Thursday, July 11, 2019

I can’t decide whether I love airports or hate them with every fibre of my being.

As I write, I’m currently sitting on a bench in a crowded corner of Schiphol Airport, balancing my laptop on my knees while keeping my suitcase tucked in the remaining space between my legs to fend off from possible thieves, criminals, rogues and ne’er-do-wells.

I’m travelling alone, and my paranoia levels are at an all-time high as a result, so physically straddling my suitcase for safety until I go to the gate seems to be the most sensible option to go with in this situation.

To be fair, it’s highly unlikely that anyone’s going to want to steal my sad, run-down trunk that has seen better days.

I’d like to think Schiphol would offer me better criminals then the kind that would run away with a suitcase filled almost solely with charity shop paperbacks and pyjamas in need of a wash. I deserve a smarter criminal than that, I think.

I myself was almost branded a criminal for life a short while ago, so I’m not really in a position to judge. I forgot to take my water bottle out of my carry on and was pulled aside at security and almost fainted into the arms of a tall, Dutch airport worker in panic. I feel like I’ve aged 30 years in the last 30 minutes from the adrenaline alone.

My entire life flashed before my eyes in that moment as I saw the security man come towards me with a scowl on his face, my pulse racing, blood pounding.

I could see it all, my whole future laid out before me; a dramatic airport arrest, heavy handcuffs being placed on my shaking wrists, being driven away to some grey, desolate prison located on a remote island to live out the rest of my days in shackles. I’m so young, I had so many hopes, so many dreams. I’ve never even been mini-golfing, I can’t go to jail yet.

The security man glowered down at me, told me off for leaving the water bottle in my bag and made me throw it in the bin. While not as bad as a lifelong prison sentence, I’m still mildly sad that I’ll have to buy some more water in a little bit. But nevertheless, I shall persevere.

Airports are stressful. They’re loud and crowded and hectic. I never know what I’m doing in an airport; I can never find the proper terminal, or the toilets, or the right gate. I’m always extremely early, and spend hours bored with nothing to do.  Yet somehow, every time, I always end up late to my flight, and have to do a dramatic, full throttle run á la Ross Geller style to make it in time,  ruthlessly knocking over wholesome tourist families in my flustered wake.

There’s something about airports that is deeply uncanny. They don’t seem like a real place. They exist outside of the real world, outside of human rules of time and space. Different time zones meet and crash into one and other at airports, resulting in the collapse of the space-time continuum.

It results in new social norms, socio-political revolutions in miniature; it is suddenly acceptable to get tipsy at the airport bar in the early afternoon, or to have a McDonalds burger at 9am.

It’s a savage, lawless land, filled with barbaric wonder and ferocious, shocking transgressions of time, humanity and the laws of breakfast. It’s both frightening and awe-inspiring.

The people are just as strange. Random and endless. Airports are the one place in the world you could truly meet anyone, from any country, from any walk of life. I’m people watching on the bench, and I want to write a novel about every single person who passes me by. They’re all fascinating.

A loud, American couple wearing matching tropical shirts holding hands and mispronouncing Dutch shop names with wonderful enthusiasm. A chiselled businessman in a grey suit, speaking sharply and rapidly to someone on his cell phone.

A chubby cheeked toddler with pudgy hands, plodding along beside a woman with a soft face, clutching at her skirt. People, people, people everywhere. Airports are a whole world contained in a few walls. Anyone could be here.

I think I’m going to meet the love of my life at an airport. It seems the right kind of place to fall in love.

An airport is a strange place. In fact it doesn’t seem like a place at all, because you can never really stay. They’re a space you pass through. A space of transition; they’re a place you come to, purely in order to go away.

No one belongs in an airport. We’re all intruders, only staying long enough to get to where we really want to be. A chaotic crowding of strangers, all on their way to some place new.

Airports are beautiful, not because they themselves are pleasant, but because they hold the promise of someplace better. Somewhere out there, there are countries and cities and people and there will always be someplace better, someplace new, someplace you can run away to. Airports breathe possibilities.

It was at an airport that I first sat on a plane, that I first saw the way clouds look when seen from above; wispy, sweet, golden.

Like cotton candy, bright honey, the way the sun tastes on a late summer evening. Like something beautiful and flimsy and unspeakably soft.

It was at an airport that I also saw a gun for the first time, held by a man in a bulletproof vest.

Airports are a strange place. I’m still not sure how I feel about them; I remain undecided. But I’m glad I’m here, because it means that soon I will leave. Soon I will be moving past this transition. Soon, very soon, I will be coming home.

And there is no place in the world I would rather be.

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