A couple of years ago, I was sitting in the departure hall of Schiphol Airport. While my left buttock was falling asleep on the uncomfortable seat, I had just managed to angle a book in a somewhat legible position on my lap. It was some story by a long-dead author but, despite my caffeine-charged heart pounding in my throat, the words were blurring together on the page. Though trying my best to concentrate, the distinct crackle of the overhead speakers provided a welcome, hopeful distraction.
“Dames en heren,” began the monotonous voice, before repeating its multi-lingual reminder that my plane was still – to the great regret, and absolutely not due to any fault, of the airline company – delayed indefinitely. The abandoned hunk of metal had been teasing me from outside the observation window. Though the runway behind it was barely visible behind a wall of dense fog, with its weather vanes dancing erratically in the December winds; the airplane shone with sweet promises of warm weather and exotic food.
Taking a swig of cold coffee, I returned to my book, then quickly realised I had been stuck on the same page for the best part of the hour. Non-pretentious people would have brought a magazine. Or something by an author with a pronounceable name. Defeated, I stuffed it back into my bag.
There are many things you can do to pass the time in an airport, but as a student with too little money and too much time, options tend to run out fast. I’d already seen every part it, bought an overpriced sandwich at the kiosk and could recite my travel guide by heart at that point. I’d usually try to take a brief nap in situations like those, but every time I lay back I could feel my complementary coffee dancing through my stomach.
A few rows in front of me, besides a dried-out Christmas tree, two guys were having a discussion. They’d been going at it for quite some while, but at that point they’re debate became so heated that I was able to follow along. The handful of heads in the rows in between also started turning. Some old lady in front of me, though casually adjusting her hearing aid, let out a passive-aggressive shush. Though the couple didn’t seem to register the commotion they were causing. Before long, a booming laugher echoed through the waiting area.
It belonged to the older man of the two: a big, burly senior in a bright red tracksuit that barely seemed able to contain his ample belly. A torrent of words quickly flowed out from behind his bushy beard: “But my dear boy, how could you ever hope to celebrate Christmas without presents? Look at this sad tree right here. Don’t the fake presents beneath it liven up this place? Even on a day like this, they just scream holiday spirit.” A faint blush appeared on the man’s pasty cheeks.
“I think not”, the younger one of the two calmly replied. Somewhere in his early thirties, this man was much skinnier, and had long hair that flowed past his shoulders. In the cold, fluorescent light, he had a vaguely Middle-Eastern look to him. “For me, this season is all about contemplation, and appreciating the things we already have. Though it’s a season of celebration, gifting presents seems antithetical to this message.”
“But how about the songs, the lights, the food”, the old man replied, drifting off after the last word, hands neatly folded on his gut.
“Oh, no I agree with you on that, but it all should be taken with moderation.” The younger guy spoke softer, but wasn’t less of a presence. Smirking, he pointed towards the stomach of his partner, middle and index fingers pointing upwards. “Something you might want to try sometimes, by the way.”
“Hoho, touché!” Jolly laughter once more echoed through the airport hall. “Though you might want try indulging in an excess or two once in a while.” The man’s sausage fingers poked his partner’s wrist.
While the two were talking, the bleak airport hall seemed to lighten up. The tacky ornamentations on the ceiling shimmered softly with a golden glow, and a hint of green appeared in the long-neglected Christmas trees. The disgruntled faces of my fellow travellers started to lighten up. A sense of warmth, even a semblance of joy, spread across my own exhausted face. Then I realised the fog outside had gradually started to lift, making way for sunshine and grey skies.
The overhead speakers burst to life again, while the couple further down the hall continued their conversation. With an audible sigh of relief, the slightly less-monotonous voice announced that my flight was finally ready for boarding. Through the clamour of passengers gathering their baggage, I could only hear portions of the conversation the odd couple was having, their debate had settled down in the meantime.
“...sitting together, enjoying the company of friends and family.” The burly man concluded.
Wincing slightly, as feeling rushed back into my legs, I slowly made my way towards my gate.
“Amen to that”, the younger of the two added, a crown of light appeared to shine around his head in the sunlight, “At least we can agree on that.”
Stealing a last glance at the two men, I fished my phone out of my pockets. Before putting it in flight-mode, I sent a last, brief text: “Merry Christmas, ‘ll be there soon.” Smiling, I stepped into the tunnel towards the airplane. It still shone with a sweet promise of far-away countries, but the grey skies of home were waiting for me.
Door Kjell Winkens