An Airport Layover.
“Which is the place you love the most?” I asked her, amidst a conversation meandering in between a million thoughts about love, life and our existence.
“Airports.” She said. “I love airports.”
I wouldn’t ask her for the reason, it was not her habit to reason why she loved the things or the people she loved. I was envious and concerned in equal measure about that capability of hers. Envious, as I would have given everything I had, to be able to love someone or something like that, without having to explain it to myself. Concerned, as her choices of things and people to love had failed her multiple times with amazing consistency.
“Airports signify the beginning of a new chapter, a new place, and new people.” Contrary to her nature, she reasoned. This conversation had begun sometime earlier that night with a rather quaint question from her side.
“Do you think it’s worth living if we aren’t madly in love with our lives?” Nestling her head in the comfort of her pillow.
I wanted to tell her that none of us would have got so far in life had there been no love to keep us alive, but I wouldn’t. Her definition of love had been tainted beyond repair by the poison injected in her mind by things we call popular culture. Our love is now twenty three red roses that find its way to our room at midnight on the fourteenth day of February. Our love is now an ecstatic night on an eight inch bed at a solitary floating villa on the sea in Maldives. Our love is now a candle light dinner on a thirteenth floor terrace overlooking a crowded city with ugly skyscrapers. Our love is only capable of giving momentary joy; a hot shower of overwhelming happiness, a split second of orgasmic thoughtlessness, a swift evening of endearing wilderness. Our love is shallow and empty. Our love is sad.
“Aren’t we capable of loving better?”
When I was a little kid, I used to love the attention I got from everyone, the people in the houses to the left and right of my grandmothers place, those teachers of mine who first asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, parents who kept reminding me that I was indeed the most talented kid to ever walk on this planet, those tuition teachers who taught me to calculate the heights of mountains in the Alps using your distance from the foot of the mountain and the angle at which you were looking at it, those friends who were there to cheer each time I got on stage and many more, whom I don’t even remember by name. They all had a role to play in the way my life has shaped through all these years.
As inevitable as decay is, my love for attention changed as age and weight grew on me, without seeking permission. The corridors of college greeted me with a pair of pretty eyebrows. It’s a thing about that age, to not look beyond the perfection of eyebrows, to not think outside the cocoon of comforts, to not venture outside with dreams unconventional, to not deviate from the loop of storylines set.
“What are you getting at?”
It hasn’t been long since you’ve started living on your own, and it has been the same for me. It hasn’t been long since I’ve been engulfed in emptiness, and it has been the same for you. The worst part about being twenty five is having to let go of that attention that you’ve loved all your life. We never really knew how much we were in love with it, the feeling of being taken care of because you deserved to be treated that way. Twenty five is when you graduate from being The One at your home to one among millions in the throng of a big city. For now you no longer have corridors to stroll in, you no longer seek pretty eyebrows to wink at, your cocoon no longer has walls of comfort, and you have no option but to venture out into the unknown. Most importantly, you know what your storyline is, and you know that you would forever be in a loop.
“I want to break free from this mundane life.”
That reminds me of something I forgot earlier. At twenty five, you also realize that nothing changes overnight. You don’t fall in love at first sight anymore, nor do you fall out of love in a day. You won’t change your habits in a flash, nor will you start a new routine at one shot. You don’t trim down your tummy in a month, but yes, you can gain one in just a week. You cannot break free from anything that’s mundane, at best you can accustom yourselves to the flow.
“I still don’t understand why I feel as if there is something missing in my life. This is what I wanted for as long as I can remember, to be successful in life, to make everyone I know proud, to live a good life.”
Here you are, at the most successful phase of your life this far, trying hard to find a reason to wake up for each day.
“I don’t know. Everything seems a drag.”
What is our life but a series of airport layovers? We have always had a flight to catch, one that gave us little time to breathe. That was how our life had been this far. We all had been at some of the best airports in the world, those schools and colleges we went to, but we had always been in a hurry to make it in time for the next flight. We’ve had so many fantastic duty free shopping destinations in each of these, and what remains in us now are some remarkable memories of our time at each of these airports. Like most of the things we’ve bought from airports where we have been, most of the people we’ve carried from all the years of our past have withered away like old leaves in an autumn breeze, but few things remain with an afterglow of everlasting enigma, and those are those few friends of ours who still make our life worth living. Now, we are just at the longest layover of our lives yet.
“So is this something everyone goes through?”
As a kid, every time I stepped out of my home, I knew that I would be going back there, to the comfort of my bed, the noise of that fan, the fulfilment of seeing the posters on those walls, the drawers with all my secrets, and the scent of books from a glorious past. I’ve lived in multiple hostel rooms from my time after school, albeit always with fond comfort inside that this wasn’t where I belonged. I had a room elsewhere, I had a space for myself far away from this makeshift arrangement, sound and secure. I knew of the vacations that would take me back to that ease, like an oasis in an expansive desert, one which would come for certain, every now and then. But it all changed on the day I stepped out on my own, into a career that had been the reckoning of years of education, one that had no summer vacations, one that was in a crowded, bounded city, far worse than an empty, sprawling desert. I no longer belonged to that room or that home anymore, I had now graduated into being a tourist there, and I were to find my own space of belonging.
“My problem now is not knowing where to catch my next flight from, nor do I know where I want to go on it.”
This is the emptiness in having reached the destination that you had always told yourself that you dreamt of reaching. Once there, you’ve realized that the water and food at that place taste just the same, the kisses and hugs by those people are not that warm, and the gin and tonic from that place is not all that strong.
“The thought is too negative. Did I go wrong in my dreams?”
The problem is in our inability to see the sparkle of the airport that we now are in. Unlike ever before, you now have leisure that can serve you well. This is when you should stop by those wonderful spaces all around you, explore, engage and enlighten yourselves with all the wonder in the wold around you. Look at the pretty windows of the shops that adorn the airport floor. See the goodness that overflows in your life, desired by many, even loathed by some. Our life has been defined this far by the things we’ve done at those short airport layovers we’ve had, schools, colleges and everything in between. Here, at this long layover, embrace its warmth and inhale its fragrance. We’ve left behind most of what gave us happiness from our layovers of the past, but now, I’ll remind you, that moment when you find a thing of joy, a hobby or a body, a space or a place, a drink or some ink, a book or even a hook, some love or maybe a dove, a dream or just ice cream, anything it may be, do not let it go away from the grasp of your palm, carpe diem. Pack it onto your luggage, for wherever it is that your next flight takes you, it will bring you joy that will always keep you smiling. Unlike the people and things that have been yours only for the duration of one layover, it’s time to acquire some for every layover of your life yet to come.
“Which is the place that you hate the most?” I’d ask her, as the darkest hour of the night neared, and the tire of our bodies lulled us to sleep.
“Airports.” She’d say yet again. “I’m scared of airports.”
I would once again refrain from asking her the reason, but this time since I knew that she had one, and that she would tell me without me asking for it.
“Airports signify the end of every chapter, my old place, and my old people.”