It seems as if I have been waiting here for years.
The bright lights, the steel monochrome, the mechanised smell dull my senses and I find my eyes closing of their own volition. When I arrived at the airport three hours ago, I did not think my flight to Athens would be delayed by twelve hours. So now I am here, resting on these flat black seats with ivory handles that obstruct my body from finding a comfortable position.
A person passes by every ten minutes or so and the smell of coffee from the cup they inevitably carry jolts me awake. An elderly man walks by and I stare at him, at the tufts of white hair sprinkled on his round head and chin. He seems tired, more than what is caused by a delayed flight; his head is drooping and the wiry smile on his face seems a little too crooked. He does not appear to have any luggage, and when he sits down a few seats from me, staring straight ahead with unblinking, steely-grey eyes, I imagine his wife has left him and he is now going to find her and bring her back. It’s a wistful idea, the remnants of a childhood dream of endless true love.
The next person to pass by is a thin, pale woman with her shoulders hunched and her mouth pursed into a tight “o”. Her hand is on her son’s back and her fingers are coiled around him tightly, as if someone might try to take him away any moment.
This time it’s not the smell of an espresso that awakens me but the sweet smell of candy. The boy has opened a packet of gummy bears and he gnaws through it ferociously, and I almost laugh because he is holding his candy with the same protectiveness his mother holds him.
No one appears for another twenty minutes and I busy myself with a nearby Health magazine, listening intently to the robotic voice that rings through every few minutes with information about different flights. It is almost god-like how the woman reciting the timings has my fate in her hands and she doesn’t even know it.
A couple appears, laughing and exchanging glances, disrupting the sombre mood of the waiting area. They settle down on the seats with a loud thud and the woman with the son scoffs. Bitterness, I think, wafts through all of us, ready to be incited by almost anything.
The couple’s chatter picks up to a torrential pace and I cannot make out what they are saying in an unfamiliar language, but their voices together sound like the crinkling of gift-wrapping paper. I try to remember the last time I was as happy.
I look over at the woman with the son and see that the boy is now picking out his last gummy bear. I watch his solemn face as he slowly nibbles on the edge of the neon-pink gummy bear before the temptation gets too much for him and he pops it into his mouth. Then he pulls at his mother’s shirt, rubbing her arms and pleading for more, and I think of going up to him and offering to buy it for him.
I look over at the escalator to my left and am surprised by the sheer number of people who are walking up and down. So many people, so many lives I know nothing about.
I look over at the boy again and something about the cross look on his face and the scratchy quality of his voice almost draws me to him. But this is not the time, nor the place.
The waiting area around me which seemed so empty hours ago is now brimming with people. There are bodies sprawled all over the black seats and there are so many faces that it feels impossible to try to recall even one. We are to each other a faceless, nameless crowd conjoined by a common purpose. Just then, it seems disappointing that all we will remember of each other is one delayed flight.
Rudrakshi Bhattacharjee (2001-17) did her schooling in Bangalore. She attended Stanford University’s residential course in creative writing as a fourteen-year-old, and Johns Hopkins University’s Engineering Innovation programme at fifteen. She enjoyed swimming, music, travelling and golf.
Excerpted with permission from This Is How It Took Place, Rudrakshi Bhattacharjee, HarperCollins India.