There is no place like an airport. The series of glass windows with the people outside – looking anxiously inside. The people in brisk walk through the revolving doors and towards the counters – some with fleeting glances back to their relatives, friends, lovers, or perhaps just the taxi he came in with. The luggage, and the people wondering if they have packed everything. The information boards telling them how much time one has; or time one has to wait for. It is quite a wonder that airports don’t have their very own time zone, provided how much the world changes the moment one walks in.
There was once this interesting story about a man who is currently living in an airport for the last ten years or such. Imagine what his life must be like. Airports, one can sum up in many interesting ways, but maybe the best word to sum it up is movement. It is quite simple, one walks in, check in at the counter, hops in to a plane, hops out, another counter out counter, walks out. It is therefore plausible to think that just because the time one spends in an airport is so temporary and largely uneventful that one that one hardly ever wonders to give it a greater thought.
Temporary! That could be another word to sum up this place. The face of the security guard with the metal detector, the big luggage you helped to carry for the old lady and how she told you that she is going to visit her grandkids, the toilets with the fancy taps that you never find anywhere else, the long walks on the those walkways where the floor moves like an escalator. If one would like to loosely compare the experience – imagine a toiletries pouch in a hotel. But, one can contend that those experiences could be found in other places as well; shopping malls, banks, restaurants. Yes, and they would not be wrong. So maybe, the answer lies not in what the airport is, but it makes one feel.
Even the most seasoned frequent flyers, would agree that there is always this slight jolt in the chest region every time they walk into an airport. Maybe, it is one of those experiences that people never really gets used to; sort of like visiting the doctors. You know and perhaps are very familiar with what you are about to do, but then again there is this bit inside you that is not quite so sure. Is it the heightened security owing to recent aviation related misfortunes? It could be one of the reasons. But, it seems that there is no place like an airport to make you queasy….apprehensive. Maisha is flying out for her honeymoon today – and since she has walked in, she can’t help but make checklists to make it perfect. Camera, check! Chargers, check! Sexy black lingerie, check! Right across, the aisle to her is Terrance; he spends at least a hundred hour each year in the air – but right now as he waits for the flight, his daughter is performing at the school play. Right now all he wants, is to be able to say how proud is of her all before they ask him to switch off his cell phone. But the man with the headphones in the corner is Sayeed. Tonight, he is flying back to London to his wife after six months. He has picked up those special cherry candies that she loves, and he reassures (yet again) that he has indeed stored them in his travel bag. Holding on the apprehension thread, there is no place like an airport to ask yourself “are you sure? Maybe, check again.”
This seemingly simple little question once again goes deeper than people give credit for. Why is it that there is this air of “possibly the last time” all over the airport? Perhaps, air travel is still not considered safe enough for most of us to digest - but every airport, no matter how tastefully decorated, reeks with a feeling of stepping into the unknown. The hugging, kissing, weeping, and talking over the cell phone right up till the flight attendant tries to snatch it away are all witness to this. And on cue, Maisha is already on the phone with her mother! People know that in the greatest likelihood (statistically) most of these people will return to their usual lives in due time – but perhaps, it is the realization of the time in between that makes one realize that one could be missing out on possibly life changing events.
So going back to the story about the man living in an airport, it is rather difficult to sum him up. In all likelihood, he is tugging around his luggage through metal detectors, and making phone calls to his family – all in perpetual anxiety of if and when he can finally get back to his usual life. Long story short: airports are a Movement-simulating-temporary-environment-to-induce-apprehension-and-(un)assurance-in probability-of-it-being-the-last-time.