This is a personal essay detailing an experience I had several years ago on a flight between the Caribbean islands of Anguilla and Dominica.
I boarded the plane, risking one last glance behind me at the beautiful, flat landscape with palms swaying in the near distance. Anguilla had been heavenly.
As a small Caribbean island, well off the beaten tourist path, I had felt extremely fortunate to have spent four nights here. It had been the perfect place to unwind after an unfortunate start to my Caribbean island-hopping expedition (I got painfully burnt on the first day!).
The past week had flown by. I’d spent time exploring volcanos in St Lucia, swimming in crystal clear oceans in Antigua, wandering through quaint city streets in St Barthélemy and unwinding on lustrous beaches in Anguilla.
I was now heading to my final stop, and one that I knew extremely well – Barbados. I would be staying in Barbados for three nights before heading back to the UK. I was extremely excited to be spending the final moments of my trip in Barbados. Coming back here never felt like a chore and I could feel my stomach tingling with exhilaration as I wandered down the narrow isle in the plane, searching for my seat which was somewhere on the left-hand-side of the aircraft.
The plane was larger than the previous propeller planes I had taken. Although it was still narrow with only two seats on each side of the isle. I sat down beside the window.
I’d come to love these little propeller planes that hopped from island to island. It felt bittersweet that this would be my last one.
The familiar hum of the propellers screamed in my ears as we made our way down the runway. I looked out of my window as we began our ascent. Goodbye Anguilla!
What I didn’t know about this plane was that it was going to be performing a stop-off, roughly half-way through our journey, on an island called Dominica.
It was an intriguing concept. A plane ride consisting of multiple stops? It reminded me of being on a bus.
I’d never heard of Dominica before and the name automatically had me thinking of the Dominican Republic. Were they the same thing? I can tell you now, the two islands were totally different.
We were deep into our flight when I noticed some wheezing.
I strained my ears, pinpointing the sound to the row of seats directly in front of me.
I laid eyes on an old women dressed in vibrant purple with floral patterns. Her wrinkled face was screwed up in pain and the man sitting next to her (presumably a family member) was gently speaking to her and resting his hand on her.
Her breathing was slow and laboured and with each out breath, I caught a gurgle coming from her lungs.
This woman didn’t seem well.
As the flight drew on, the woman’s state began to deteriorate. The calm family member was becoming more frantic, trying to sooth her as much as possible but unable to hide their concern.
The woman’s breathing was becoming ever shallower, like she was gasping for air.
I felt helpless. I half-expected the woman to stop breathing altogether at any moment.
I gazed absently out of the window, the murmuring of people fading into the background when Dominica’s awe-inspiring form came into view. It was a breathtaking island.
We found ourselves gliding over an island carpeted with thick, pristine rainforest. Towering peaks rose up, dressed entirely in green. I made out the jagged coastline where red rocks and black-sand beaches met the vast expanse of blue ocean.
I had never seen anything like it.
I would have believed anyone who said I was arriving in Jurassic Park or The Lost World.
Houses were so infrequent and when they did occur they were massively spread out, each one enveloped by jungle. The roads were infrequent too. I mostly saw well-worn trails leading to quaint bungalows.
We began to descend, flying through a valley with majestic mountains on either side.
Our plane began to turn, one wing pointing to the sky and the other towards the dense jungle below, as it skirted a large mountain. I almost felt dizzy. But I was too excited to care.
The two mountains were running parallel with us and I almost felt like I was immersed within them.
Once again, I was in awe of just how little development there was. The rainforest went on for as far as the eye could see, broken up only by volcanic mountains.
Distressed voices bought me back to the plane.
The sick woman’s companion was taut with worry now and the wheezing had stopped. Was she still breathing? Her head was drooping and her eyes were closed.
I bit my lip, feeling waves of sadness and worry creep over me. I didn’t know this family but seeing the fragility of life was incredibly sobering.
Outside my window, I noticed the mountains were looming high above us now. We were coming in to land.
With a thud, we hit the tarmac before skidding down the runway, tall trees whizzing past the plane window.
We came to a stop outside a small orange building which I assumed must have been the airport terminal.
Other than this solitary building, the runway was cloaked by thick forest.
I waited patiently in my seat as passengers began to disembark. People were shifting all around us but I noticed the sick woman in front and her family stayed put.
I held my breath as I listened for any signs of the ragged breathing I had heard earlier. But none came.
Once all the other passengers due to disembark at Dominica were safely off the plane, the family began to move.
The sick woman’s companion lifted her up, cradling her in his arms. He staggered slightly under the weight. Another member of the family helped to hoist her up and together they carried her off the plane.
I watched out of my plane window as the ill woman was placed in a wheelchair which was waiting for her. Her body slumped. I saw no signs of life.
Had a woman just died on our flight?
I felt tremendous sadness as I watched her chair as it was wheeled away. It felt so strange that a life could just end in a flash.
Before I knew it, the plane was off again, flying over Dominica’s wild coastline. I felt strange and was unable to shake away images of the dying woman from my mind. I knew I should feel excited about the next part of the journey, about returning to perhaps my favourite place in the entire world. But everything suddenly felt insignificant, tumbling away in the face of death.
Watching that woman pass away before my eyes was a reminder that life was precious and that every moment should be savoured.
I shuddered as I realised that life was fragile and it’s impossible to know which day may be your last day.