Tuesday 5 April 2016

One Night in Copenhagen Airport

I'd waited in the departures hall for 2 hours already, terrified of missing my flight after the Irish girl I'd met over the weekend had explained the series of disastrous events which had lead to her missing hers. 

All the gates for the next 20 flights had been listed already, and the blank gap next to mine glared menacingly empty as the clock fast approached take off time. I was exhausted, shifting my weight from foot to foot as a rising anxiety began to creep from my stomach. 

With a deep sigh I swept my hands across my face, dreaming of nothing more than a shower and bed, when I heard a soft exclamation of 'You must be kidding' behind me. My head shot up to the screen to find the gap now filled, with an unapologetic red 'DELAYED 3 HOURS'. 

"Oh come on!" I yelled in audible exasperation, forgetting I was in public for a moment. I'd made sure to get up super early on the morning of my last day to make the most of my remaining time, and had spent hours wandering around the outskirts of the city, tugging along my little wheely suitcase over the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen. The previous day I'd taken a 4 hour walking tour, and the evening before that a bar crawl that extended long into the early hours, stumbling out of a warehouse rave in the meat-packing district at 5am.

My bones creaked with every movement and my eyes could barely focus on the screens I'd been monitoring so closely for the past half an hour. And now it would be a further five hours or so until I would be home. I despaired.

"I guess you're on that Gatwick flight?" That same voice spoke, and I turned to find a flamboyantly dressed woman peering at me through thick, red horn-rimmed glasses. She was perhaps mid-forties with lightly greying chestnut-coloured hair, wearing a long camel overcoat, an elaborate oversize pashmina and red trousers tucked into sparkling boots. 

"Well, supposed to be." I sighed with a resigned grin. An ambiguous whooping cheer erupted from the baristas over at Joe and the Juice and I felt like crumpling to the floor.

The woman and I exchanged the cordial phrases that cover the ground when two strangers are unexpectedly bound in mutual crisis. That's what you get when you fly budget, hey? Do you think we should speak to someone? So inconsiderate announcing it only 20 minutes before we were due to fly! Some of us have jobs to go to in the morning right?

I was too tired to even try and think of any other option than to just lay down on the cold shiny ground and try and sleep the delay away.

"I have an idea." The woman said to me suddenly. There was a trace of a scandinavian accent in her voice but I couldn't quite work it out. "You see there, there's another flight leaving for Gatwick in an hour and half." She pointed at that screen, which indeed listed the flight and a gate number. "We are going to get on that flight."

I hardly took a second for me to agree.

And so we began to walk and I suddenly felt a bizarre wave of mischievousness invade my exhaustion. The woman's heels clacked across the faux marble floor dramatically and we strode in sync, two women on a mission to simply get home. People instinctively moved out of our way and when we reached the passport gates she did not hesitate. If we couldn't get on that flight we would then be stuck on the wrong side of the terminal. But the gates slid open and she turned back to me and winked. Genuinely winked. I couldn't help but grin.

We power strutted to the gate to find it totally deserted. No staff, no passengers, nothing. 

"And now... we wait." She said, throwing her bag to the floor right in front of the check-in desk. I gratefully sank to the floor cross-legged, leaning my back against a pillar and she joined me. We settled into a comfortable silence and both retrieved books from our hand luggage. 

"What's yours about?" she asked as I fished out my dramatic and colourful copy of 'LACE' a book I'd picked up in a charity shop a week ago and had proceeded to blow my mind ever since. 

"Oh it's incredible. Super trashy. It spans from 1948 to 1980 and follows these four girls who meet in a Swiss boarding school. One of them gets pregnant but you don't find out who... and then the book follows their bizarre lives as they get older and have these glittering careers and meet all these illustrious men and have affairs, and then culminates in this climax where a world famous movie star gathers them all together in this New York hotel in, sits them down and says 'Which one of you bitches is my mother?'"

"Oh wow." she laughed. 

"It's truly a masterpiece." I held the weighty novel to my chest in endearment. "What about yours?"

"Ah, I'm reading the biography of a female Colombian politician who was kidnapped in 2002 by revolutionaries and held in a jungle prison for six years until she was rescued by the military. Her name is Ingrid Betancourt. My husband actually knows her and is introducing me next week, so I thought I had to read up on her."

"That's incredible." I breathed, feeling a little inadequate for my reading choice. She smiled and nodded and we began to read in peace. 

It was barely a minute later when she dramatically slapped the book shut, turned to me and said "I think we need beer."

For the next hour and a half we sat sprawled across the floor by the check-in desk, books tossed to one side, beer in hands, discussing our lives. The stranger formality had long since dropped away and we were telling one another secrets we'd told no-one else before. Slowly people started to accumulate around the gate but we were somewhat oblivious, lost in this strange serendipity. 

After a while, an airline rep appeared and she jumped to her feet to speak to him. She took him to one side with graceful authority and spoke to him in a hushed tone of a language I couldn't begin to understand. After a moment and a lot of hopeful nodding, he took down our names and she turned to me triumphantly. 

"We just have to wait until everyone else has boarded to see if there are any gaps. But it looks good!"

"Well... then I guess we have time to drink more beer." We both instinctively held our cans aloft and clinked them together with a smile.

She told me her name was Asgjard. She spoke 7 languages but could more or less understand 9. She was Norwegian, a fashion designer and lecturer, and has lived in London for 20 years. She'd been married for 15 of those years and had been cheating on her husband for the last 2 with one of her students. 

She told me she was in love with him. She told me she loved him more than anything and they even had a flat together in London. She told me she wasn't sure if he'd ever loved her, and at one moment I actually thought she might cry. She told me she never wanted to cage him, she was never ever one that demanded something of a man that would impinge on him to provide.

I was so desperate to write down the things she said, because the words flowed so lyrically from her I was transfixed. A few stuck in my mind though. She told me: "You're never defined by the person you love, but we often forget the importance of seeing how the person who loves you most, defines you."

"It's so hard to know yourself, sometimes we can only see who we are through the eyes of the people who know us most." I replied. 

"We should listen to every good or bad thing any person sees in us. People come into your life, however brief, for a reason. Every person has a chance to teach you something." She said, and we exchanged a mutual understanding smile. 

A queue of curious people began to snake around us as we sat, luggage between us like girl scouts around a campfire and I told her why I'd come away alone for the first time. How I needed to be free mentally, despite the fact that I had been emotionally for a while. I told her how it had all fallen apart, how a creator can never hope to be understood by someone who just doesn't really ever feel the need to make something, despite how much they care about them.

After a while, we realised the gate was empty once again and the airline rep called us forward. I clambered ungracefully to my feet and realised that through the exhaustion, mischievousness, adrenaline and you know, probably something to do with all the beer, I'd somehow got a little bit drunk. 

After some frenetic radio-ing and some hastily exchanged Danish, two boarding passes were printed and it was official. Our semi-drunken sit in had earned us a ticket home. We sped through the tunnel joyously and just before we got on the plane, she touched my arm. 

"I knew we could do it. See, everything happens for a reason. If we'd met anyone else this wouldn't have happened."

I smiled at her, overcome with a small sadness that I knew I would never see this woman again. "We stood up for ourselves and it paid off - we got what we deserved!"

"No, no," she corrected me. "I don't believe anyone 'gets what they deserve'. If people really want and work hard, they get what they were working for."

"I'm definitely writing that down you know."

She winked again. "Hey, maybe I'll see you on the other side."

And with that, we entered the plane and she shot off down the aisle to where her spare seat was, and I quickly snuck in between two people near the front. For those two hours my mind simply boggled, endlessly re-running our conversations and what happened, scribbling it down in my notebook and trying to remember every minute detail. I thought of all the things I wanted to tell her after we landed. That I really believed in fate. That she should read Vivienne Westwood's book and how she too fell in love with one her fashion students. That I'd love to attend a talk of hers if she was doing on in London in the near future. I almost found myself becoming nervous at the thought of our bizarre reunion back on terra firma. 

When we landed, my exhaustion finally overcame me and I could barely drag my feet through passport control. I stood at the back of the room and down the line saw a flourish of a decadent gold-laced pashmina against a camel coat. It was Asgjard, about 30 people in front of me. And she was deep in conversation with what looked like the pilot of the aircraft. She threw back her head and laughed. To my surprise, I almost felt disappointed. Perhaps I hadn't been a special stranger she'd shared a bizarre bond with. Maybe... Maybe that's just what she was like. Maybe she hadn't needed to talk to someone about what she was going through, maybe she just needed to say it.

And I decided I was okay with that. 

I watched her go through the gates, and by the time I had gone through, I knew she was likely to have already gone. I waited for a couple of moments, scanning the people waiting at baggage reclaim, but I knew the way we left was probably perfect. To try and reunite would mean a strangely sentimental goodbye, which seem both justified yet also unnecessary. 

After I got off the train from the airport, I finally sunk into the passenger seat of my Mothers car, grateful to be so close to home and bed, knowing if I'd have not been stood in front of that woman in the departures lounge back in Denmark, I'd still be a good hour or so away from take off.

"You must be so annoyed about that delay!" My mum said as we pulled away and began the final leg of the journey home. The trees blurred into the inky night sky and I closed my eyes, already feeling my body twitching in anticipation of sleep, and I gave a deep contented sigh. 

"It wasn't so bad." I replied.