This was an unexpected stop, an island in the South Pacific. The flight had started as a typical press junket, a chance to experience the best Franco-European engineering. We drink champagne from little plastic cups in a hangar. We eat pâté from miniature pancakes beneath the wing of an aircraft with a thick whale belly; it is a pregnant aircraft that delivered parts across Europe for a few months, an aerial barge now long-since decommissioned and left in the hangar as a testament to a future that never happened. We gather round a fat man’s phone and watch a documentary from 1976; we watch this analogue future, so much more exciting than this future; even if it is slower, cruder. We prefer the blurred lines on the film; we dislike the clean photos on our phones, the perfect women we will never meet and the impossibility of escape from our relatives, whose video calls emanate from hospital beds and nursing homes as a spectral rebuke. We sold our patrimony for an anime personal assistant and an app that tells us where and when to eat and sleep.
The aircraft, despite its vast range, is still strictly in the experimental phase. I stand in front of a rack of computer equipment positioned where the passengers should be playing on their phones. Later, I feel that I should have been afraid. This was a precarious moment, the equipment—I am only here to write about it, I do not understand it—could be sabotaged with a simple tug on the exposed wires, and that would be the end of the aircraft’s critical systems. The temptation, like standing on the lip of the Hoover Dam, looking down some outflow chute to the centre of the Earth, is to pull the wires. Pull the wires and kill yourself, and everyone on the aircraft. Somehow, up here, though I know there are thousands of feet below us, the vertigo is contained. I have to stand with my face right at the window of the emergency exit, the escape handle beneath me, to feel my stomach drop away. Just imagine, if I pull this lever…the door tumbling into space, kept strictly on the horizontal by the aircraft’s wake, and my body—no aerial sail—dropping straight down.
Our actual descent is abrupt enough for people to review their coping strategies. I have no doubt: this is a bad situation. It took me years to ignore other people; they know, of course, that we are in trouble, but still they manage to come up with some benign explanation. There is a brief discussion regarding the adjustment of altitude, some technical jargon is used. Then, in defiance of purely human concerns, the aircraft takes on a steeper angle. I see the Pacific beneath us and grip my hand rest. I never liked flying. How did I end up writing about aircraft for a living? It was a purely abstract matter…
Our landing is hard and elicits a squeal from the female journalist that expresses the essence of the problem: we are born to die and know it. There is no point describing the squeal, except to say that you know it even if you have never heard it; perhaps it is locked in the genes, the archetypal genie, the ancestral memory of a chimp-man stoning your mother to death among the rushes. Then, as so often happens, it is an anticlimax; we are alive and standing on some cracked runway, standing on the archeology of the Cold War, and wild pigs are running from us at the far end of the airstrip. The stranger thing, at the runway’s end, is the statue. Oh antique statue, with Mongoloid features and eyes like globes. “It’s quite grotesque,” I say, and my colleagues sneer inwardly at my archaic speech…So affected, why can’t he be normal?
We spend the night on the aircraft, after exploring the clear waters of the beach. We spend the night watching the statue.