Waiting For Arrival
I am waiting for a taxi that was due at 5.00 AM. But the morning is fresh and clean, and the birds are singing cheerfully. Above, a clear blue sky heralds a fine day. Soon I will be up there too.
The houses are quiet, curtains drawn, and nothing stirs, save for a fox that trots warily across the road. Inside the houses I know the people there are not yet awake. I breathe deeply of the cold air, mind now empty. After a few minutes the black car turns slowly into the road.
We are waiting at the traffic lights, which seem to be taking an unusually long time to change. But the driver tells me about my destination, where he lived for ten years, and I learn the good places to go that few others know about. Then we are on our way again.
I am waiting to check in. Two people with heavy bags push in front of me, even though I am just about to join the queue. One of their bags crashes into my ankle and I wince. But I only have carry-on, so I move past the line to the express check-in and I’m done. The pushy people stare at me with cold annoyance.
I am waiting to pass through security. I search the snaking queues for The One. There he is. I can tell it’s him, because his face is already going a darker shade of red. Like a volcano he finally erupts – “For Christ’s sake, I have a plane to catch!” I choose to do my penance in silence.
The guard beckons with one hand and waves his metal detector like a wand with the other. The people pass obediently in single file through the empty frame of the security door. It transports me back to when I was a boy in Ireland, using a stick to guide a line of sheep through the sheep dip. In ye go. In ye go. In ye go.
I am waiting for my coffee. The barista is cheerful and funny, and chats as she steams the milk. The warm aroma surrounds me. I sit in a dark corner and watch. People land at the empty round tables, slurp their coffee, and take off again. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some big, fat and slow. Others nippy and whiney. Some new and shiny. Some worn down by the years, and nearly out of service.
I am waiting to board. There is a tension in the air, a coiled spring of anticipation. Rows one to fifteen please. But everyone rushes up regardless, and a long queue forms. I stay in my seat. The plane is not taking off without me.
A small child lays on the floor and licks the carpet, until a sharp slap from her father brings that fun to a close. Now she’s crying, which seems to be the default state of the other children on the flight. I take a silver coin from my pocket and spin it on the table. With a few shuddering sobs, she stops crying and stares at the spinning coin. Lost in the moment.
We are waiting for departure. I shut off my phone. I relax and look for something interesting in the airline’s magazine. I settle on a piece about leaving the rat race and living on a tropical island. Someone’s phone goes off, and a stream of koans fills the air.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“No, no, there’s no way.”
“You know where it is.”
“Yes – Yes – Yes – No – No.”
“You won’t forget will you?”
“No – No – No. Yes.”
“You’re going to forget aren’t you?”
“Put three drops on his nape.”
I am waiting for arrival. I know it will be a long time. So I write in peace and quiet. Those around me eat or sleep or watch movies. The smell of microwaved chicken hangs in the air. Someone farts. Time stops. Space shrinks. The cabin light dims. I am lost in thoughts and strange worlds to explore. I am teleported to my writer’s island.
The plane has landed. Phones squawk angrily at their owners, who jump to attend to their care and feeding. People shoot stiffly to their feet and wrench their bags from the overhead lockers, as if the plane is on fire. One man clamps a cigarette between his teeth, ready to light up at the earliest chance, and places another behind each ear for good measure. Somewhere a piece of baggage falls on someone’s head, and an argument starts.
They are waiting to leave. They stand awkwardly, stooped, their heads banging into the overhead lockers. But the doors won’t open for another ten minutes, which will seem like thirty.
Now they are waiting to prove they really are a person, a lotto-winning member of the human race. Holding up the badge of their source co-ordinates on a small blue watery planet whizzing through the infinity of space and time. Identity number approved with a curt nod, they hurry forward, heads down, feeling paranoid.
They are waiting for their luggage. Scanning the carousels like a pride of lions searching for a first glimpse of prey. Target identified, they approach swiftly but cautiously, wary that some other lion, or worse, a hyena, will claim their prey as their own. They yank the prey from the conveyor. These lions can drag their own body weight in luggage.
An aeon has passed since the Ancient One, the ancestor of all land-things, crawled from some Silurian sea into the future, and all the while the lathe of evolution was turning its masterpiece – brain, skin, eyes, the intricate mechanisms of the cochlea, fingers and thumbs. From afar the Old Ones watched, silent, unblinking, as finally, triumphantly, the hand closed around the handle of the Gucci bag, while all across the stars the quantum dice clicked and spun their new creations.
I stand in the sunshine, released at last. I close my eyes and imagine I’m home. My cat waits peacefully for me, curled up on the sofa by the fire, warm and snug, one ear listening for the front door. Ana watches tagalog movies while ironing her uniform, laughing gently, then sleeps, ready for the night shift at the hospital, where she medicates and washes people waiting to die, their last breaths hanging like an alien mist above their beds.
People all around, trapped in past and future. They don’t like to wait. But waiting is everywhere. Like air.
Me, I like to wait. Waiting is opportunity. Waiting is freedom. Waiting is peace. Waiting is life. Waiting is eternity in a moment.