The arrivals hall at Heathrow looks like a badly provisioned shopping mall. A hundred branded grottoes to minor commercial gods. Has anyone standing around the chrome barriers waiting for arriving passengers ever bothered to visit any of them?
As she waits, she tamps her anxiety down with objective musings on consumer behavior. She, anecdotally, has not been to any of these shops. She’s never waited for anyone here – only ever arrived and drifted through the place jet-lagged and craving a cigarette.
Across the barriers, in the waiting area opposite, rumple-suited men hold up sheets of foolscap scrawled with the names of strangers. Should she have one also? The idea strikes her as both sad and eminently practical.
She’s never seen a picture of him. Until this morning she believed, with a conviction verging on lunacy, that she would know him anywhere. But not now.
Now, in this place, where crowds of coated strangers shift their weight from foot to foot and reek of worn wool and London’s spiteful weather, she curses herself for her unforgivable, mortifying sentimentality. And she craves a cigarette with the ferocity of the damned.
For a moment, she actually considers leaving her post to feed her addiction in the smoking area outside the terminal. She won’t, of course. She’s given up smoking. Not for the sake of her health, or because the habit has become the contemporary equivalent of walking around with a leper’s bell.
If she kisses him…
When she kisses him.
She wants him to taste her, not the cigarettes.
The phone in her hand buzzes and courteously presents her with a pushed textual missive.
*Arrived. Past immigration Nazis. Waiting for luggage. You there? *
The handset is sluggish. She swipes at the screen and swears: her finger too clumsy, her tongue too thick. She types gibberish.
She wants to scream: “I’m here. Of course I’m fucking here. How could I not be here?” But instead she clutches the phone in her shaking hand, transfixed by the tiny animated progress bar – reminiscent of a syringe delivering a sedative – that assures her the message is being delivered.
It occurs to her then, like a needle stabbed into neural ganglia, that this might be the last piece of pure text they ever exchange. Undoubtedly there will be future texts, but none will ever again be free of the ghost of the voice who might have spoken them. Or perhaps this will go terribly wrong, and there will never be another text at all.
This is why, for so long, he has refused to meet. He kept repeating that he hated that things would change. And she kept repeating that change happened anyway, no matter what. Like two deaf people shouting at each other across an airport concourse.
Again, she looks at the phone. Somewhere in there, were years of desire, of companionship, of friendship, of acrimony, of gentle gestures, of cruelty, of quotidian moments of tranquility, of promises and phantoms. Technically, they weren’t contained within the memory of the phone, but she could get to where they were stored. Lovingly archived, a digital trousseau of dreams nestled in the sleek bosom of some distant server, slumbering in its climate-controlled bower. The peculiar intimacy of allocated disk space. Megabytes of net-cradled lust. Electron-fed desire. Sterile white chat boxes hung about with imagined hours of concupiscence, and so many confessions.
The last of the weary travelers have pulled their belongings through the arrivals hall. A new clump bear luggage tags from other places, other airlines. Her phone buzzes again.
*It’s sweltering here. Must be 85 at least.*
Rehearsal over, she turns and heads for the underground train station to catch a train back into London.
*It’s cold and rainy here. What does Singapore smell like?*