Paula was startled awake by the flight attendant’s announcement, “Senhoras e senhores, acabamos de ser desembarcados no aeroporto de Fuchal. Por favor, certifique-se de uma última vez que o cinto de segurança está firmemente preso….”
She didn’t understand Portuguese and didn’t bother to listen. As the attendant repeated the message in German, Paula shoved her backpack farther under the seat in front of her, sat up straighter, and positioned herself to look out her window.
She couldn’t see the airport and was drawn to the buttercream-colored houses, hundreds of them, jumbled together, all topped with the same terracotta tile roofs. Unlike scenes in the United States, the houses were not lined up in rows in residential blocks, on perpendicular streets. Rather, they were perched, tucked into the rugged volcanic mountain, dotted with green flora. She strained to look closer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been cleared to land at the Funchal Airport. Please make sure your seat belt is securely fastened. The flight attendants are currently passing through the cabin to make a final compliance check and pick up any remaining cups and glasses. Thank you.”
The plane suddenly shifted violently to the right. Paula’s head cracked against the window.
Aw, man…that’ll be a goose egg!
She reached up to rub her forehead, but, she missed the spot just as her entire body jerked up, sideways, jolting her hips against the seat belt. Her stomach turned.
As the plane straightened, sharp bile slowly found its way up to the back of her throat. She choked and swallowed hard, forcing the smudge back down.
The loudspeaker crackled, “Senhoras e senhores, o Capitão ligou o cinto de segurança. Estamos agora atravessando uma zona de. Por favor, devolva seus lugares e Cintos de segurança presos. Obrigado. Tripulação de cabine, por favor, sente-se.”
Paula recognized turbulência, even in Portuguese, and ignored the German and English versions.
Her goose egg was numbed and swelling. She checked for blood.
As Paula prepared for this, the first leg of her worldwide travel adventure, her research was a cursory review of Madeira Island, Portugal. She was fascinated by the scenic views of the rugged peaks, precipitous cliffs, stone bridges, the botanical gardens, Madeira wine and beer, and the variety of ecosystems on this island, thirty-eight miles long and fourteen miles wide. She had little interest in the less romantic attributes, such as airport location and runway.
Crap, the damn landing strip is out over the water! Does it connect to land, at all?
The plane descended more steeply now. She closed her eyes, tightened her grip on the armrests, bracing herself for a hard landing.
Without warning, the descent shifted upwards, slamming her tailbone into the leather seat. Her neck snapped down into her shoulders. The pressure gradually increased to an intensity, threatening to collapse her vertebrae at the base of her spine.
Paula pushed down on the armrests, with all her might, lifting her bottom above her seat to relieve the growing pain in her butt. Finally, the plane roared to the left and shifted the pressure to her right hip.
Babies squalled. Adults wailed.
Heat, generating from her lower back, permeated her chest and her neck and stung her armpits. Her top lip was slick with sweat. Her Istanbul black leather boots seemed to shrink, burning her toes and choking her ankles.
The piercing shrieks subsided. The cabin buzzed with relief, but, children still wailed.
Paula lowered her head and wiped her upper lip and nose with her forearm. She heard another announcement but didn’t bother listening. It was clear. The pilot had missed the landing again.
The plane righted and readied itself again. This time, the wobbling started sooner and was more violent. The plane flipped sideways, nearly perpendicular to the ocean, smashing Paula’s head and shoulders into the window. She could see the wings sag against the strain of gravity. It was too much. She managed to pull the shade shut.
That bile in the back of her throat forced its way passed her tongue, to her teeth. She pursed her lips, holding back the silt, and with all her might, swallowed. Acid stung her nose the base of her tongue. Hot tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes.
The cabin tossed right and left, repeatedly. The wings rattled, creaked and stretched as they jounced upwards in a severe climb. The engines rumbled to an elevated pitch, then, settled back to normal.
The cabin was a cacophony of wailing and screeching. Someone shouted, “Cale-se! Halt die klappe! Shut up!”
The man sitting behind her gagged and vomited. The putrid stench wafted forward.
Paula lifted the shade. They were over the ocean again.
Portuguese over the loudspeaker interrupted the chaos and the cabin hushed in anticipation.
“Senhoras e senhores, este é o vosso capităo. Lamento esta turbulência ... por favor fique sentado com o cinto de segurança preso. A Torre de Controlo do Funchal informa que os ventos transversais estão a diminuir. Faremos um círculo mais uma vez e aterrissaremos em segurança. Se precisar de assistência, ligue para um atendente. Obrigado pela sua paciência.”
Call buttons dinged all over the cabin.
The announcement was repeated in German and finally, in English.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. I am sorry for this turbulence...please stay seated with your seatbelt fastened. Funchal control tower reports the crosswinds are subsiding. We will circle one more time and land safely. If you need assistance, please call for an attendant. Thank you for your patience.”
More call buttons sounded and illuminated.
Paula looked over to the middle-aged couple sitting next to her. Arms tight around each other, they whimpered and whispered in a language Paula didn’t recognize. They nodded to her and went back to themselves again.
Paula righted herself in her seat and pulled her sweater back down from under her arms. She checked her watch.
Thirty minutes late...seems like we been doin’ this for hours.
The aircraft gently turned toward the runway again. Any crosswinds that had subsided hadn’t subsided much on Paula’s side of the aircraft. She stopped breathing and watched the wings tip back and forth as they lowered toward the runway.
They were jolted up and down, but the wings steadied. Paula’s breathing mirrored the engines, roaring and diminishing in short bursts, again and again. The landing gear dropped with a slight tremor, causing the plane to drag slightly.
They coasted, slowly, smoothly.
Engines surged loudly, again.
What? Oh...okay, okay...we’re floating.
Serenity continued as the runway surface below seemed to rise, gradually growing nearer to the aircraft and finally making firm contact with the wheels.
“Bem-vindo ao Aeroporto do Funchal, Ilha da Madeira, Portugal, Senhoras e Senhores Deputados…Welcome to Funchal Airport, Madeira Island, Portugal, ladies and gentlemen.”
The cabin erupted into loud applause and cheers.
Paula relaxed as they taxied to the gate. Once completely calm, she pulled her backpack out from under the seat in front of her and dug around inside the first zippered area for a mint or something to settle her stomach. She found the luscious naval orange she had packed to stave off hunger. Pressing the sweet rind against her nose to clear her throat of the nasty, persistent acidic bile, her stomach growled relief.
Oranges were her favorite fruit, and the refreshing scent whisked her back in time to a childhood memory. She was five.