I’m sitting cross-legged on a small chair in the airport smoking room, wisps of tobacco smoke swirling up around my blonde hair. It’s about 2 am. I cough and sip my Diet Coke. A man opens the glass door, steps in. The door slams on his rolling suitcase. I hear him grumble as he frees it. Dragging it now, like it weighs two tons, he turns his head, meets my eyes and mutters “Evening”. I nod. He sits across the room, facing me, and pulls out a pack of Player’s Light cigarettes from his suit jacket pocket. I watch as he pops a smoke between his lips and feels around for a lighter. He places it, lights his cigarette, and leans back in the chair. His tanned face seems to release, as the wrinkles on his forehead loosen. I hear him sigh.
These are the night shifts, cleaning strangers’ garbage from planes and wandering the halls of gates and ticket desks and lost midnight souls caught in the purgatory of waiting for flights. I study their faces and wonder where they’re going and where had the been?
I make up their stories.
That man grew up in Texas. His father, who owned a lot of guns, went to prison for manslaughter when he shot his friend by accident. Pained by the memories of visiting his father in prison as a child, this man before me began an anti-gun crusade and was travelling to Canada now to study our gun registration laws. His children are warned daily about the danger of guns. Two girls and a boy. They like to play capture the flag in the backyard as dusk sets in Texas two doors down from a now-free Grandaddy who still owns a lot of guns. My smoking buddy is heading home now, bags packed, ticket in hand ready for tiny peanuts and plastic wine glasses and in-flight shopping. He’ll leave his car keys on the plane and the groomers in Texas will find them as they clean up his stray peanuts from his seat. They’ll page him over the loudspeaker just before the man exits the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport and he’ll hear it and thank God they found his keys.
A woman in slippers pops into our little midnight club with a smoke already in her mouth. She’s got chocolately skin and shiny black hair. She flops down in a chair three down from mine and strikes a match, lighting her cigarette. She’s flying to Manila to visit her sister who is undergoing chemotherapy for stomach cancer. She’s headed there to try and convince her sister not to try psychic surgery… you know, the sort that Andy Kaufman attempted; the type that people go to the Philippines for. Her son, engaged to a good Catholic girl, will join her in two weeks as he cannot get time off from his job at a bakery. She wishes he could have joined her tonight. She is nervous about flying, chain-smoking from fright, planes are not her thing. She’ll do fine though, and she’ll land and wait for her brother-in-law to pick her up at the airport and take her back to the street she grew up on. They’ll celebrate their reuniting that evening with lumpia and cassava and ginger tea before she falls into a deep slumber, still feeling the motion of the plane.
2:18am. I stand up, straighten out my polyester, navy blue uniform pants and walk towards the door. I grin at the woman as I pass her and slip out into the sprawling terminal. There’s a guy behind a security desk a few meters down the hall, reading the Vancouver Sun and eating an apple. A mom and two kids roll their carry-ons sleepily to the washroom. A man in a sharp suit marches in my direction with a briefcase. Each one of them, with their own stories. Each one of them likely just as interesting as the next.
I watch them with fascination. I watch them in a stasis in a nowhere place between cities. I watch them in their sweats and their business attire and their best dresses. I watch them curl up on benches and stare listlessly out the windows. I watch them check the time, double-check their boarding passes and triple check the gate number. I watch people pour in and out, passing through, coming home or just visiting.
In the middle of the night, I come to clean up after you, and I watch.
This post was set in my early twenties when I worked at the airport. I’m not twenty-one anymore! It’s part of a series, stories from my life, called Atheist Life Hacks. To read more of them click here.
Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay