The morning sun diffuses through the clouds, but it’s still too bright for me to look at directly.
Earlier I watched the dawn from the small, triple-layered Perspex window, over the massive turbojet engine with the double-R Rolls Royce emblem. First a lazy band of purple, then all of a sudden, the first true rays burst through, setting the endless sheet of cirrus ablaze, like iron about to be quenched. Gradually, it settles to a regal yellow, glowing with victory over the night, as always, as far as we can remember anyway. There’s quite a big difference between seeing the sunrise from the ground and from the air. The engine throbs satisfyingly, comfortingly, millions of parts and years of human ingenuity at work, unlike the usual stillness punctuated by the calls of birds in heat.
Now the sun is higher, and the plane lower, so each can’t see the other through the clouds. Looking down, I can’t tell where the clouds end and the ocean begins, they both glitter, and for a moment I wonder whether we could be over sand instead, it seems so still. But no, ocean it is. Because I spot a silhouette, like a crayon cut in half lengthwise, lying on the surface. It is a tanker or container ship, moving at a stately pace, compared to us anyway. We soon leave it behind. No sooner we do than more shadows appear, some as large as the first one I saw, some smaller. The trade lanes of the Persian Gulf provide easy pickings for Somali piracy, after all.
Then, drifting out of the cloud bank in the distance, a peak, no … a range of peaks, dark against the blue. What range is that, I wonder, and promise myself I’ll find out. Turning my gaze downwards again, I see the piers of Dubai’s port stretching out of the cloud, before a mass of light brown joins the white and the blue in my field of view. I notice things I didn’t on my initial journey, Dubai has few 4-way intersections, and many roundabouts, scattered like early crop circles in the uniformly brown landscape, interspersed by carefully planned patches of green. The angle isn’t right, so I can’t see the glint of the sun on the windows, so I have no idea what kind of buildings constitute the blocks that make up the district around the port.
We’re moving fast, still, though the captain’s just reported that we’ve begun our descent. Thickly clustered asphalt and concrete structures give way to squat bungalows and straight highways, both bleached by the sun, sand and the salty air. It is a scene out of a movie, the houses are white, very white, wait, a few brown ones whisks past. Sandstone perhaps…. The amateur geologist of my childhood whispers, but I chide him, sandstone is too soft to withstand these harsh climes. Ah well, they’re gone, without the chance for further observation. A new object below attracts my focus, a large, flat protrusion out of the sand, of the same colour. A plateau of some sort, or possibly the remains of a quarrying operation, though I can’t see any pit which would usually remain alongside. Sandstone? The little voice asks timidly, this time I stay silent, because I don’t know.
Finally, the black bars appear, like thick brush strokes making up the runways and the approach to the airport. The engines are still throbbing comfortably, but a new whistling joins them as the flaps are lowered. One does not get the sense that we’re slowing down at all, the plane is too massive, carries too much inertia for those within to feel the effects on the outside. As one, the passengers bounce as the plane touches down, their seatbelts digging into their thighs (or rolls of flab, as may be), EK 006 has landed.