Me and My Fellow Strandees

[Fiction by Tahlia Palmer]

I don’t think I have ever felt this good before; I have never felt as satisfied, as calm as I do whilst writing in this journal tonight.

Admittedly, I was terrified at first, when the fire started somewhere up the front of the plane and the air pressure felt strange, when we started to drop out of the sky and my stomach felt like I was on a roller coaster. I thought we were all going to die. In those terrifying moments of quick descent, I had my wide-eyes fixed on the dark hair of the woman in front of me, the faces of my crying parents flashing like a computer screen on film in my mind.
“My only son!” my mother would wail, “He was too young! I never wanted him to leave! Why did this happen to us?” My father would hold her around the shoulders and rub her back, head down, unable to speak. I could see it. My heart broke at their heartbreak, the hair of the woman in front of me waved softly in the air above her as if to say goodbye to me, a stranger in the seat behind. How sweet, I thought.

And then the plane steadied itself; we stopped dropping. The screaming abated, but the crying and coughing continued. A child was the first to speak, a slowly rising keen of the word “Mother”, confusion permeating the notes of her tiny voice. She can’t have been more than 2 years old. I wondered if she thought of death too. And then everybody started to speak, a rabble of strain and confusion and anger and coughing.

The host staff explained to us what happened, why the fire occurred, though I can’t really remember the details now… only that the fire wasn’t bad; in fact, it was quite small, but it was enough to mess with the plane’s systems, enough to put the fear of death in everyone aboard. Perhaps humans will never get used to flight. Perhaps we are not psychically equipped to deal with it.

The pilot had decided to take a sharp turn to land at the nearest, most safely accessible airstrip, but once we landed we did not have enough fuel to take off again. The pilot was very experienced, and well regarded in the industry, apparently; we were assured we were in safe hands, the safest, even, and that we would be rescued soon. I was glad, but I was still in shock. I just wanted my bed. I wanted to be in my bed and I wanted the girl I loved in high school to be in it with me. That was all. I decided I would tell her how I felt if I ever saw her again.

Hours later, we landed on this large tropical island. We alighted from the plane, asked to stay in one group; names checked off the passenger list, everyone checked for injuries, ailments, pre-existing health concerns. No one was badly injured, though a few suffered from slight smoke inhalation. Those who were not in perfect health all had their medicines on board. We are lucky, said many in our group.

After some exploration, we discovered that this place was once home to a resort of some kind. It was abandoned, by the looks of it, a long time ago- we have seen no people, the buildings are dilapidated, and there is no electricity or running water. However, there is a series of well sized water-ways coming off the mountain to the west, and a huge array of edible flora and fauna.

Many passengers at first panicked, because we quickly came to realise that we had absolutely no means of communicating to the outside world. But once I made my knowledge clear to the pilot, he and the host staff gathered everyone together in the larger foyer of the crumbling resort, everyone smelling like sweat and smoke and salt, and explained that we would be absolutely fine, we would survive very easily, just so long as we work together to keep each other safe and comfortable.

You see, I had been continuing my studies in Biology at The University of Melbourne for the last two years, after three years in Shanghai, and have been fostering a related interest in medicinal plants… so my education has left me with a fairly advanced knowledge of what we can and can’t eat, how we can survive until we are found.

Luckily, there were many people on the flight who can speak two or more languages, so communication with all passengers is possible, although the translation process can at times be quite difficult. For example, the Ukranian man speaks only basic Russian, and the Russian man speaks only basic Mandarin, and no-one except the Australian couple can speak Italian to the Italian man, and both he and the couple have a limited grasp of each other’s languages… but we have found ourselves in the glorious position of being in a group of people in which trust, faith, and good nature abounds.

So for these last four days, everything has been working fairly smoothly. Despite the disappearance of the two young Iranian men shortly after we got off the plane- shamed by the discovery that the passports with which they boarded the plane were not actually their own- no one seems to have any sort of ill intentions. We only hope that these young men can read English, the language we decided they would most likely understand after their native tongues, because we have been placing signs around the resort letting them know that they are more than welcome to re-join us if they desire; that we are committed to helping them if they need.

Perhaps it is the civilizing influence of the many elderly we have with us that so easily lends us towards harmonious living. Maybe it is the positive and playful nature of the young children that keeps our minds free of too much worry. Maybe it is simply the lush beauty of our surroundings that inspire us to stay positive. All three hundred or so of us work together, we eat together, and we discuss- positively- the likelihood of being found. Many of the more practical adults of the group have begun coming up with options to increase our chances of being found- we have all seen many films in which this scenario plays out, after all.

As I fall asleep each night on my makeshift hammock where the sand meets the plantlife, pleasantly exhausted from a day of working to feed and shelter myself and my fellow strandees, I wonder who owns this land, and if they would allow me and the girl I loved in high school to come back and live on it. I believe this place has the potential to be a good research station for my university colleagues, and a beautiful place on which to live off the land, for those who desire such a life. It is a paradise, and we on it are proving to be the best we can be. I hope to show the world that humans are capable of being kind to each other, that trust is possible, preferable, and easier than expected. It is from this hope that my desire to be found comes; this hope and no other.