So, there I was. Stood in the middle of the room, with tears cascading down my face, which I was desperately trying to hide, but having no hope of doing so thanks to the deluge that had suddenly sprung the depths of my emotional being. The children were looking, nay staring, at me with a cross between bemusement, concern and, was that a hint of embarrassment on young Tilly’s face?
“Why are you crying Mummy?”
*sniff* “I’m…” *sob* “just so…” *sniff* “happy! Grandma and Grandad are coming.” *sob* *sob* *sniff*
This was only one week after we had left the UK – it had been an emotional first week in Switzerland – and we were stood in the Arrivals hall at Zurich Airport. Fast forward one week later and it wasn’t just me with tears trickling down cheeks as we said our goodbyes.
In the last five months I have repeated this experience, with varying degrees of emotional outpouring, by spending regular chunks of time at Zurich Airport. Next week we’ll be back there again, but this time as travellers, with a destination, not just as a taxi service. We are returning to the UK for a pre-Christmas visit but more significantly it will be our first trip home since our relocation. I am so excited I can’t verbalise it well at all, I trail off into silence and mutter, “I’m, just, like, really excited.” We will spend ten days visiting our friends and family, reminding some that we are still alive whilst encouraging as many as possible to come out for a weekend. I am also aware that our short visit will be marred by the knowledge that our return journey will be getting closer every day, every hour and every minute we are with our loved ones. However, for the outward journey our time at the airport will be an exciting part of our journey, though I fear that impatience to arrive at the end of our journey will mask the enjoyment of browsing duty free or enjoying an enforced period of time where the main distraction is people watching. It is this (people watching) that I have been doing a lot of on my trips to drop off or pick up various members of the family and I have come to appreciate The Airport as a rich source of entertainment.
I know there are SO many films, songs and books that are set in or around an airport or aeroplane, but I have only just come to understand why! Yes, I fear I may be a little slow on the uptake, I am on the brink of 40 and have travelled a sufficient amount for an airport to no longer be a novelty, but even so I have never really become absorbed in the environment. Quite aside from the obvious rich seams of inspiration (beginnings and ends of journeys) there is the fact that at an airport there is so much to be picked up on that is unsaid and unconsciously communicated. Body language of hassled parents with kids excited by this alien environment; fear on the faces of those not comfortable with flying; romantic indulgence of couples jetting off on a mini-break; streamlined efficiency of the suit on a business trip; emotional expectation from those meeting loved ones. The bizarre side of this is that everyone is in their own little bubble, not engaging with any other person. I mean, if I were stood in the supermarket sobbing I would like to think that some kindly soul would stop, gently rest their fingertips on my upper arm and softly ask if I were ok. In The Airport all rules of human concern seem to be forgotten.
Every person at an airport has their own story that they are engaged in and are oblivious to the lives that are unfolding around them. For brief periods though these stories are sharing the same backdrop, the same ‘extras’ and yet none of this gets acknowledged unless a suit in a hurry gets held up by the hassled family trying to stay together. We people watch but only on a superficial level, not stopping to think about how that person who hates flying might really appreciate a random conversation to take their mind off their forthcoming terror. Instead we chuckle at the face full of fear before letting our eyes, and minds, travel to the loved up couple who really need a room not a flight. We turn into observers. The Airport is one big stage.
Now that my home is a flight away, and my husband is travelling more as a consequence of his new job, I am not only spending more time at the airport but I am becoming more aware of the lives that brush together for these fleeting moments. More aware that empathy and common decency still have a place in this sea of transitory strangers. More aware of the different possible subtexts from the sight of a person in tears in Departures or the Arrivals hall.