Unplugging the little white earplugs, I’m assaulted by the airport. It beats down on me with announcement, badly covered music and self-important conversations. Airport announcements always given in that ‘this is important’ voice that never comes through clearly. Or perhaps the private-school accented announcer has a mouthful of marbles. Or marshmallows. Or a deformity.

I wonder what they do in that announcement office all day. Some rancid little pocket in the stomach of the building. I’d probably go mad.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. The airport is going down in flames. Please visit the Afro-kitsch shop on your way out and be sure to purchase something with animal print. So that those of us who live here can judge you as you depart. No sir, you may not purchase the wooden sculpture of the African butler with shiny buttons carrying a gin and tonic. That shit is offensive. No, I don’t care what the shopkeeper says.”

Double espresso arrives in a coffee mug. Grumpy waiter. Check in only opens in an hour. I spread out a copy of The Zimbabwean – available in almost no newsagents near you – and skim the headlines:

Stop politicallymotivated rape – Zimrights

Beaten for not talking Shona. “I am not sure where (I was) because there was a canopy and it was hard to see and I was in so much pain…”

Lawyers object to forced labour in remand prison

Students tortured over video

Conditions ripe for cholera… a firsthand account.

Activists languish in jail

Teachers flee for safety

We have suffered enough – Sikhala

The espresso is bitter. A smiling coffee shop manager does the rounds, moving from table to table. Are we still having fun? Of course we are. So much. So very much.

The Zimbabwean elections are in August, an article explains. I hadn’t realised they had set a date yet. I should go. Perhaps I could be useful to some of the media organisations back here in South Africa. I’ve heard Zanu PF has made sure that the registration fees for foreign journalists are crippling, but there must be alternatives. Go as an observer with one of the foreign missions, or perhaps a local NGO? I’ll ask my Zimbabwean lawyer friends what the options are. I  can’t lie. A camera is less easily explained away than a notepad or the asking of questions.

The coffee shop fills up. Some collared shirts with laptop bags, carrying people inside. Families with bored children or feeding children. Conversations scattered, crashing and blending in the air:

“…it’s amazing, Mary even told me about it…”

“…If I want to get something, if I want to go, I just go…”

“…so it’s just there on my right… oh, is that my coffee? Did you think I’d skipped…”

“…this is a soup and salad. But where’s the salad…”

ATTENTION PLEASE. ATTENTION PLEASE. PASSENGER BRADY. PASSENGER BRADY. PLEASE GO TO GATE NUMBER TWO.

“…oh, the DVD? I can’t find it…”

A South African couple talking to another foreign couple. Some mix of ‘how much of South Africa have you seen?’ mixed in with anecdotes, some social preening. In front, a mom with a daughter who has become obsessed with a point and click camera. Plus her skinny orange and blonde son. A man in a black leather jacket. Too well groomed for the look he is imitating. Silvery hair. Rimless glasses. An intellectual? Across from him is a woman he doesn’t love. Something is missing in the space between. There is too much emptiness. Perhaps they work together.

BLAH BLAH BLAH. SOMETHING ABOUT A FLIGHT.

Luggage Claim Area Number One fills with people looking for their bags. A man in a rugby supporters’ jersey. There is always a man in a rugby jersey on weekends in South Africa. Memories in fabric of Sundays lost to the television. Forcing life to mean something through the antics of twenty two jerseyed heroes.

There’s a backpacker. Strappy top. Hair up. No luggage that can’t be carried without having both hands free. A tourist in a straw hat with large spectacles and a camera bag around his neck. He looks Japanese. I wonder how long he has been in South Africa. Whether he follows the news. Whether he knows about the earthquake?

A man in a rugby supporters’ jersey. There is always a man in a rugby jersey on weekends in South Africa.

Another rugby jersey. Green and white stripes. Number fifteen. Short hair. Full belly. A moustache and glasses for reading on a rope around his neck. Disciplined motions. Someone who doesn’t wonder about things. Someone who knows. With absolute certainty. Always.

Three friends with blonde-white hair, matching straw handbags and rolling luggage. Trying to be identical, but failing. The leader in front. Choosing, talking, deciding things. Last one at the back, pushing the trolley and keeping the world afloat. Pratchett’s turtle on whose back the Discworld is made.

The faces drain away and only a lonely rectangular bag remains, holding its tag to the clinical light of the Luggage Claim Area Number One. All alone. A man with a lanyard picks it up and they walk away. To the lost packages counter. Luggage Claim Area Number One rolls back over to sleep.

The white earbuds go back in. Walking to the check in counter with Alanis Morissete’s Arrival burying the airport’s voices again.

“…didn’t know where he was going. Just had to reach the border.”

I get a boarding pass for seat 22c. it’s an over-wing row, which means legroom. It’s an aisle seat, which means someone else knows that you get extra legroom when they put you in the over-wing exit row, then beat me to the window seat. The boarding pass is cheese and tomato coloured:

1time.co.za boarding pass

more nice, less price

PLZ12MAR11

Please refer to your ticket wallet for more information on our policies and restrictions.

I don’t have a ticket wallet. Watch and phone go in the grey plastic box for scanning. “Yes,” the scanner confirms, “this is a watch and a phone.” Rendered in blues and pinks and greens on the security screen. Alanis resumes:

“This is the time for awakening for humans on the planet. To wake up from the madness. Because the history of humanity is basically the history of insanity.”

“…deeper reflection. It’s all about me. I’ll arrive in the same place as I began..”

“Arrival”

I make it to the departure gate.

“Where do we begin? Denial. Separation. I arrive in the same place as I began.”

“click”

I forgot to charge the iPod. Wings clipped, I fall back into the airport noise. I take up a spot on the edge of the brushed metal benches that are meant for four people, but which we only ever fill with two if we have anywhere else we could possibly sit.

Denial. Separation.

Two women arrive and sit. My bench now makes four. I look around. There is nowhere else to sit. Of course.

I remind myself to be less of a judgemental fucker.

Departure Gate Two has seats to the left and the right. Some are a bit closer to Gate One. Ambiguous seats. Nefarious seats. A middle-aged woman in a flowing blue nylon top and painted-on eyebrows asks the attendant if she should sit on the seats to the left or to the right. The attendant looks confused.

‘Really? For god’s sake – nobody will stop you boarding because you sat on the wrong chair. Make a decision. Live. For god’s sake live! You might like the experience.’

The attendant tells her to sit on the right. She sits on the right. I remind myself to be less of a judgemental fucker. The lady on the bench to my left has printed her flight details. And highlighted flight T6-508. And put it in a plastic folder.

I think, as a society, we might have a problem with rules. I go to the bathroom.

Returning, my bench has four people on it.

Categories: Creative Writing
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