- Vol. 08
- Chapter 03
The airport stretched just beyond the strip of beach and silver barbed fence with ominous words printed on prismatic hoardings;
Do Not Stand. Danger. Jet Blast.
The warnings deterred nobody. We ran as fast as we were able in flip-flops on the hot sand of Maho to the precarious runway nestled in the shadows of rainforest covered hills. Straight from the Sunset Bar, sticky plastic beakers in hand, frothed pina colada and cranberry-pink rum punch slopping over bare arms as we jostled for a space. Then, knuckles contorted in a hexagonal wire grip, we awaited the KLM Boeing 747 due in from Amsterdam at 15.00.
The beach was univiting compared to Orient Bay with its inclement surf breaks and colourful shipwrecks, or the sloped pale-gold beaches of Grand Case, paths fringed by fragrant lantana and coralita. Tourists only came to Maho to listen to Sweet Home Alabama on the beach terrace and to be close to the behemoths which materialised on the horizon as tiny flies, tracking closer until the full mass of the aluminium fuselage blackened the sky above. They came to experience the evanescent mini-eclipse and transitory chill as it swooped into land. Weeks later, back at home, they would develop Kodak film and flip through the photos which failed utterly to capture the fuel and heat and chaos.
It was exhilarating watching the columns of frozen air streams release, to spot the faces in the windows, blank, foreign, unknown to us. Travellers from Stuttgart or Denmark, Paris or Rotterdam.To imagine their stomachs knotted, clammy hands clasped in laps. We waited for the return flight to fill and the jet to taxi in preparation for the 16.15 departure.
The pilots undertook clipboard checks in the afternoon’s haze, opened throttles and ignited jets and manoeuvred in an awkward semi-circle next to the road, the plane’s hulk framed by bent and swaying palm trees. The white trucks and backward hats of spectators formed a tight band, tattooed holiday biceps flexed as the blue tail unleashed its aerodynamic force on the expectant crowds, rattling the small frail bodies, who hung prone, instantly weightless. The lighter amongst us lifted to a 90-degree angle while some let go, blew backwards on the shore, losing canvas shoes, rucksacks and paperbacks, shedding layers of repression. Everything tumbling in a cyclonic maelstrom into the Caribbean Sea.
Some were injured and dishevelled from the departure as we sat sand-blasted and breathless on the concrete, contemplating the metal bird that had just departed. People I would never meet and their memories returned across the ocean to their ordinary lives. The plane was our regular reminder of transit, of our limitations. For a few seconds each day technology lifted us from the ground and we floated in a jet stream forgetting our provenance and as yet unfulfilled destinations. We let the roar of wind and dust file our rough edges just a little and fill us up with potential.