Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Vintage Contemporaries) (6 page)

BOOK: Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Vintage Contemporaries)
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Pummelled by the wind, the plane shook violently as it turned and prepared for landing some distance from the runway. Then it came towards us, flapping its wings up and down. The wings weren’t flapping in alternation. They flapped up and down
at the same time
.

“Can aeroplanes flap their wings?” asked Hatayama in a frightened little voice.

“Of course they can’t,” I replied with irritation. “It’s just the wind doing that.”

“Wait a minute! The runway’s too short!” Hatayama shrieked. He stood transfixed as the aeroplane approached, wheels still retracted. How close would it come? Hatayama prepared to run.

When the wheels at last touched the ground, the plane bounced on the runway. I closed my eyes.

“No. It ain’t Gorohachi,” yelled Sticky Eye, standing behind us. “He’s better at it than that.”

Who was it, if not Gorohachi? I opened my eyes again to find out. The plane made a thunderous noise as it careered towards us on the runway. It was sure to plough straight into us.

“Nooooo! It’s going to hit the hut!” Hatayama was long gone. I followed him, diving headlong into the bean field beside us.

The aeroplane reversed the pitch of its propellers, and screeched to a halt just inches from the hut.

We looked at each other in the bean field. “We nearly died in a plane crash without even getting in!” said Hatayama. In his
sheer terror, the pupils of his eyes had contracted to the size of pinheads.

We waited until the propellers had stopped before crawling out of the bean field. As we approached the plane, we saw how close it had come to destroying the farmers’ hut.

“Look at that! About five inches,” said Hatayama, measuring the gap with his fingers. He turned to me and added sarcastically, “Now that’s what I call service!”

I frowned. It was hardly a laughing matter.

Behind the plane lay a parallel trail of deep wheel ruts, two thick ones for the main wheels on either side of a thinner one for the front wheel – like gigantic mole tracks. They must have been made when the pilot had braked on the rain-softened runway.

The door of the plane opened and a wooden ladder was thrust out. Nothing as grand as an ‘air stair’ for these passengers, then. And onto that wooden ladder stepped a plump middle-aged woman, who clambered down shakily with a baby strapped to her back.

“Hello there, Yoné,” Sticky Eye called to her. “I thought it might be you. How’s old Goro doing, then?”

“Bah. There ain’t nothing wrong with him. Just that the doctor said he weren’t to move,” she laughed, showing a mouthful of blackened teeth. “Goro knew you was here, and was that worried, saying he’d come and get you, like. But seeing as the doctor told him to lie down, I had to come instead, see.”

“Well, it’s a long time since we flew with you, Yoné,” Red Nose said cheerily. “I see you haven’t forgotten how to do it.”

“As if I would!” replied the woman, throwing him a flirtatious look as she laughed. She was obviously Gorohachi’s wife. “It kept coming back to me as I went along.”

Hatayama poked me several times in the backside. “Hey! Hey!”

“What,” I groaned. I didn’t turn round – I knew what he was going to say.

“Er, you’re not planning to get on this plane, are you.”

So I did turn round. I looked hard into Hatayama’s eyes, which were now completely round with fear. “And why not?”

“You mean you are? You’re going to get in a plane flown by a fat
farmer’s wife who’s carrying a baby on her back and hardly knows her wings from her ailerons? An aeroplane you get in and out of using a ladder?”

But he obviously realized that I had no intention at all of changing my mind. A sardonic half-smile came over his face as he continued. “All right, let’s do it, then! After all, it’ll be a rare experience, won’t it, flying in a plane like this in a raging typhoon!”

“Cut the sarcasm, will you? You’re getting on my nerves,” I said, turning away from him. Actually, I was only pretending to be strong. I needed him to get on that plane with me. But deep down, I was quivering with fear.

Sticky Eye had been talking to Gorohachi’s wife and occasionally glancing back at us. Then he nodded and called over to us with a laugh. “Hey, travellers! You’re in luck! She says she’ll take you!”

“Really?” I approached Gorohachi’s wife with a suitably grateful demeanour. We were entrusting our lives to her care, after all. We could do worse than ingratiate ourselves. “Thank you. Thank you very much!”

“It’ll cost you though,” she said. “Two thousand yen each.”

Sticky Eye intervened from the side, rather hurriedly.

“Actually, Yoné, I just told ’em it were fifteen hundred, one way.”

“Oh. All right, fifteen hundred then,” she said casually, without any sign of discomfort. “Well, come on then. Up you get.”

“Gorohachi’s wife seems like a good person,” I said to Hatayama as we walked across from the hut with our baggage.

He was shivering with fright. “That doesn’t mean she can fly a plane, does it,” he replied.

I pulled a face. But he just carried on, with his waterproof camera case slung over his shoulder. “Just now, they said this Gorohachi had a proper pilot’s licence. I heard them. But they haven’t said anything about the wife. Then again, we’re in no position to go round asking questions, are we.”

“Exactly,” I answered in exaggerated agreement. “So don’t.”

“Yes, well, we’re sure to get back to Shiokawa in one piece, aren’t we. Yes.” Hatayama laughed nervously, nodding to himself several times. “After all, she’s had
some
experience as a pilot, hasn’t she.
Even if she doesn’t have a licence. And even if it
is
a long time since she last flew. Yes. And those two farmers aren’t at all nervous about flying with her, are they. Even if they
are
ignorant and totally insensitive to danger. That’s all OK, isn’t it.”

I said nothing. Otherwise, he might have started screaming his head off.

We climbed the ladder into the aircraft. Inside, there were ten half-dilapidated seats, five on either side of an aisle covered with straw matting. There was no partition between the passengers and the pilot; the controls were in full view. Hatayama and I sat in the front two seats, on either side of the aisle.

As soon as we’d sat down, Hatayama started up again. His hawklike eyes had spotted something in the roof of the cockpit, above the front window.

“Look at that!” he exclaimed. “It’s a miniature shrine.”

“So it is.”

“That’s for luck, I suppose.”

“So it is.”

“So that’s why this plane has stayed in one piece so far. Sheer luck!”

“Just shut up.” I glared at him again through narrowed eyes.

Hatayama ducked his head apologetically. “Do you have to get so angry at everything I say? Give me a break, will you?!”

The two farmers finished loading their baskets of beans and farming tools onto the plane. Then Gorohachi’s wife hoisted up the ladder and closed the door.

“Right then, let’s be off!”

She pushed back some loose strands of hair, then parked her sizeable rear on the pilot’s seat – all the while trying to calm the wriggling baby on her back. Once in position, she started fiddling with the switches, throttle lever and other controls, displaying a clumsy, heavy-handed touch. Hatayama and I held our breath as we stared in disbelief. The two farmers behind us, meanwhile, were calmly discussing the price of beans.

The aeroplane slowly started to move. It turned until its tail faced the hut, then started to travel along the runway. The plane shook and creaked noisily, making us jump up in our seats.

“We should have sat further back,” moaned Hatayama.

Not only were there no seat belts, but because we were sitting at the front, there was nothing for us to hold on to either.

“Be quiet! Or I’ll rip your bloody tongue out!” I shouted.

The plane bounced once, then picked up speed. The fuselage shook so violently that it seemed likely to fall apart at any moment. But still it continued to taxi along the runway.

“We can’t get off the ground,” said Hatayama, cowering in terror. “Oh no! We’re not going to make it!”

The runway ended at the top of a cliff looking out to sea. And the end was approaching fast. The plane bounced again, nearly sending us into the roof.

As it flew off the end of the runway, the plane was buffeted by a gust of wind and tilted to one side. We started to plummet towards the sea, the white crests of the waves rushing towards us through the front window. Hatayama let out a feeble cry. “We’re done for,” he whined. “We’re done for. I knew it.”

“Come on, you bugger!” Gorohachi’s wife cursed as she yanked the control stick upwards. The baby cried loudly.

The nose of the plane lifted, and we gradually returned to a more agreeable angle. Then we started to climb, swaying all the while. Hatayama and I both relaxed our shoulders and let out great sighs of relief at the same time.

“Oy, Yoné,” called Sticky Eye. “Is it just me, or were that a bit dangerous back there?”

“A bit’s not the word!” answered Gorohachi’s wife, cackling hysterically. “Normally, you’d have been saying your prayers!”

“Normally we’d have been saying our prayers,” Hatayama repeated to me.

“But I’ve got willpower, see,” she continued. “Not like Gorohachi. So it’s a good job I’m flying today.”

“She says this plane flies on willpower,” Hatayama called over to me in a tearful voice. “Did you hear? Willpower!”

“They’re just making fun of you because you’re such a baby,” I replied.

We were now surrounded by dark clouds. The aeroplane was
creaking and shaking again. Drops of water started to drip down, from a join in the aluminium shell of the roof, onto the straw matting on the floor. Hatayama stared at me. Knowing he was about to start again, I pretended not to notice. So he brought his mouth right up to my ear.

“Er, did you know this plane’s leaking. The rain’s coming in,” he whispered.

“What about it.”

“Oh. Nothing.”

Suddenly, the plane took a huge dive.

“Oh no!” Hatayama wailed.

My tightly clenched palms were clammy with perspiration and cold sweat ran down my back.

Outside, a seagull was flying beside the aeroplane next to my window.

“That must be Jonathan Livingston,” Hatayama said loudly. “He’s the only seagull fast enough to keep up with an aeroplane.”

“Bah. It’s not him that’s fast. It’s us that’s slow,” said Gorohachi’s wife. “We’re flying into the wind, see.”

Hatayama was visibly frightened now. “But if we’re going that slow, we could stall, couldn’t we?!”

She laughed. “Ha! I suppose you mean we could do a nosedive. That hasn’t happened at all, recently.”

“You mean it happened before?!” Hatayama ejected a nasal projectile onto the floor.

“What a fantastic trick!” Sticky Eye was impressed again. “How do you do it?”

“We should be nearly there now,” I said. “Whereabouts are we?”

“Yes, whereabouts are we.” Gorohachi’s wife tilted her head. “We should have arrived long since. But I can’t see the ground for the clouds. I wonder if we’ve gone off course.”

“She wonders if we’ve gone off course,” Hatayama repeated to me with ever-widening eyes.

“Aw, shut your trap,” Gorohachi’s wife shouted as she hoisted the crying baby further up her back.

Thinking she meant him, Hatayama ducked his head again.

“Could someone take over for a mo? I need to feed the baby,” said Gorohachi’s wife.

“Right-o,” answered Red Nose, standing up nonchalantly.

Hatayama blew his nose again. “Let me out.” He started to cry. “I want to get out. Where are the parachutes?”

“There aren’t any. But there’s a broken old umbrella over there in the corner,” answered Sticky Eye, laughing heartily.

Gorohachi’s wife handed the controls to Red Nose and squatted down on one of the passenger seats. She opened the front of her overalls, slipped out a breast the size of a softball, and thrust a chocolate-brown nipple into her baby’s mouth.

“You’ll get mad again if I say anything now, won’t you,” Hatayama said to me with tears in his eyes.

“Too right,” I replied, staring him out before he could go on. “So don’t say it.”

“I can say what I like, can’t I?” He squirmed in his seat. “Why do you have to get so angry at everything I say? You’re worried about getting a rollicking from the Chief, aren’t you. You’re trying to forget your fear by thinking about that. Aren’t you.” He looked over at me with bloodshot eyes. “But really, you’re scared too, aren’t you. Just a bit.”

“What if I am?” I screeched. “Is that going to change anything?!”

“I’m more scared of losing my life than what the Chief will say. All right?!” he screeched back. “Because me, I’m just a photographer! See? If it came to that, I could earn my living freelance. What do I care if the Chief gets mad and fires me?! But not you. It’s not that you love your job, mind. You’re just scared of the Chief. You’re scared of him because you don’t want to lose your job.”

“Shut it!” I screamed, standing up. “One more word and I’ll punch your face in!”

Trembling under my fearsome gaze, Hatayama put his hand to his crotch.

“I need a wee,” he whimpered.

“Loo’s at the back,” said Gorohachi’s wife, still feeding her baby. “But it’s full of junk. We use it as a cupboard. So you can’t go in there.”

“Where can I go, then?!”

Sticky Eye stamped on the straw matting in the aisle. “There’s a gap in the floor under here,” he said. “Why not do it through that?”

Red Nose looked round from the pilot’s seat. “Hold on. We might be going over Fox Hill. You’d better wait. It’s bad luck to piss on the Fox.”

“I can’t hold it any longer!” cried Hatayama. He pulled back the straw matting and, lying face down, hastily thrust his member through a hole measuring a couple of inches in the floor. “Bad luck, Fox,” he groaned.

He meant bad luck for you, not the Fox
, I thought.

The sound of the engine suddenly dropped. Then the whole plane lurched to one side, making a strange sputtering noise. I looked out of the window. The propeller on the left side had stopped moving.

BOOK: Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Vintage Contemporaries)
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