I feel like a proud mother waiting here behind the glass barrier that separates me from the airfield. But the video camera isn’t for my child. It’s for my husband, Michel, who is right now carrying out final checks on a tiny DA40 airplane with his instructor. In a few minutes he will climb into the pilot’s seat for his first flight and I’ve promised to immortalise the moment on video.
Only I forgot to charge the battery to the video camera last night and it looks like it’s going to die before the plane has a chance to get onto the runway.
Michel looks up from his work to give me a smile and a wave. I return them both and hope that I’ve sufficiently masked the panic on my face as I realise there’s only 20% of battery left.
“Stay calm, Vanessa”, I say to myself. But staying calm has never been my strongest virtue – precisely the reason why I would’ve loved my husband to sink his teeth into a less stressful hobby, like stamp collecting for example. But in the 10 years we’ve been together I’ve learnt that his happiness is found in challenging situations.
Our first backpacking trip to the islands of Cabo Verde in 2003 is a case in point.
I was ready to go home after a particularly scary landing on the island of Santiago, where the brakes on the plane failed to catch due to the torrential rain. If my nerves were frayed, the whole experience only energised Michel and boosted his adrenaline level.
I calmed down somewhat during the bus ride from the airport into the town of Assomada, our first port of call on the island. The trip was entertaining and reminded me of holidays in India when we managed to pack mini vans with small armies of people and their belongings. But this feeling slowly gave way to annoyance as a shifty Cape Verdian woman flirted outrageously with Michel and then followed us around the island for the rest of our time there.
Oh, and did I mention the 6 hour trek in the blistering heat of the Cabo Verdian sun with only a small lipstick marked bottle of water, given to us by two kindly Russian women we met along the way?
Throughout everything that happened those two weeks, my husband kept cool, answering my angry ramblings with a phrase I came to detest by the end of the holiday, “Just think of the stories you’ll have to tell!”
“I’d have a story to tell, if only this damn plane would get off the ground”, I think. My arm’s beginning to hurt trying to hold the video camera still and the battery life is dangerously close to zero. How long are these checks going to take?
I flip the ‘off’ switch once again and am suddenly conscious of the butterflies fluttering around in my tummy. You’d think I’d be used to this craziness by now. After all this is the man, who feeling the need for mustard one beautiful Saturday morning, decided to drive us 3 hours, from our home in Switzerland to the French town of Dijon, to get some. This is also the man who, 72 hours after a short joy ride in a small airplane, signed up for classes to train to be a pilot. He barrelled through the coursework in 6 months, hitting the books every night after work so that he could take to the air with all his exams behind him.
The plane starts to move and I fumble with the ‘on’ button. The camera flickers to life and I see my husband move past on the small screen, listening intently to his instructor. And then as they reach the start of the runway, the plane slows to a stop and the motor of the plane changes from a deafening whirr to a steady hum. It looks like he needs to receive a few more instructions before take off.
Unfortunately, this gives me enough time to study the plane. Jesus – it’s just a tiny capsule with wings. Why did I say yes to him starting flying lessons? In a while it will be me in the passenger seat. There isn’t even a toilet on board. What if I need to wee, mid-air?
These are the kinds of details that never bother Michel. He can sleep and wee in the worst possible places, a useful skill he picked up when doing his mandatory service in the Swiss army. I only used the squatter toilets in India and South Korea because he stood outside the door and wouldn’t let me leave until I did the business. His usual reproach, “You’re such a city girl”, is always on the tip of his tongue.
I asked him for his definition of “city girl travel” once. He said, “Your idea of a holiday is getting on a tour bus at 7:00am to visits museums and other boring stuff. You eat on the go and go back to your hotel room tired, having never experienced the country. You stay in comfortable hotels with all the conveniences of home.”
I thought he’d stop there, but he continued, “And do you know how to relax? Do you know what it’s like to flop out on a beach just for the pleasure of soaking in some sun?” To which I replied, “Indian people don’t do beaches. We’ve already got a bloody tan, if you haven’t noticed.”
I did, however, see his point after our vacation in the Maldives. After doing nothing but eat, sleep and read cheap paperbacks, we’d finish off the day on the beach, with a cocktail in hand, watching the sun set. I came back to Switzerland a new woman.
Now that I think back on it, it was when watching the Maldivian air taxis bring in tourists for the week that Michel first told me about his desire to fly. And now he seems to be well on his way to making that dream a reality.
Though getting the plane off the ground would be a step in the right direction, right about now.
The engine suddenly whirs back to life and I see Michel sit up straight in his seat. I quickly flick on the camera to see that that battery had now dwindled down to 2% of its capacity. “Common. Get a move on,” I mutter to myself.
I try to imagine what he must be feeling as the plane starts moving down the run way and picks up speed. A part of me is envious that I’m not there to share the magic with him. As I watch the wheels leave the ground, I let out a little whoop and begin to whistle Sinatra’s “Come fly with me” as the battery graciously decides to call it a day. And as I look at the tiny speck in the sky, I can only imagine the story he will have to tell me when he touches down!