A smattering of relieved applause broke out inside the plane as we screeched to a halt on the alarmingly short Zanzibar runway. Fellow passengers who had boarded with us in Abu Dhabi blatantly ignored the illuminated seatbelt signs, leaping to their feet as the seven-four-seven taxied to a stop. Polite appeals to remain seated by glamorous Gulf Air staff wearing grey scarves and pill box hats went unheeded. We had arrived. Having been ill for the past twelve hours, visions of yellow rice and slimy okra swimming in front of my eyes, I groaned at the thought of having to move or leave the cosseted safety of the aeroplane cabin.
Across the aisle, a man dressed in salwar kameez and open sandals stood to fling open an overhead locker while a large gentleman in billowing African robes started shouting exuberantly into his mobile phone. Every now and then we were treated to a blast of his deep resonant laugh. Clank, clank, more lockers were opening like gaping mouths. From the dark recesses flowed brightly coloured, overstuffed bags, suitcases, plastic carriers in greens and yellows. In front of us, a woman wearing a gaudy tie-die dress with matching starched headdress, asked if she could pass her neighbour to get out into the aisle. She shoved passed her demure neighbour, who, dressed in black robes and niqab veil, acquiesced silently. A child cried out from somewhere near the back. I turned to look, spotting a girl of no more than five years old wearing a Sunday smock, all shiny peach layers with white frills. Her suited father scooped her up in his arms.
Amid all the activity I put my head between my knees, overwhelmed by a fresh wave of nausea. Tom squeezed in amongst fellow passengers, to reach down our bags. He threw backpacks, day bags and bottled water down onto the empty seat beside me. The air-conditioning had been switched off and the plane now smelt pungently of sweat. When I looked out through the oval window, beyond the tarmac apron there were tall coconut palms, mango trees, lush green grass and an airport terminal that was simply a couple of corrugated iron huts.
Two gossiping ladies wearing pastel coloured dresses with strange looking hooded capes pushed forward along the aisle even though the doors were not yet open. Finally the aeroplane doors opened. A hennaed hand appeared, grasping the headrest in front of my face. A man wearing robes and a prayer cap carried a crates something, was it chickens?
‘Come on Lucy. We need to move.’
‘Wait a minute, let’s wait for the rush to pass.’ I said.
Tom perched on the armrest of his seat distractedly. I could see he was itching to disembark.
Our journey from London had lasted an age. During the midway stopover in Abu Dhabi, Tom had raced around the mosaic tiled airport terminal in search of a doctor while I pod I struggled to get comfortable on a row of unyielding plastic seats and gazed helplessly out through huge tinted windows at rolling sand dunes, interrupted intermittently by fruitless retching into airsick bags. Up until this point I’d hardly travelled, hardly been anywhere. I wondered what the hell I was doing here.
“I know I promised in sickness and in health but this is pushing it!” Tom said when he returned with some anti-nausea pills.
We’d only been married two days. Honestly, there wasn’t much romance about the situation.