The man in the aisle seat was talking to me about the woman he liked to travel with. She would fly into JFK once a year and they would make their way to the West Coast; he would visit her home country of Iceland regularly and, when he wasn’t spending time with his in-laws, he’d spend it with her. He was silver-haired and silver-tongued. I wondered what his wife thought of this arrangement but did not bother asking. The middle seat in our row was empty and the color beyond the windows was a warm grey and it was the first time in 30 hours that I felt relaxed.
Four hours earlier…
Rooms like this don’t exist in American airports, not that I’ve seen anyway. A woman with two young children sits in the seat next to mine while the smaller baby wails and the larger baby uses the mother’s phone to play pop songs in a language I don’t recognize. The flight to Reykjavik is on time but time has begun to feel like a formality, just another something that gets lost in translation.
Six hours earlier…
I don’t have enough kroner to buy anything in the food court but I have two long flights ahead of me and I know well enough what options I’ll be left with if I don’t eat what I can now. I locate the most affordable kiosk and use my debit card and my American dollars to buy the Dutch version of American Japanese food. I cannot blame my stomach for how it reacts.
Ten hours earlier…
I hover my phone over a table that promises to charge the battery and a lot of nothing happens. I read the instructions over and over and think something is missing. I have the small suitcase sitting in my lap like a child and I grip the larger suitcase between my legs like a lover, like a something I’m terrified of losing. I arch my back downward until my head rests on my elbows, until my elbows rest on the tabletop. For the first time in 24 hours, I close my eyes and fall asleep.
Twelve hours earlier…
I am finally on the other side of the gate, which tells me I’ll be home soon. I walk through a large convenience store and buy chocolate bars for the boy who stayed up with me last night. I hope they don’t melt before I land in New York, even though January in Copenhagen / Iceland / New York makes that unlikely. Afterward I find a wide-open restaurant and order a continental breakfast. It’s the best thing I’ve tasted since landing in Denmark.
Fifteen hours earlier…
I am open to being pitied. It’s twelve or one or two in the American morning and the face of the boy I’m dating takes up the entirety of my computer screen. He tells me he’ll talk to me until I can pass through security and find a place to rest. My exhaustion causes me to speak in my own dialect. The airport is a ghost town but I still insist on sitting protectively on top of my suitcases, just in case, because even in my sleeplessness I am all too aware of my vulnerability.
Twenty hours earlier…
I watch as one man takes on the task of vacuuming the entire airport. He rides in precise, neat rows like a boy who’s grown too old to mow the lawn for a living.
Twenty-three hours earlier…
The only outlet I know of is in the rear corner of a Burger King. I set my suitcases down and make a temporary home for myself. The Danish Burger King has apples or carrots or some other healthy and surprising something. I ignore this and instead drink beer for so long that I grow sober again. I wish to make the most of this experience — to meet a stranger, to make a friend — but when an English-speaking man sits down next to me and makes small conversation, I turn my attention to the computer screen in front of me and miss home in a hopeless, childlike way.
Thirty hours earlier…
I tell Shannon we did everything we could, but she can’t shake the guilt from her face. I urge her to go on. She has a plane to catch, while mine is a day removed from where we stand now. It’s just a day, it’s going to be fine, I tell her, and I’m not sure which one of us I’m trying to convince.
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