The hang gliding school were wary of my credentials, and warier still when I appeared not to know certain technical terms which were their lingua franca. I said we’d developed our own Aussie slang for the kit we used, and improvised some names for them on the spot: goblet, tinny, short leg, gastropod. They were still wary, and later I learned that one of them had checked the internet to satisfy himself that the club I purported to teach for really did exist. But Chan and I had done our research; she had meticulously faked a certificate from the Australian hang gliding association, and, with the help of an acquaintance of Sandy’s, had come by a marriage certificate and proof of joint nationality. With this and one or two other easily acquired items, I could open the bank account I would need to become employable.
I committed to memory all the basics of hang gliding, and visualised what in artificial terms I needed to do to become airborne. Once in the air, I was convinced that my genetic, natural flying ability would be there waiting for me to reclaim it. There might be some bumpy moments as I adjusted my centre of gravity to the fact that my wings were no longer attached at my shoulders but were instead held by a frame some number of feet above my head; I would ride those out.
At the end of that first meeting with the people from the school, they seemed more or less satisfied, and told me that they would ring me when the weather was set fair for flying. As for teaching, well, they’d have to see how I flew; but even then, I’d need to take the national association’s qualification before they’d let me near novices.
When the day came, my skin prickled and my mind exploded with flashbacks to Badezon. The clouds were the flat-bottomed cotton-wool puffs of cumulus that signified safe gliding, and as the pilots gathered on the hillside at Godrevy, there was talk about streets, glassoffs and elevators.
I was impatient to feel the air about me as I had on Badezon, but I carefully and methodically adjusted my kit as protocol required, and waited my turn. As I launched myself from the hillside, I tucked my legs into what they called the cocoon and I the gastropod – like the bottom three-quarters of a sleeping bag – and was transformed into a giant wasp with chevron sails. Immediately I felt myself rise on a thermal, sniffing the air for its feel and its path. These wings were clumsy in comparison with my own, but I soon had their measure, and knew they would do. So I swooped down and into and up on a thermal. I wheeled like a gull, and wheeled again. Then I glided for miles along the coast, watching the human flyers drop behind me and away. I ignored the variometer. The climatic conditions were near-identical to Badezon. When my wings had first been strong enough to lift me into the air, I discovered that what my parents said was true – you’ll know what to do, and where the good air is. And then I was alone, I was free, soaring as we used to do on Badezon across the plains of rock that heated the air and created the uplift which bore us higher, lighter than a single one of our feathers.
From the skies, I could see the beauty of the planet I had found myself upon. If the coastal walks with Chan had given me a glimpse, now I had a three-dimensional panorama all about me. But to what astonishing effect the planet’s weather systems and the bodies of water and earth interacted; light reflecting and deflecting off clouds and sea, and colouring the emeralds, yellows and greys of the land with a degree of intensity that momentarily dazzled me and took my breath away. And as I had come to expect at such moments, a flashback hit me, and I remembered the exhilaration of flying over features of the Badezon land- and waterscape that I had never before encountered.
While I was in the air, the wind changed direction, and I was able to head back the way I had come, landing to everyone’s astonishment on the very hill from which we had taken off. I was a natural bird-man, they said. Unusual technique. But very effective. ‘So you believe me now?’ I said, softening the impact of the implicit criticism with a smile. The school’s manager cracked a smile in return, and I knew I was in.