The intermittent roll and click of suitcase wheels across too-slick floor tiles. The occasional drone of “last call for passengers travelling to…” over crackly tannoys. The constant, congested coughs of inefficient air conditioning units.
Welcome to the airport: where beer costs a fortune, basic human comforts are a luxury, and the very purpose of this godforsaken place — easy travel — is but an afterthought.
You rush there in an overpriced taxi to meet the airline’s recommended check-in time, even though you’ve already downloaded your boarding pass online. You get there half an hour before that, just in case. You check your bag, heart punching your ribcage violently as the conveyor belt creaks. You pray your bag isn’t overweight, even though you definitely are after a week of “I’m on holiday, why can’t I have a pint at 10am?”
You show your passport to the smiling woman at the check-in desk. She frowns. You explain, with embarrassment, that the photo was taken when you were sixteen, a day after someone shaved half your eyebrows off when you fell asleep at a party. She frowns again. She is not from Scotland.
She (reluctantly) lets you proceed to security, handing your passport back to you quickly as if losing half your eyebrows to the sesh is contagious. You frown back. You are a grown woman now. You are armed with two fully intact, quite bushy eyebrows. “Fuck you and your airport,” they shout silently in their hairy glory.
You stand in the security line. You shuffle forward a few steps. You contort your fingers so that you can clutch your phone, passport, and boarding pass in the hand that isn’t dragging your suitcase.
Every minute that passes oozes by with the slowness and stickiness of honey. A child standing in line in front of you screams like a harpooned seal because the battery on whatever device they were glued to died.
You were born in 1992. You are a millennial. You rely on the Internet for pretty much everything. Nonetheless, you think: “read a book, you fat wank.”
You place your bag into a grey plastic tray. There’s a beep when you go through the metal detector. They ask you to take your boots off. You do. You walk through the metal detector again. Nothing goes off this time. You put your boots back on and scoop your bag, jacket, and phone out of the plastic tray.
A giant screen displays your boarding gate. You make your way there. You are a wee bit sad. Two hours ago, you were drinking beer in your uncle’s garden with your parents, your brother, and his girlfriend. Now you’re alone with your bag on wheels in one hand and a small red book with a record of your travels and your missing eyebrows in the other. You are a wee bit sad.
You get a doughnut. Not a “donut.” You’re from Scotland, for fuck’s sake.
You eat the doughnut. You drink a coffee. You wish it were a pint.
Eventually, your flight begins boarding. Your suitcase pinballs down the narrow aisle behind you, bashing off the seat arms. “Sorry!” you mumble.
19B. 19B. You scan the overhead bins for your seat number and realise: it’s a middle seat. Okay. No big deal. It’s just a two-hour flight. You find your seat. You sit down. There is a young woman on your left at the window. She smiles at you. You feel relieved. The flight is almost full and the aisle seat is still empty.
Minutes later, a man sits down in the aisle seat. He is sweating profusely and he smells like boiled eggs. He is playing a game on his phone. He keeps elbowing you. You claim to be tolerant. Nonetheless, you think: “read a book, you fat wank.”
Your plane begins crawling along the runway. It takes longer than usual to pull its wheels up and ascend through the whipped peaks of the wispy clouds. The woman in front of you declares she is scared of flying. Her friend puts an arm around her. You hear her say, “I just can’t focus on anything but the noise.” She begins crying. You sympathise, and you want to distract her. Nonetheless, you think: “read a book, you fat wank.”
The plane’s wheels make juddering, shuddering contact with the thick tarmac. The seatbelt sign beeps off. You tuck your small red book with its record of your travels and your missing eyebrows into your bag. You haul the bag listlessly across the too-slick tiles as the tannoy crackles and the air conditioning coughs from above. You rub your eyes. You fidget with your hair. You stretch and hear your back complain loudly.
You wait for a taxi. You sit in the back on a cracked leather seat. You listen to bad music punctuated by your driver’s animated conversations on speakerphone with his wife. You try to relax. You try to nap. Your eyes begin to close several times but are jolted open by potholes and bad music and the driver’s bloody wife.
You give up.
You think: “might as well read a book, you fat wank.”