The next drop in altitude came as a gut-twisting plunge toward the sea that lifted Adel clear off his seat, the safety belt biting into his thighs. A loud decelerating roar from both propellers followed, with an ominous succession of snap-like sounds alongside the fuselage. The French woman holding hands with her husband or boyfriend behind Adel let out another terrified yelp, just as the Twin Otter seemed to stabilize for a spell, the pilot of the small Air Caraïbes plane turning to flash his six passengers a shit-eating grin.
“Gonna be okay, folks,” he nodded fervently, “we’ll be touching down real soon now.”
Adel noted the beads of sweat on the pilot’s forehead, the tension in his face. He could smell the man’s perspiration fogging the cockpit and regretted taking the first seat in the cabin. He turned to his window and glanced at the symphony of blues outside, bright azure meeting deep ultra-marine on the lazy curve of the horizon. A band of indolent white clouds throwing their distended shadows on the water’s surface below. No land in sight.
We’ll be touching down real soon.
One way or another.
The nineteen-seater lurched wildly to one side, then dropped again.
“Oh, mon Dieu!” gasped the woman.
Adel noticed his own white-knuckled grip on both armrests and wondered if he was about to die. Here. Now. A few days shy of his twenty-ninth birthday, on his way to tiny tropical St.-Barts, French West Indies. Ironically because he thought Marseille had become too dangerous for him.
Adel couldn’t remember which day of the week it was, and this bothered him. A weekday, he was fairly certain. But which one?
“Five minutes, folks!” the pilot cried out.
Which meant they were already halfway through the ten-minute flight from Saint-Martin. Adel leaned forward to gaze past the pilot’s shoulder through the cockpit’s windshield, once again amazed by time’s ability to shift depending on the situation. The island now stood right in front of him, jagged volcanic hills covered with green vegetation and surrounded by white sand beaches, a halo of turquoise water.
The Twin Otter began its descent, pitching from side to side, causing the French woman to whimper.
Shut the fuck up.
Adel tried to tune her out, concentrating on the view outside his window, a shimmering natural harbor dotted with red-roofed buildings now visible to the right of the plane.
Gustavia, the ‘capital’ of the eight square-mile island.
Adel looked back ahead and in the distance saw the short strip of runway he’d read about. Just over two-thousand-feet-long, sandwiched between a hill and the iridescent bay of Saint-Jean. Pilots had to get some kind of renewable qualification to be allowed to land here.
This is gonna be interesting.
The plane descended further, Adel realizing how windy it actually was down there, palm fronds twisting in violent gusts, white caps on the water of the bay.
A low modulated howl rose from the seat behind.
“Ah, ta gueule, Stéphanie,” snapped the woman’s companion, “ça va aller maintenant, hein?”
Adel cracked a smile.
He couldn’t have put it better himself.
The Otter maintained its altitude for half a minute or so, drawing a bead on this one hill and road above the runway. Vehicles cresting it one after the other. Cars. A small truck. A minivan with a taxi sign on its roof. More cars. Getting bigger. The plane was almost on them when Adel saw a young man drive up on a bright yellow scooter. T-shirt flapping in the wind, tanned skin. Mirror sunglasses but no helmet, a golden aureole of electric hair. So close Adel thought the landing gear would hit him.
Might have, for all he knew.
The twin-engine dove right over the top of the hill with its nose aimed at the tarmac and the ground shot toward them, the plane leveling at the very last moment, its tires biting the asphalt with that brief squeal of tortured rubber. Adel saw the bay coming at him way too fast as the fuselage creaked and the engines roared.
Within seconds they’d reached the end of the runway and stopped at the very edge of the beach, lanky brown bodies sunbathing out there on blinding white sand, oblivious to the danger. Adel could feel his heart banging in his chest and almost laughed out loud.
Today’s not the day.
Fifteen minutes later he was in the airport bar, an al fresco area with a plain square wooden counter surrounded by stools. Adel dropped his backpack on the floor and climbed on one of them. There were a few tables farther inside, facing the runway. The bartender, a shriveled fig of a man in his late sixties, came to stand in front of him and grunted hello.
“Ti-punch,” said Adel, asking for the local cocktail.
The old barkeep poured the drink, about four ounces of hundred-proof Martinique rum with a squeeze of lime and dash of sugarcane syrup, no ice.
Adel took a fiery sip, grimaced, then lit a cigarette. He smoked it leisurely, absorbing the vibrant colors around him, the balmy and fragrant breeze, the softness of the light. It was close to four o’clock now and the wind appeared to have died down some. Adel finished his cocktail and waved for a second one, looking back outside. Small propeller planes kept zooming on and off the runway at a surprising pace for such a tiny airport but only seemed to carry a limited amount of passengers. Locals, Adel figured. Since this was still the off-season, with lots of hotels and restaurants shut down for almost another full month.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish