I can’t believe there is a human on this earth whose heart doesn’t start beating in double-time as they walk through the doors into an arrivals lounge of an airport, clinging to the hope that someone might be there waiting for them.
Even if not a soul on the planet has any way of knowing you’re even on the flight, there is a part of you that holds out hope the love of your life will be standing there expectantly with open arms. I’m basically alluding to females, but family I suppose would do. Besides, if you’re a parent the love of your life basically is your kids. Either way there are worse places to be. There’s a lot of goodness and happiness and beautiful human emotion at play.
When’s the last time you watched Love Actually. The end credits are a montage of these exact moments.
So with this in mind, off went my alarm at 4.30am, and as the sun rose reluctantly to thaw an especially butt-cold morning of spring, I roused myself from slumber and picked my way through empty streets and across London to Paddington. After six months in Argentina, my old man was returning to his adopted country. His flight was landing at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 at 6.25am and a strong pang of filial duty was going to have me there, a smiling face in an indifferent crowd, awaiting with open arms. So we too could share in a Love Actually moment.
I had money on the fact that this show of filial devotion was gonna make my old man’s year. I did some maths and figured that a 6.25am landing time, factoring in passports and baggage-reclaim and all that stuff, meant I could confidently take my place at the barrier around 7am. I arrived at three minutes to seven precisely.
The place seemed strangely deserted.
So I waited.
And as I waited, all around me I saw beautiful scenes emerging. People reunited with their loved ones. All colours and creeds, of all ages, locked in passionate embraces, happy to be together again. All of a sudden life became so simple. Love was the starring role.
Three generations of an Indian family in a rugby-scrum of affection. A mother back from some exotic land being smothered, literally throttled, by her two young daughters, as their father looked on smiling sleepily. A woman bounding up to her ageing father, of such beauty, that in the blinking of an eye I’d imagined our life together and was thinking up subjects with which to seduce my new father-in-law the moment she introduced us.
But no sign of pops.
The information board told me his plane had landed slightly earlier, at 6.17am. And as the second hand ticked on, I furrowed my brow and attempted some more maths. It was nearing 7.30am, over an hour since he landed. But T5 is massive, I thought, and with respect my old man is no Linford Christie, not after two hip operations and six months of fine argentine cuisine. Something must’ve been holding him up.
Something, or someone.
I did some more thinking. He hates other people, he hates flying, he loathes airports, odds-on he’d be marching through passport control with a scowl of unabated black-thunder etched onto his face. Marry that with his insistence on wearing dark glasses and a panama hat at all times, his not-unnoticeable latin-infused english accent, and he’d comfortably take his place on any FBI’s most-wanted list. I mean, of course he got stopped.
I then smiled at the thought that even if he was packing 23 kilos of uncut Colombian, stopping papa on the back end of a 14 hour flight, in his least-favourite environment, having just touched down in a country he doesn’t even want to be in, with the moods he’s capable of mustering, and the scenes he’s capable of making, it was resoundingly in Customs’ best-interests to leave that man alone.
On I waited.
I took some dope selfies.
I did some more maths.
It was now past 8am, and still T5 remained papa-less.
I wondered if he’d even got on the plane.
It was when fifteen rowdy Hasidic Jews came through the double-doors barking yiddish, and looking up I saw a flight from Tel–Aviv that had landed over an hour after the one from Buenos Aires, that by now no longer even featured on the information board, that I admitted defeat. My watch read 8.17am.
If my old man had spent two hours in between landing and arrivals and was only coming through now, he’d most likely be absolutely livid. And I’d be damned if I was going to wait around for that shit-storm. I shrugged my shoulders and thought of that line from Alien, in space no-one can hear you scream, and how it had no relevance whatsoever to the present moment.
So I lensed a final selfie, as proof of my heroic odyssey, and bailed.
Sitting there on the train rolling back into central London, I thought about plane travel, and how although our horizons would obviously be much narrower without it, maybe this ability to fly all over the earth wasn’t necessarily that healthy. That perhaps planes had messed something up in some way. The slickness of T5 had definitely messed my shit up, I remember a time when getting from the cabin-doors to the arrivals lounge was the work of two hours, easy. Now an irate Argentine nursing a couple of titanium balls for hips can motor through in under 30 minutes.
It made me sad.
Because at the end of it all, life is made up of moments. And the heightened emotions attached to these moments. The time you first set eyes on the love of your life. Your first pinger. Your child’s first steps. To a lesser extent, the time your son comes to meet you at the airport unexpectedly at 7am on the morning of some idle Thursday, and you ride into town together in a cab and shoot the breeze.
The precise moments I saw unfolding between strangers as I waited for my old man to wheel his trolley through the double-doors. But he never did. Nevertheless, being a witness to these moments and their warmth was plenishment for the soul. It was a reminder that the really truly important things in life aren’t that many in number. There’s really just one of them.
The old L word.
It was a reminder to go and put the old L word into practice.
And hurry up doing it.