The flight was already an hour late when the queue at the gate finally began to shuffle forward. I eyed the man in the heavy overcoat who, bishop-like, was trying to cut softly in front of me. As I shifted my weight onto my left foot the teenager on my right barged forward, eyes fixed on their phone. It was blatant obstruction, any referee would have called a foul. I stood up straighter and used my additional weight to block them. There. I inched forward, not lifting my feet from the floor. At the gate I had my passport and my boarding card ready and beamed triumphantly.
‘Your carry-on, sir? Where is your carry-on?’
A chill ran through me and I turned round in the crowd. The dog was sitting , eyes fixed on the suitcase. The man in the stab vest was looking our way.
‘I don’t have any’, I said. ‘I don’t have any.’
An elderly couple catches sight of their daughter. There are long, long hugs. Mum hides her tears by straightening her daughter’s collar, Dad does the same by busily wheeling the trolley away. Daughter does not hide her tears, she lets them flow from wide-open eyes, but slows them by smiling tight-lipped at people in the waiting crowd. And the tears seem to be as catching as yawns; I am one of the grown men clearing my throat, my fist to the bridge of my nose. Then, recognising a shared emotion through the tears, we nod and smile at strangers. And then we all move in our own directions.
He swabbed my palms and then the backs of my hands. Then he swabbed my belt buckle. He took the swab off its stick and put it into the machine. We both looked at the machine and waited. The light was late-night bright and the air stung your eyes. A few belts over there was a commotion as a fat man in a suit refused to take his shoes off. My swabber looked up quickly,saw it was a heavily flushed white man causing the fuss and looked away again. “They take the piss, you know,” he said. “They take the piss.”
The machine pinged and he waved me on. He was putting another swab on his stick. I scurried after my backpack before it disappeared forever. I was visitor 21,868. I could tap the green face, the amber face or the red face to show my satisfaction. I thought, briefly, and tapped green. Perhaps that would cheer up the man with the swab at his team meeting in the morning.
Pigeons court in the fire tender shade. A hawk hangs beady above the radar stirring the air. The plane is late. Oh well.
Leavers have it easy.
Arrowed doors pull them forward, hearts speeding.
Stayers, the wavers, don’t know when to turn and move away.
I could win a family break in Fuerteventura. I could learn to fear the future if the break-up comes. I could unzip some synapses with some snappy sudoku – or I could just write down the words that other people are saying.
I only called him to say goodbye –
She was locked in the cubicle. She was angry –
If it happens again, I’m not leaving –
If the knife lands on its blade, you’re in trouble. Or on your foot –
Turn it down.
Take it off.
Check it in.
Wipe it up.
But the winter break in Fuerteventura looks very attractive. Especially if I get a family to go with.
Kilts and backpacks and Scotland shirts.
Anticipation and beer.
Cancelled flight tourists swoop round airport staff.
It’s not complicated, said the alien. We created airports to run our stress engines. When we need more, we just whisper “security”.
The soapstar with uneven teeth checks receipts from the chemist’s. A man with moustache and a winter-weight jacket contemplates scaffolding with experience-bright eyes. John watches takeoffs, wills flight to be possible; until his mother shouts and drags him away.
Female cleaners walk past the urinals, talking brightly.
Like antelopes’ ears at the snuff of a lion, men’s ears prick up.
A downward look of dismay at the misdirected spray.