A Story by Alvin L. Kathembe

September 2014


I can’t believe we’re actually going to do this!”

Michael sits beside me in the cool, air-conditioned lobby. It is thirty-two degrees outside, and the sun shines in a cloudless sky like a great, lone lighthouse in an endless blue sea. In here, however, an artificial breeze is blowing; but that has nothing to do with the chill running down my spine.

After more than two months of talking about it, of endless planning and saving and fantasizing - here we are, on the very threshold of realizing a lifelong dream.

Last night we hardly slept - we stayed up till late looking at YouTube videos: It looks simple enough. You are hooked by a series of harnesses to an experienced skydiver; you enter an aeroplane which takes off and climbs to 10,000 feet, and then you jump.


Then Michael began Googling ‘Skydiving accidents’, and we saw a video of an 80-year-old woman who wasn’t strapped in properly, and almost fell out of her harness. We watched her spin hopelessly in the air - once, twice, three times - as her instructor fiddled with the straps, imagining the sheer, helpless terror she must have experienced. We laughed it off as a rare glitch, although I’m sure neither of us slept easily that night.

Well, here we are. As soon as we came in and introduced ourselves to the receptionist, she had brought us to this lobby and handed us each a two-page document.

“This is a legal document,” she said. “Please read this and sign on the next page, here -” she flipped it over and pointed, “and here. When you’re done, give me a shout, I’m in the reception.”

There’s a large TV screen in front of us, where videos of other jumps are playing on a loop. The people in the videos are smiling and hi-fiving; I’m afraid that when the time comes I won’t be nearly as brave; I’m already terrified.

The document is actually a blanket waiver. Michael reads some of the clauses aloud:

“The Company waives any responsibility arising from any accidents; including due to equipment failure, instructor error, acts of God…the undersigned agrees to claim no refund, compensation, or damages in any event… boss, are you really sure you want to do this?”

He laughs, and goes through the document a second time. Then, with a deep breath - the steadying breath before the plunge, he signs with a flourish, then looks at me expectantly. I sign, with a little less confidence, aware that I have crossed a line of no return.

“Finished?” the receptionist is back. “I’ll take those -” she plucks the papers from my hands - “and you’re all set to go! Give me a moment; I’ll get your instructors. Please wait here.”

On the TV screen people are doing somersaults and rolls and making all kinds of patterns in the air; it’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen.

“There are the boys! Ready to go skydiving, are we?” the speaker is a tall, heavily tanned Brit. He has a GoPro in one hand, and his brown hair is thick and tousled, like he only just landed. In his other hand he holds a complicated mass of harnesses which you best believe I will make sure he straps on very, very tight. Close behind him is a shorter, older man who he introduces as Miles, an Australian.

“My name’s Gary,” he says, “Miles and I will be jumping with you this afternoon. Nice to meet you…Alvin, and…Mike. ” his grip is firm and confident, and I am glad of that, since my life will be in those hands. Miles will jump with Mike because their names sound alike.

“OK, Alvin, are you excited? A little nervous?” Gary asks. “Well, don’t be. This’ll be a tandem jump; it’s the easiest thing in the world. You’ll jump attached to me, I’ll deploy the parachute and everything. All you have to do is follow my instructions - I’ll do all the work. I’ll have this little camera in my hand, so I’ll record the whole thing for you to show off to your friends. Don’t embarrass yourself, ay?”

We both laugh. I’m feeling more at ease now, though my palms are slightly sweaty and there’s a swarm of butterflies in my stomach.

“Now, off with any loose objects. Phones, wallet, change, anything that might fly around while we’re, well, flying around.”

All the while he is fitting me into the safety harness. It is a series of ropes and belts and buckles, with a row of clips and hooks down the back.

“Each of these ropes is strong enough to tow a truck. They might feel a little slack now but I’ll tighten them before we jump, no need to have you all uncomfortable now. Any questions?”

I have a million questions. He assures me that he has two parachutes - one is a backup in case the main one fails to deploy.

“Yes, I’ve done this plenty of times.” He answers with a smile. “I’ve done dozens of tandem jumps.” As we walk to the van that’ll take us to Ukunda Airstrip, I pepper him with more questions. Mike behind me does the same, and Miles is just as experienced and knowledgeable as Gary.

There are five of us in the van: Mike, Miles, Gary, a lady called Ingvild, from Norway; and me. It’s a short drive to Ukunda, and on the way down we make jokes and take silly pictures with the camera.

“Hey, Michael, you OK, mate? Hope you used the bathroom before we left, it gets a little hairy out there.” Gary kids. “You did, ay? Well, I didn’t, so Alvin here is in for an interesting time!” I laugh feebly - it’s more likely that Gary in for a surprise; I didn’t use the bathroom either. And now that I think of it, I am feeling a little -

We get to the airstrip and hop out of the van. We’re led through the tiny terminal to the airside where a pretty little Cessna 206 awaits us.

“All right boys, last chance! Anyone want to back out now? Mind you, the camera’s on!”

Mike and I are ready - now that we’re here the fear is ebbing away, replaced by a growing excitement. We’re raring to go.

The back seats have been taken out of the Cessna, so we pile in and sit on the floor. Miles gets in first, and Mike packs in in front of him. Gary gets on and pulls me in after him; we’re sitting by the door. Ingvild gets on last and sits cross-legged in front of us. It dawns on me, as the pilot taxis out onto the runway, that I’ll be jumping first.

They’ve installed a radio in the airplane, the kind you’d find in a car, and one giant speaker facing us. Ingvild is in charge of this, and as we lift off into the air the windows boom and rattle like a matatu’s.

The door of the Cessna has been taken out. We have an unimpeded view of the beautiful Diani coastline which undulates beneath us. The view is breathtakingly beautiful. Off to our left the land stretches on like a luscious green rug, with spots of little white breadcrumbs that might be houses. The green is bordered by a brilliant white strip that snakes all along its border like the edge of a carpet. To our right, the ocean stretches off into infinity; blue-green beneath us, and bluer and bluer until it meets somewhere with the sky, and they melt into each other. The sky’s no longer cloudless - great gray clumps have appeared and float close to us. They look like globs of ice cream. Big scoops of vanilla ice cream. We continue climbing, and then we turn until the blue-green floor is on our left, and the carpet on our right.

I can feel Gary begin to hook us together. I hear reassuring clips and clicks as he works. Clip them tight! I shout. He smiles; the hooks are secure. He begins to tighten the straps as well.

“Are you ready? OK, wear these.” He hands me a pair of plastic goggles. “Now, I’m going to swing you out of the door. You’ll be hanging by the harness outside the airplane. I want you to put your feet on the underside of the plane. Then we’ll jump. After five seconds, I’ll tap you on the back; then I want you to spread out your arms and legs in the skydiving position. Got it? Good.”

My heart is pounding. We edge towards the open door - the wind is so strong, I have to lean with all my weight against it. I am hanging out of the airplane, half in, half out.

“Legs!” he yells into my ear. I fold them behind me until they touch metal.

Beneath me, the world moves slowly; blue, green and white.

“Ready? 3, 2, 1, LET’S GO! -”


© 2015 Alvin L. Kathembe

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Added on May 12, 2015
Last Updated on May 12, 2015


Alvin L. Kathembe
Alvin L. Kathembe

Nairobi, Kenya

I write for the mind...and if I touch your heart while I'm at it, I'll take it. more..