Storms in the air

I stand at the top of the driveway, staring out into the dark night sky. The blinking lights of an inbound jet silently glide through the sky from north to south. Distant lightning from an offshore storm lights up the east momentarily. The air is crisp and cool, a distinct contrast to the humid mugginess that preceded the storm.

There is a canvas print besides my desk. I took the photo out of the window on an AirAsia X flight in 2014. It shows a cumulonimbus storm cloud, a hazy grey against the golden late afternoon light, and the tiny speck of another airliner, giving a perspective as to just how massive these storms can be.

A cumulornimbus storm cloud viewed from the window of an aircraft.

We had just passed through the storm, a terrifying experience of sudden bumps and drops through dark grey skies, accompanied by the bright flashes of lightning illuminating the cabin. But when we are through, the air is stable for the final descent into Kuala Lumpur’s airport.

On another flight, this one from Taipei to Singapore in 2016, we had passed through storm and rain clouds on descent into Changi. Again, there were plenty of scary drops until we penetrated the cloud layer. Suddenly the air was still, the city lights beneath us as we began our slow turn past and back across the island.

I imagine that is what any passengers of that jet passing across the sky must be experiencing now. A sense of final serenity after a rough descent through the troubled skies around Sydney.

I am terrified of flying through storms. Ever since that flight into Rockhampton, the passengers shrieking as we attempted to dodge black storm clouds, since that time we launched straight into a storm front over Canberra, since we weaved through a wall of storms over the Pacific in the middle of the night, I have dreaded these natural, incredibly powerful phenomena of the sky.

A few weeks ago, with no way to actually get up in the air, I pretend to fly between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Even the simulated storms between the two airports are enough to recall the real experience.

Simulated view of storm clouds from an aircraft passenger window.

As the aircraft pulls up at the airport gate, false rain drops blurring the view, I reflect that, unfortunately, the simulator cannot replicate what happens next. My mind continues the illusion.

All I want to do is walk up that airbridge on my shaky legs and get inside that airport, insulated from the torrential tropical rain and storms outside, to know that my journey is over for the day, that there will be no more bumps and dumps. The ground here is solid, stable.

Perhaps I will have a bowl of laksa or a plate of rice or noodles in an airside café, grab a snack and a drink from a convenience store. But where I really want to go is to the transit hotel, a short walk away, to wash away the day’s grime in a shower and retreat under the blankets of the bed to escape the fierce cold of the air-conditioning. I will leave the curtains open, to watch the aircraft or the lightning show, safe in the knowledge that I am protected in here.

Next month Australians should be able to travel overseas once more. It was announced today. There are still complications, but journeys like those above should be possible again soon. That both excites and terrifies me.

Right now I should like to be in that hotel, watching the storm out through the window in silence but for the quiet music I am playing over my portable speakers. To escape and yet to retreat. To appreciate reality and simultaneously reject it.

The storm in the air is the storm inside.

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