Storytellers love to base horror stories on my job. I don’t blame them – a ghost will probably make things more interesting here. You see, I work at a magazine stand/candy shop, where kids and adults scream at each other until enough candy and mindless gossip is supplied. In a story, I’d probably walk to work on a foggy day and suddenly have to think about a clown-based nightmare I had when I was six. Trust me when I say reality is different.
Working behind a counter is not a job to cherish. It’s where I work that makes it worth the lack of challenge. Enter the International Airport, take a turn into the Arrivals Lounge and you’ll find me. I work a long shift, so I’m there at six in the morning. That’s when you’re usually yawning and reaching for your last cup of coffee, you promise.
I spend half my day counting change and handing out chocolate. I spend the other half watching people. It’s different from people-watching on the bus, where you see a man squinting at his phone or a college kid holding a full-length mirror and trying her best not to look at it too often. This is so different.
It’s amazing how people are willing to put up with anything, just to be the first face their weary, traveling loved one sees. Today, I see woman in a suit, thinking about the upcoming heart-to-heart with her sister on the long drive home. It doesn’t matter that she’s had a long day and the traffic didn’t help. It doesn’t matter that she’ll be groggy for the next week, what with handling her own life and the pressure of entertaining.
I see a man in faded jeans and a flannel shirt, ramming his hands into his pockets and picturing his wife shaking her head at the shabby state he’s in – although she’s a little glad she’s needed around here. He may make all the cliché marriage jokes he wants, but a week without her seems long and pointless.
I see a tired mother juggling two wrestling seven-year-olds. She’s given them gentle warnings throughout the drive here, and her patience is running out. She’s now handing out video-game-confiscation threats, hoping it’ll scare them enough to stop. She can’t wait for her mother’s all-knowing “you need to get more organized” and “come on, you can talk to me.”
I pause and hand out a box of mints. It’s fine though, I won’t miss much. The woman will play with her hair and check her phone, the man will pace endlessly until he finds something to occupy his mind, and the mother will continue alternating between “Shh, sweetie” and “That’s it! Time out NOW!” Invariably, they’ll all wait longer than they bargained for. Flights get delayed, queues stretch out forever, and who claims their bags within the first hour?
Tense moments, sometimes half-hours, sometimes hours, pass. Fidgeting intensifies, the pacing fades into a tired collapse into the uncomfortable metal chairs, and the wrestling match ends in a happily shared assortment of greasy, sugary bits of butter and flour they pass off as food these days. I can practically hear a dull irritation replace the excitement they felt before. Why did I leave so early? Is my phone dying out? I’m starving. What if they held her up at customs? Come on, this is ridiculous.
Slowly, they start to trickle out into the sea of eager receivers. Faces light up in a flash of recognition. Finally, the ones they braved hell for are here.
Sisters hug and the catch-up begins even before anyone can complain about awful airplane food or the traffic that’s getting impossible to deal with. Husband and wife share a brief grin before launching into a serious discussion about how he survived without her. Mother and daughter share a hurried hug and kiss before grandma starts telling the brats just how many presents she bought them this time.
Just like that, no one remembers the excruciating wait. Any frantic and annoyed thoughts fade into the background of chatter and the radio as it plays softly in the car. Some walk out of the airport, ready to plunge right back into life after a souvenir-filled holiday, while some others saunter into a new city and a much-needed break. The airport breathes a small sigh of relief, until the next flight lands.
I can’t romanticize my job. I would never wish it upon you, even if you said the nastiest things to me.
But I wish, just for a day, that you had my view.