Everything was in order when we arrived at the airport. We had our suitcases, and said our goodbyes to family.
We stood in line to go through security, its own form of stress. Packed into a tiny space with lots of people and their stuff, noise and machines that scan everything from the inside of your case to the inside of your body. Chaos—mental, emotional, and physical.
We get up to the conveyer belt and start unloading. Val puts her personal item in a bin and goes first through the scanner.
I step up and start unloading. The security guy instructs my row, “Yes, separate your cell phone, iPad and other personal electronics.” That’s weird. They don’t usually tell us to do that.
I put my personal item in the bin and send it on its way. Separated electronics. Our carry-on. My violin. It’s too long.
The security guard says, “Is it just an instrument?”
I’m confused. I’ve never been asked that. “It’s a violin.”
“Is there anything else in it?”
“I didn’t pack anything else in the case, just the violin and accessories.”
My violin is allowed to pass.
Still slightly confused about the questions, I am directed to the more invasive scanning machine. I really don’t like those things. They enclose me completely in a tube, and though it’s only for a second or two, my claustrophobia kicks in. Hello, anxiety.
Scan over. Done. Breathe.
Valerie oversees our bags, many being emptied and checked.
Not all the stuff is through the scanner yet. No problem. Lots of people. General commotion. It will all arrive soon.
Joining Val, I collect my belongings and slide my passport in my pocket. Val puts the tickets in her personal item. I stack our remaining baggage.
Val says, “We need to find some food”.
I check my watch. Just enough time to eat and get to our gate. We’re doing well.
Off we go.
We walk through one-way gates. And walk. And walk. Time falls away with every new moving sidewalk. My stomach isn’t cramping, but my brain tells me, I need to eat so I’ll be in good shape for this flight.
Almost there. Just one more escalator to navigate.
Now for food. There are many choices, none too appetizing. But—first things first—the bathroom. As I’m washing my hands, I check the time. Weird. My watch is telling me I’m out of range of my phone.
When I emerge, Val has chosen a restaurant. A couple slices of pizza and some water cost more than a tank of gas. But who has a choice at an airport?
Val wants to visit the bank machine before our flight, so I stick with the luggage. My brain turns on, and gives a little kick of anxiety. Why did my watch say I didn’t have my phone? I open the pocket for my phone. It’s empty.
My phone. My tablet. My e-reader. Gone.
Panic takes over. They’re still in security. Can I even get back? I scan the crowd for Val. Where is she? I can’t leave to get my stuff. Where’s Val?
I wait for an eternity, alarm coursing through my body. A minute and a half later Valerie returns.
“My phone’s in security.”
Val’s face changes. Boarding is in fifteen minutes. It took us fifteen minutes to get here.
“I have to go”
(Unbeknownst to me, Val texts her sister and my parents. Everyone is praying.)
I run. Up the stairs.
Past the moving sidewalks.
Around the pedestrians following the flow of traffic.
My breathing is heavy. My legs are clumsy. Still I run.
I see a security guard at the one-way gate.
She gets up.
Through the gate she goes—in the wrong direction.
The chair is empty and I’m too slow. I knock on the glass.
Turning I see an man driving the courtesy cart.
“You can’t go in there.”
“My phone’s at security, I just want to talk to her.”
“You can’t go in there. You have to go through here.” He indicates a door.
No longer making coherent decisions, I obey.
I discover the door is to the outside, exiting from the airport.
As soon as the door closes behind me, I reach into my pocket. I have no ticket. It’s with Valerie.
Tears well in my eyes. I blink. They don’t escape.
I spin around.
This is completely unfamiliar. Where do I go? What do I do?
Other passengers, a man and a woman, are nearby. The woman is on her phone. No one exists beyond the cube in her hand. She walks by on the other side. The man’s back is turned to me, but I must have made a noise. He turns.
“Are you ok?”
I’m frozen. Winded from the run. My story stutters out. I have no ticket. I can’t get back. I’m trapped. My phone. Security. Where do I go?
“It’ll be ok. Let’s get some help.”
He leads, wheeling his carry-on behind him. I follow.
Rounding a corner, we see three security people enjoying a chat.
The man speaks with authority. “Tell them what you told me, and they’ll help you.”
He goes away.
I start talking. I don’t know what I’m saying. The man’s gone. I’m alone again.
“Go to the Air Canada counter over there. They’ll help get you a ticket.”
Fifteen steps and I’m at the counter. I hand my passport to the attendant.
Still winded, I explain. Phone is in security. No ticket. Boarding soon. “I don’t know what to do.”
She stares at her screen. Scans the passport. Another passenger, another problem. Her eyes meet mine. She opens her mouth. My terror fills her view. Her mouth closes. “Let me print you the tickets.”
They slide into my hand. “Go over there to immigration. You have to go through immigration to get to the gate.”
I enter immigration, show the security guard the ticket. Explain my problem. How many times have I told this story?
She sends me down the express line. There’s no one there. I’m next. I stand and wait, looking suspicious, shifty, sweaty—looking like I’m about to have a nervous breakdown.
The story spills out again. Before I’m even done, the immigration officer is picking up the phone.
“Go to security. He’ll tell you where to go next.”
I approach security. The guard is still on the phone with immigration.
To me: “No problem. Go through the doors. Turn right.”
As I walk toward the next gate, the previous man shouts down the hall to his coworkers. They point me in the right direction, turning me around when I’m about to make a mistake.
In the security scanning area, a guard is standing around, doing nothing. I share my story.
“Which line were you in?”
“I don’t know—one of the middle ones.”
I wait. She walks away.
I look at my watch. It finds my phone nearby.
The security agent returns, carrying three items. Walking up to her I ping the phone with my watch.
“Just so you know it’s mine”
She smiles. “Nothing gets stolen here—too many security cameras.”
I dash off again.
Through the doors of no return.
Past the moving sidewalks.
Around the lallygagging people going to and fro.
Down the escalator.
My gate is close.
Half running, half walking. The place is packed. Where’s Valerie?
Looking. Eyes scanning. Feet moving.
There she is, lining up for boarding. Still carrying my lunch along with all our stuff.
I made it. I’m ok. I’m with Val.