There’s nothing quite like people watching in an airport. A quiet and cacophonous blend of lives in imagined privacy. The half-sentences muttered as they pass, the small child confused and pulling against their parents’ sudden urgency, the unabashed staring of those like me who sit and observe.
There are noses in books, fingers in noses, crumbs on chairs, and forgotten phone chargers. A gentleman is quietly speaking French to his wife on the phone. He laughs and makes a comment about his mother. I don’t speak French well enough to pick out the joke as he speaks rather rapidly, the ease of a native tongue quickening the tempo of his speech.
A woman produces a deck of cards from the depths of her carry-on to appease and entertain her young son. The hustle of the terminal and the anxiety of impatience eases from his face as the familiar game commences.
Another woman, with deeper lines of age, has an exceptional furrow creasing her face in concentration. She is cleaning the windows that look out onto the tarmac. The monotony of work has jaded the magic of the airport. The thrill most of us still feel at the nearness of travel has long since passed. The secrets of the brick and mortar responsible for the hum of excitement in the air is just that – brick and mortar. A concrete receptacle for her time and effort. She’ll punch the clock and drive away without a glance behind.
As I scribble away, noting the snippets of stories laid before me, the woman seated next to me collects her things and moves a few rows away. I wonder if she’s been snooping and found she doesn’t want to be part of my observances. Too late, lady. I’ve already made a note about you picking your teeth with the edge of your driver’s license. Kept it out after coming through security, I imagine.
My husband travels enough that I know the quiet thrum of anticipation doesn’t occupy his stomach before a flight anymore, but what a shame. How many places or opportunities do we have in life that ignites such wonder? Just another day of flying through the air in a metal machine with several hundred other people. You are infinitely intimate with these strangers for the duration of your flight. You are breathing the same air, eating the same snacks, hearing the same voices speaking louder than is polite in confined quarters. You flinch at the same jumps, gaze at the same incredible views, and sigh at the same rumble of a landing. Once the door opens, you stand in unison into a line that snails until it doesn’t and an avalanche of people rush forth, clipping their elbows and the wheels of their bags on the arms and legs of empty chairs. You disperse without any recognition of the closeness you shared just moments before.
Once you arrive at your destination, the building doesn’t hold the same magic it would, had you not just been hurtling through the air. No, now it’s just the air-conditioned portion of your long walk to the car that will whisk you away from the enchanted roost of the aluminum birds that carry travelers in their bellies for a steep price and stiff knees.
Alright, lady. I’ll stop. But you must understand, you are even more ingrained in my memory now and will most certainly make an appearance in my next book.