The terminal is huge. I should know. I’ve been wandering around it for the past hour, people watching. You’ve done it before. Don’t pretend you haven’t. It’s easy. Just sit down in a spot and pretend to be doing something else. Periodically check your watch, or study your fingernails, or even put on your sunglasses and pretend to be asleep. Then just listen to what’s going on around you. You’d be surprised at what you’re privy to when people don’t know you’re watching or listening to them.
But finding a spot to stop is tricky, because terminals work in cycles, just like anywhere else. Planes aren’t always taking off or arriving, but when they do either of these two things mad rushes ensue at different parts of the vast terminal. There are people running late who are dodging others left and right to try and make it to their gate. There are people who are hurrying to line up because they know how long it takes to board the airplane and they want to be able to relax in their seats as soon as possible. There are people who are waiting for others to get off the plane so they can embrace and appreciate a closeness that has been absent as long as they have been separated.
So I stop at Gate D44 because it’s not crowded with people in line for a flight or with people waiting to greet those disembarking from a flight. In fact, only two small groups of people are in the chairs servicing the gate. I glance briefly at the board and see that the next flight to Stockholm leaves from this gate in three hours. I sit down. I’m not going to Stockholm but I’m interested to see who is. This is the glory of watching and listening to strangers. I put on my sunglasses and lean back in my chair. I am directly across from the nearest small group of passengers, three people who somewhat resemble each other.
“I wish we didn’t have to get here so early,” the girl with blonde hair says. She is probably 15 years old, and already bored with the grand adventure. She is wearing a white t-shirt and short shorts. She pops her gum and I am reminded of when I used to pop my gum.
“And I wish we didn’t have to listen to Sophie whine all the time,” a boy who could only be her younger brother replies. He wears a Manchester United jersey that could have come from my own closet at home, and a pair of stone-wash jeans. His hair is unkempt.
“It says on the website that you should arrive at the airport a full four hours ahead of time for your flight,” argues their mother, a bottle-blond with brown roots creeping their way back in.
“Does it say only nerds actually get to the airport early?” says Sophie, who obviously brought her attitude to the airport today. She looks for a moment in my direction, but I trust my ruse of being asleep, breathing evenly until her gaze lands elsewhere. Then her phone is out and she’s texting, breaking our pseudo-connection.
I notice that the boy in the seat next to her has on glasses, but they appear to be fashionable instead of absolutely necessary. He has a book open on his lap and he is pretending to read. Either that or he can read at an amazing rate because he flips pages frequently. His mother sits next to him with her legs crossed at the ankles. She has the type of face that seems familiar, but I know I’ve never seen her before. She is fidgeting with her purse strap as she waits the endless wait until her flight boards.
“Can’t we just be nice to each other for once?” their mother says in a voice that can only be described as bland, although it strives for relevance.
“No,” Sophie replies under her breath. Her brother halfheartedly kicks her ankle in response, like he knows she expects it of him and he is loath to disappoint. She stops texting long enough to stand up and stretch, as if she has been sitting in the same spot for hours. She walks over to the arrivals and departures board and squints up at it like she needs glasses, her eyes becoming slits for a few moments, until she has verified what she’s seen. Returning to her seat, she takes out her phone again.
“Our flight’s delayed two hours,” she says only after sitting back down and readjusting her shorts. She doesn’t even look up from her phone as her fingers keep playing her phone like it’s a keyboard. Her brother groans audibly in the seat next to her, and her mother slumps down further in her seat. I can tell it’s going to be a long few hours for that crew. I startle as if I’ve suddenly been awakened, and rise from my seat. Sophie’s eyes follow me all the way up, then go back to her phone’s screen. No one else even notices as I leave D44 and head off to my next destination.