Updated: Aug 1
There’s no place like the airport
There’s no place like the airport, I think, realising that I only have a vague idea what country I’m in. I look around and it comes to me. Ali Ababa. No, that’s not right. Addis Ababa. Ethiopia. Yep, here I am.
The sun lets me know it's daylight hours at least. I look over at the restaurant where one man is eating breakfast, another has passed out at his table while the wait staff gently wake him to hand him his pizza, and another has several empty bottles of beer in front of him.
Where else can you drink a beer for $20 per glass at 7 am?
We’re about eighteen hours into our forty-plus hour journey. It’s coming back to me now: Singapore, then Sydney. Eighteen hours more flying, a four hour layover and a two hour train trip. Easy, I'd thought.
Together we stumble around the airport to find a line of empty benches with no railings to stop people lying down. My partner stretches out while I look around. I use my bag as my pillow, thinking it’s less likely to be stolen if it’s under my head, right? I’m too tired to care that much.
As I’m settling into the gentle white noise of the airport at our unoccupied gate, I hear the sounds of singing. I look up and groan, thinking they're buskers.
Nope, there are close to a score of people in some kind of uniform, singing and dancing. It's similar to the folk singing we’ve seen in the villages. Their enthusiasm, tenor and energy are drawing people to watch in wonder. The stamping of their feet, the clapping of their hands, the high and far reach of their voices in normal circumstances would be awe inspiring. A true and amazing culture shock.
I glare at them through half-lidded eyes, the bags under my eyes protesting the noise. Never has something so phenomenal been so unwelcome. I grit my teeth, thinking that at least they’ll be done soon.
Yet once the first song finishes, they begin another to the chants of the crowd encouraging an encore.
Yep, there’s no f……. place like an airport, I think, as I plug my ears like a child.
There’s no place like ...
I order my coffee and make my way to a small table I've spotted by the window in the far corner of the cafe. And here I sit, huddled in between small groups, listening to the ebb and flow of conversation.
My thoughts turn to my characters until my coffee arrives, when I pull myself back into the world around me long enough to smile and make eye contact with the stern-faced woman with the red lipstick who has placed a cup and saucer in front of me. Then I open a blank document on my phone and twist the teaspoon in the cup until it reveals the steaming inky black liquid that lies beneath.
My phone rings, but I let it go through to message bank. I’ll ring her back, I decide.
All I need is a brief window of time - fifteen minutes should do it. The clock on the GPO says 7.55, and I watch a tram roll by. At last, my characters have returned, and I move my attention from the cafe window into their world. Now I’m typing into my document app, looking through their eyes to uncover what they know and feel, and articulate their dialogue.
I look up, and it’s already ten past eight, but at least I have another rough draft of a chapter written, so the morning now seems to have some purpose. I save my work and get up to run for the approaching tram.
I don’t know where my characters come from, but when I’m with them there’s no place like it.
There’s no place like ...
I'm late for a weeknight, she thought as she got off the train, careful to step over the gap to the platform. Others got off with her, a few ‘suits’, a couple of health uniforms, a small group of twenty somethings laughing extravagantly at something only they would find funny.
She mounted the stairs dodging the men scrambling towards the platform after the guard had blown his whistle. ‘Please do not run towards the closing doors,’ an announcement declared. She dodged the slower ones making their way up, either work exhausted or gazing at their phones oblivious to holding up other people. God, it irritated her! It was late and freezing; she was keen to get home.
Tapping off, the brightness of the station was dazzling. It seemed obscene to have so much light at this hour. Outside the station, though, darkness enveloped the surrounding streets. A cold wind blew hard so that a shiver travelled through her and she pulled the scarf up around her neck and buttoned her jacket tight.
She walked hurriedly to the carpark where she'd left her the car at six a.m. Her boots tock-tocked on the concrete path, and her car unlocked with a beep. Before getting in, she looked over, as she always did, to where Bradley was lying on his inflatable lilo. She had marvelled at his meticulous organisation: bike locked safely against a metal post; possessions stacked neatly nearby. Only his head was visible as he was tucked to his neck in a sleeping bag with a beanie to keep his head warm. She couldn’t help but think of him as a boy. If she had had boys, he would be as old as her son. She quietly wished him a warm and safe night.
Finally home, she was aware of her tiredness; it felt bone deep. After her exhausting day, the flat had an artic chill in the absence of heating. Her back ached, she felt stiff with pain and cold. As she put on her pyjamas, she dashed to the microwave with her heat packs. On went her bed socks and she pulled down the doona and sheet as the microwave beeped. With heat packs in place, she brushed her teeth, suddenly desperate for sleep.
Finally, lying on her large cushiony mattress, she felt the soothing warmth of heat against her back. The doona settled on top of her like a gentle sigh and her muscles relaxed. Ah, she thought, there’s no place like bed.
Copyright: texts by authors cited above; photos Wix.
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