Tired people sit in over-sized winged armchairs, faces blank, all vitality sapped as they wait in this state of limbo.
Some stare at the silhouette of a fireplace, a clock, a picture. But all these images are unreal. Like a 20th century vision of the human colonisation of space. Reminders of home, illuminated in greyness around a flaming electric ‘fire’.
A woman takes her seat at the concert piano. She begins with Mozart – or is it?
Never mind, it doesn’t matter.
Now she’s slipped into something I really can’t identify but which puts me in mind of Donnie Darko.
Appropriate for this surreal environment.
She’s still playing as we tear ourselves away.
A small lift carries us up to a smoky glass box. Through the door (or is it behind the looking glass?) we pass into an art gallery in miniature, a micro-museum. The walls are hung with paintings. A white architectural model sits in this tiny twilit world like an apparition, the ghost of a building.
A feeling of timelessness and calm descends upon me. It’s utterly at odds with the bustling scene just metres away – let alone what’s going on outside the walls of the massive structure that surrounds us.
But fatigue soon washes over me, again. My body says it’s time for a cup of tea. A restorative chunk of Dutch apple pie.
We perch on huge wooden chairs at a gigantic table, swinging our dangling feet like children.
A vast cup and saucer dominates the corner, big enough to drown a host of dormice. But there’s no mad hatter. No tea party. No white rabbit with a watch, running late – though the occasional sprinting person with a trolley reminds us we are, after all, in an airport.
It’s a special place for me, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. Evokes all sorts of feelings. Happy and sad. Eager and reluctant. Anxious – and even reassuring.
An amazing place now, it’s always been that bit different. Tulip bulbs and smoked eel. Delft blue china and wooden clogs. Sweet or salty liquorice – you love it or loathe it. And in my case try not to eat too much.
Many years ago, when I left the UK, in the depth of winter, to live in Hilversum, I also left behind my partner in a new, exciting relationship. I’d written – ruthlessly, I suppose – to the longstanding man who’d gone to work in Saudi Arabia. The full force of his misery had yet to hit home, make me feel bad, I was too busy revelling in the new to be unduly concerned.
Oh, yes, I was wrapped up in a man who loved jazz.
Who had a car. A place in Chelsea. A well paid job. And who was, despite all that, an ‘ologist’.
A hydrologist who’d worked in Ethiopia, then he was working on the Thames Barrier.
I’d known him since university. We’d played hopeless tennis together at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, gone to smoky gigs at a noisy London pub.
Then one night, sitting in another pub, a quiet pub, the magnetism overcame us both.
Soon we were doing more romantic things.
A picnic breakfast on one of the old wooden dockland piers that used to stick out into the Thames. Shades of Sherlock Holmes and opium dens, Oliver Twist and Dickens. A world now gone, brushed clean by the towers of avarice, by the desirable homes of the wealthy, hidden behind security fences.
So – I boarded the plane at Heathrow with much trepidation.
I’d taken the job by default, really. A job in Paris had fallen through and I’d become used to the idea of working abroad, so when the folk at Philips invited me to join them, I was both flattered and relieved.
But by the time it came to move, to cross that small expanse of water, I was head over heels – I thought – in love.
We talked about the future. One of us might move. But for the time being he would visit very soon.
It felt just about tolerable.
And then I was there, alone.
January in The Netherlands.
Cold. So very, very cold.
For weeks, before my belongings arrived, I wore the same two outfits. Walked to work through the snow in high-heeled cowboy-style boots that rubbed my ankles. My tights turned orange where the snow soaked through the leather.
But never mind my walk to work – where’s this going?
It was meant to be a short piece about an airport. About its pivotal place in my journeying – to my parents, to ‘my’ hydrologist, to Philips’ worldwide offices.
And perhaps I will write a bit more about that time in my life. Later.
But perhaps not. Maybe I’ll just let sleeping memories lie.
All around her prostrate forms lie slumbering. Waiting.
As if they have a choice.
Time will pass, whatever we do. But that’s not always a bad thing, is it?
It takes time to learn.