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The old plane whirls upwards in the morning fresh air to reach jump altitude. A quarter of an hour earlier we left the ground, a meadow smelling of morning dew, and now here I am lined up with the others on the iron bench, wondering why I am sitting in this noisy contraption instead of wandering down the shady paths where the scented breeze bows the trees, and the banks of fine sand are caressed by the sea; why am I trying to act like a big bird when I have neither feathers nor wings? Let’s be honest, I know why. To prove I can face the sky, my fear, the wind, and put my life at risk to understand its price and value… And what if it is all a waste of effort? What if, once I am back on earth after the test awaiting me, I am just the same, identical, timid, unsure of everything? That is what goes through my head as I wait, squeezed in between my two parachutes. The big one, the back one, the corolla, the mushroom that will open with a sharp crack at the moment I choose, and the other one, the small one, the last resort if the first one does not deploy properly or becomes entangled… With my helmet, biker’s goggles and leather boots, I look like a phoney rider of the apocalypse. My companions, all experienced, with freefall jumps with records like long shopping lists, are keeping a protective eye on me. I am an eaglet on the edge of the nest, atop a rocky peak, and they are eagles used to jumping, gliding and spinning in that space opening up beneath our feet. They are looking at me with affection, seemingly wondering if this little bird, who is one of their own, will survive his first freefall jump. I have already done parachute jumps, the usual jumps, classic and easy, my parachute opening all by itself when the cord attaching it to the plane reached the end of its travel. As a mere spectator of the white corolla singing in the wind as it deploys, I have learned to steer myself in the sky, gesticulating like crazy, pulling on the lines to avoid the treetops, a farm roof or any other unexpected obstacle and choose the place where I will set down my feet. Freefall jumping is a completely different matter, a really dangerous jump. Jumping and stretching out your arms, plummeting down, gliding, twisting and cavorting for a few moments, a few more seconds, and then positioning yourself facing the ground, opening your parachute, not too soon, not too late, not letting yourself get too carried away by the sensation of being a bird, supported by the air carrying you, and descending to the earth in the gentle whistling of the lines... And dreaming, dreaming that you are someone else, that you are, at one and the same time, the master of your body, your mind and the sky.

The instructor has raised his arm. Through the side door that has remained open I can see the endless sky. I have to jump. Too late to say no. There are ten of us, I am the third. I’m frightened. The instructor is looking at me and smiling. I jump, I don’t exist any more I am flying, flying… Look, Mom, I’m a bird… I stretch out my arms, my hands twist, I am winded, the two who went before me are tumbling below. The earth is getting closer, I must open my parachute, it’s automatic, a reflex, pull the handle. A huge white flower unfurls above me, silence in the sky, the calm of eternity. The next seven jumpers drop like stones and open their parachutes. No, one of them has got entangled and is falling straight down, he opens his chest parachute, the lines entwine. My God, he’s getting tangled in the lines, he’s going to crash… I sway like the pendulum of a clock, I pull on the lines, I spin my body round to get nearer to his trajectory, to catch him as he goes past, as he speeds past to the great beyond… I hear his desperate cry, I must catch him, I must catch him…

A bundle of fabric and cords – with a desperate guy on the end who is about to die – falls like bombshell onto the white dome of my chute which crumples for a moment, an endless moment… I grip it with all my strength, he clings onto me, the white dome redeploys, we are facing each other, in the blue of the sky. Behind his goggles, through the tears, there is a thank you, a feeble smile and astonishment… Did you see, Mom? I saved a man. Now I am one myself…

Translated by Wendy Cross

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