As they began towards the door, a stocky man in a security uniform came up to them.
"Come on, do you want to burn to death? It's an emergency." He looked at Mulcahy. "Are you stupid or what?"
Elisabeth's temper came roaring into her throat, and she let rip.
"He's not stupid, you ignorant monkey. He's deaf. If anyone's of limited intelligence here it's you. Why don't you go hang yourself, you idiot?"
She pushed her luggage though the door and followed Mulcahy through the throngs of evacuees towards the car park. They said nothing as they made their way the car and the silence continued as she loaded her luggage into the car. It was only when they were seated inside that Mulcahy felt able to speak.
"What did you say to that man?" he asked.
Elisabeth blushed, and searched for a way to get out of telling him the whole truth. It was useless lying, he always caught her out.
"I told him you were deaf, and that we were on our way. That's all."
"Well, more or less."
Mulcahy sighed and started up the engine, hoping that Elisabeth wouldn't notice the colour of his cheeks which gave away exactly how he felt at having his child fight his battles for him.