I saw you pray with your eyes closed, holding a pearl rosary in your hands, wearing your kippah, sitting, kneeling, tired, but strong in your faith, certain that Someone was next to you on the journey you were about to start. You would have touched that Sky, in a few moments. I also envied you, you know, because you could Feel. I saw you walking back and forth, carefully holding a Bible in one hand and an iPhone in the other, the Past and the Future.
I saw you run, pushing everyone aside, holding your passport high up above your head, hoping that it would turn into a propeller and you could magically jump the queues, the security checks, and that would erase all those people between you and that gate, which will already be inexorably closing. I followed you to the gate. You thought: “I made it”, right? but no, you did not make it. “Your flight has departed, left, gone missing, been deleted and moved somewhere else in this airport”. I saw you asking yourself, “Should I have run faster? Should I have left earlier? Arrived later? What could I have done better, not to miss that flight? ” .
I watched you eating caviar, plastic sandwiches, rigid salads, sushi, fresh oysters and broken biscuits. You all had the very same impression in your eyes: “This stuff must be plastic” or “What airport is this again?” or “This time there is no going back”. Who seemed truly happy was who did not taste those burgers polyethylene, but instead carried with them a bowl of fruit, a slice of pie, a portion of their heart, their family, their home. I watched you standing there stunned, when, at an anonymous security check, they asked you if they could check what you carried in your backpack because you, yes you, according to them, were carrying cocaine. They took a sample, and slipped it into the machine, while you trying to explain that it was not cocaine, but a simple slice of rice cake. They looked kind of disappointed, where they finally realized that you, yes you, were not carrying cocaine. And then you ran to the gate thinking “Why don’t you just die now?”
You have taken off millions of sandals, slippers, flip flops, boots, trekking boots, Laboutin, Jimmy Choos, broken shoes, good shoes, colourful shoes, too big or too small, filled with dust drifting off distant deserts. You had to remove them in front of those metal detectors, as if to say, “Here, look where the Road has brought us so far. Scan my past, because the future is already there waiting for me on the runway “.
I have heard you tell stories, shout, laugh, discuss in all your wonderful languages. Some of them were know, some others were more mysterious. Some of them had some powerful army or navy behind them, others smell of sea breezes, and fjords, fresh grass and skyscrapers. I saw you trying to make you understood at the borders, saying “I do not understand, tell me where I should go” slowly and loudly, as if they were stupid or deaf. I witnessed the miracle of a universal language, shared by all peoples. “Come with me, I’ll show you where you can get your bags, where the toilets are. Come on, I’ll help you”
I stood there while your eyes were zigzagging on thousands of screens in search of the target at the end of the month, that email address, that slice of the market still to conquer. I have seen the real world, where people touch, disappear around you. I wanted to tell you without any messianic claim: “Turn off that computer. Write a real, paper postcard to someone you love. Look how many paths cross in front of you, in front of us, in this terminal”. You have written millions of emails, reports, employment contracts, authorizations, requests for authorizations, appeals, complaints while 1 , 100, 1000 flights were taking off in front of you.
I was there next to you, while you were waiting for your suitcase, a bit absent-minded, thinking: “Is it coming? This time, it will not come. But no! Here it is! Oh no. That’s not my suitacase. I have to decide to put a sign of recognition on my luggage: I should stick a sign saying Sally on it. I am sure it would work “. I would have slapped them all too, those pushing you aside because their luggage had arrived.
You wasted hours in duty free shops: they look alike in Dubai as in Munich. You bought face creams, chocolate, Toblerones, liquorice, black cherries, perfumes. You walked to the gate hoping that nobody would stop you because six bags of that stuff is not that great idea, after all. I watched you tried on the latest mascara or eye-shadows: I have seen you smile, liking yourself again and finding out that you were still charming and young, although for a moment.
And then I met you at departures. You had your whole life ahead, no? What were you after? Where did you travel to? The important thing is to go, take your feet off this heavy and light ground. Did you find someone waiting for you on the other side? New experiences, the love of your life, a home at the end of the world, a chance to live again and again. Did you cry at departures? Who did you leave there, waving goodbye and a dirty handkerchief? Did you feel freer, softer, older? Did you abandon those hearts forever, or in time did you scramble their importance, returning from time to time? Thomas Mann said that “if you are happy, you do not travel” – I say that only those who are dead will not move. A life without departures, real or metaphorical, is an unfortunate waste of time.
This short story is dedicated to some of my memories around airports. I happened to spend quite a considerable amount of time there because of passion, work, tragedy, fantasy, boredom, and much more. I cried, laughed, screamed while I was at airports. Once, I got locked out into one for nearly 3 days with Madame Zenith, but this is another story. I lost airplanes, suitcases, documents, money, time, my will to live and to talk, I lost almost everything there. Nevertheless, I love these non-places because they are the extreme representation of life: it is always too late or too soon or too much, people meet, and they do not know they are lucky because they collide, we lose everything but also we start from scratch, we laugh, we speak, we do not understand, but then we do understand each other. At airports like in life we wonder why, how, where we went wrong, what we could have done better. Our lives are determined by opportunities, even the ones that we miss.
It’s a small world. It keeps re-crossing itself – Cloud Atlas