The young pilot was sweating heavily as he completed his checks on the small plane that was standing on the dirt air field. Lewis wiped the back of his forearm across his brow, pushing his long brown hair out of his eyes and looked across at the three men sitting in the scant shade offered by the little shed that sat off to the side of the strip. Not much movement there, the men looked to be in a heat induced daze he thought.
The three men sat outside the corrugated iron and fibro shed that served as the airport office on the dusty air field that was surrounded by dense, dark green jungle. The open airstrip was like an island surrounded by a thick sea of jungle.
The heat was oppressive as the men sat on the ground next to their luggage, trying to get comfortable and hide from the blisteringly hot sun in the small shadow of the airport office.
The men had introduced themselves to one another briefly on the bumpy ride up to the air strip from the river village of Mapope, but with the heat and the likelihood that they would probably never see each other again after the flight they were waiting to take together, they quickly settled into self indulgent silence.
Ethan looked around at the jungle lined edge of the clearing, take three steps into that and you would be lost already he thought. The glare of the sun across the open air field, even through his sunglasses, was strong.
He turned his head to the left, the Papuan radio technician who was sitting inside the shed looking out of the large open window. The man smiled at Ethan with his teeth stained red from chewing beetle nut, a stimulant that most of the Papuans seemed to enjoy. Ethan politely smiled back before returning his gaze to the dark jungle.
The second man, Marcus, sat heavily on the ground, leaning against his large back pack. His eyes were closed and he could feel his sweat dripping down, plastering his damp hair against his head. He felt a bead of sweat reach the tip of his nose and thought about wiping it away but the effort to lift up his hand was too much to be bothered with so he sat there, not moving, waiting for the drop to fall. His shirt was drenched with sweat and clung to his large frame. The drop of sweat stubbornly clung to his nose, refusing to fall and he again thought about wiping it away, too much effort, it would fall when it decided to fall Marcus decided.
The third man, Paul, sat on the only chair provided, made of old timber with a rotting woven cane seat. He had a mop of un-kept blond hair that he was wishing he could shave off right there as the heat felt like it was trapped between his hair and his skull.
He could have been a handsome man except his nose and chin were both just a little too big. His chin jutted out almost like it was challenging everyone he looked at. But he had a kind and thoughtful face that immediately gave an air of friendliness to everyone he met. He was a Priest and he would need all the good will he could find where he was going because he was heading to a village in North West, Papua New Guinea to begin two years of missionary work.
The town was called Painu and it sat on the May river that runs off the Sepik to the East. Paul, 32 years old had never been out of Australia before. Going to, what in his mind, was the wilderness was both exciting and daunting.
Lewis walked across the dusty dirt air eld to the three men, quickening his pace to get out of the glaring sun.
‘Ok gentlemen the plane is all set so are we ready to go?’ ‘Thank you’. smiled Paul.
‘Lets get off this stinking hot bloody forsaken air strip’’ growled Marcus, but then smiled so the men around him knew he made the comment without malice.
The three men gathered up their luggage and walked out into the blistering heat, quickly making their way to the white Cessna Cardinal 177 sitting under the glowing tropical sun waiting for her passengers.
The Cessna was a 1976 model with a blue stripe down her sides. She sat four people, including the pilot, and was the type of aircraft used commonly for the small commuter flights in the mountains and remote river villages of PNG.
Lewis helped the men stow their luggage onto the plane as they climbed aboard.
‘Ok gentlemen please fasten your seatbelts’ said the pilot as he started the plane’s powerful single engine and began to taxi onto the airstrip. The wind sock sat slackly at the runways far end, there was no breeze to speak of.
Lewis pushed forward the throttle and the Cessna raced down the dirt runway under the bright blue sky.
‘V one, rotate.’ he smiled to himself as the plane lifted off the ground.