Aircrafts and airports are the perfect form of insulation. Nothing can happen beyond the roaring of an engine and the silly movie on the screen in front of me. Nothing can happen among the throngs of humanity moving as one and the blaring lights of the duty-free, beckoning shoppers.
The officer at Passport Control gives me an informative crash course on how to tap a passport after disembarking, to get rid of the magnetic field that might prevent it from working at the automated kiosk. I am riveted and entirely lost in his words – I bet he couldn’t believe his eager audience after a stream of silent passengers wanting to get on with it.
The perfectly thin and perfectly blonde woman from San Francisco, sitting next to me at Pret a Manger, enquires on whether I like the book I am reading. We chat amiably. I gulp down the strong coffee that might, or might not, wake me up.
I feel nothing. I am in transit, suspended in travel gelatin. I go through the motion of being perfectly pleasant and perfectly polite. I even helped my seat mate unload her two suitcases from the carousel. We say goodbye: Lynn, her name, is taking a coach to Exeter and then on to her sheep farm in Devon. She told me all about sheep, and lambing, and how she could never eat lamb now. And that sheep are highly intelligent animals. She also told me she was in California to spend the last remaining weeks of her brother’s life – he was hit by an RV while biking.
What exactly would be the chances of sitting next to someone who travelled to bury her brother on the same day I am traveling to bury my father? I might not believe in god but I believe in synchronicity.
When the flight touches down on the slick Heathrow runway I turn my cellphone on. I am dreading any messages. Among the difficult and weird decisions one is forced to make at the end of a family member’s life, answering the question of whether I want to know if death has come while I was flying, via a text message, is one of them. I choose the technological option but now I dread turning the phone on. Do I really want to see it black on white, on an aseptic message?
As I walk through Heathrow’s interminable corridors, the message I don’t want to read comes through. So, this is it. This is how it feels, or doesn’t feel as the case might be. I keep on walking, I help Lynn with her luggage, I change terminals, I chat with the officer at Passport control and the lady from San Francisco and order coffee and pee and keep on reading my book as if nothing had changed. The airport and the throngs and the coffee keep me together. Traveling is a suspension of life and devoid of responsibilities other than trudging from point A to point B as instructed by kiosks, screens and disembodied voices.
There will be familiar faces at the other end waiting to hug me and take me home. There will be things to be dealt with, more decisions to be made and the strangeness of not seeing my father’s slight frame. There will be all that and more. For now, surrounded by strangers, I am left to digest the news in peace, unencumbered by what needs to be said and done and felt. There will be time for all that. Plenty of time.
Image: Empire of Light by Rene Magritte