Arrivals or Departures?

Years ago,  a girlfriend of mine, confided that she often snuck off to the airport on weekends. She had no reason to go, it was purely for people watching. “I love that bit when you see people saying goodbye – I wonder where they’re going and for how long. I just like to feel a part of their excitement. It makes me happy”. I asked about the arrivals. “Yeah, that’s okay – but the departures are more exciting”.

I love the arrivals.

I’ve watched hundreds of people recognize the person they love as they’ve made their way off the plane. Hundreds of faces change from absent minded boredom to teary eyed nostalgia. It never gets old. It’s that brief moment where every thing is forgotten. You’ve made it. You’re back. You’re here. We’ve missed you.

If you ever want to test out if Gin really shouldn’t be drunk on a long haul flight – try landing in an unfamiliar airport and watching families re-unite while your own family is thousands of miles away. Unrealistic optimists such as myself always hang on to the hope that miraculously you will land in Malta/Singapore/Tripoli or Wherethehellisthatistan only to find a familiar face waving from the distance. Even though you know your Dad’s at the bowls carnival in Berri, it’s possible he may have found himself in Chicago on the same weekend as you. Right?

I know. I know.

Over the years I’ve installed a few mechanisms to cope with the disappointment. My favourite being the I’m going to pretend I’m a movie star entrance. That’s the one where I make my way in to the arrivals hall and begin walking quickly to avoid the paps while wearing sunglasses. I usually wrap a pashmina around my neck for impact. Unfortunately the pile of baby vomit on my shoulder, Cherrios stuck to my bottom and broken travel stroller have blown my cover over the years. Not to mention the lack of paparazzi and the chicken little backpack hitting me in the back of the leg with each step.

My parents avoid airport departure lounges. They were there for the first one and it wasn’t pretty. G and I had been married for a few weeks and he’d gone on ahead to Perth. It was time for me to join him. I was 30, it was just me and them. We hadn’t lived in the same town for years but this was different, I was moving states. I think we all knew it was just the beginning. They said all the right things, but we all cried. I sobbed for about the first hour of the flight until I settled with just letting out little hiccup cries, you know the involuntary ones that come out of nowhere? Just when you thought you’d stopped crying – there it is again.

They came back to the departure lounge about 18 months later. The first little traveler was 11 days old and G and I were traveling back to Jakarta with more luggage than U2 travelled with on their last tour. My Dad was assigned the job of swinging the little traveler back and forth in her basket while we all told him how he could do it better. I could see him looking at all of her little features, wondering what she’d look like next time he saw her. My mother was looking at me, wondering if I was really alright, not wanting us to go. It was so much more than a goodbye.

We don’t do departures now. We stick to arrivals.

My flight came in to Doha from Jakarta at 11.30 on Friday evening. I just presumed that G would have to stay home with the little travelers and I’d catch a taxi home. When I walked through the doors and in to the arrival hall I saw hundreds of faces looking back in my direction, it was noisy, bustling, people were holding signs. And then like something out of a movie, there was G, all 6 feet something of him, standing at the back of the crowd.

You’ve made it. You’re back. You’re here. We’ve missed you.

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