Just as we were about to touch the ground, the aircraft made a huge rumbling sound. The passengers had already begun to fidget in preparation - a quick run of comb, mobile phones ready to be switched on, newspapers rumpled and pushed into seat pockets. Before anything could register we were up in the air again; all I could see outside was a veil of furious rain.
After a few minutes in which I heard nervous laughter, we landed with a thud. There was spontaneous applause. Sometimes, just being alive is an achievement. Some landings - and lives - are smooth. Some are not. I remember another occasion, another city...
I am usually quite happy floating over clouds, and I was that day. I had even enjoyed the meal on board. Suddenly, we were being tossed about and looked quite silly since we were buckled at the waist, so heads fell forward and legs stayed rooted to the floor.
This was not the usual air-pocket and turbulence. It seemed more ominous. I wasn’t sure whether looking at the co-passengers was a good idea, for there was either obvious fear or hesitant smiles. I did not want to shut my eyes. If the inevitable were to happen I ought to know how. The sight of the flight attendants carrying vomit bags was making me uncomfortable.
I brought out my wet wipes and cleaned my face and then I tried to think of the significant things in my life. Nothing registered.
Since there was no one whose hand I could hold, I joined my hands together, entwined them and kissed my favourite ring, brushed it rather inconspicuously. I smiled faintly at the elderly gentleman across the aisle. Suddenly, I wanted to experience old age...
I was trying to remember all the safety instructions – when would the oxygen mask drop? How the hell was I to breathe when I know I feel suffocated by anything enclosed? I tried to feel the bottom of my seat and wondered if one were to fall in water would the darn thing float? And the life-jacket – knowing me I would not know how to pull the string or blow into the pipe.
I put my handbag on my lap, and started rummaging inside. I took an inventory:one purse, a pocket diary (lots of empty pages...), four pens; a small perfume bottle, lip-gloss, medicines, some writing paper, cellphone, comb, sunglasses, face tissues, lemon drops, glue-stick (heck, I am prepared for everything except death, which thankfully does not require high maintenance)...
I then pulled out a piece of gum and started chewing on it. I was tempted to make little bubbles, but restrained myself.
It was 45 minutes of circling before we could land. The reason was a sudden drop in temperature, from 47 C to 28 C.
A hot and dry city was raining and there was a dust storm.
On my way out I made my first call: “I have arrived,” I said.
“Yes, the weather has changed.”