Stepping off the escalator at the departure lounge of Schiphol International Airport, I was still heatedly composing the letter of complaint in my head.
“Dear British Airways, upon arriving at Heathrow Airport last Thursday morning, for my scheduled flight to JFK, I was more than a little annoyed to discover it’d not only been severely delayed, but also diverted via Amsterdam, resulting in the fact I didn’t arrive in New York until the early hours of Friday morning, with next to no time to prepare for an important business meeting.”
I sighed as I ambled over to the waiting area of the bustling terminal and sat down in the middle of a group of three vacant seats, depositing my briefcase by my side. I’d be relaxing in the hotel bar by now, if things had gone to plan.
Opening my case, I took out my newspaper and idly flicked through the pages, pondering how best to pass the forty minute wait. However, the broadsheet offered little in the way of a distraction as I’d already read it on the way over from London. I stood up, strolled over to a waste bin and discarded the dog-eared journal. Stifling a yawn, I stretched my arms, more out of boredom than any need to flex my muscles. Turning to retrace my steps, I became aware of a young woman sitting next to my briefcase. I sighed again; this wasn’t going to be my day. I should call the whole thing off now, and head back home.
Approaching the woman who’d dared to invade the space I’d claimed only moments earlier, I realised just how pretty she was. At first glance she was tall and slim, with tanned skin and wonderfully dark curly hair. She seemed engrossed in the book she was reading, oblivious of my presence. Retrieving my case, she looked up, smiled nonchalantly and returned to her paperback. In that one instant, I was both incensed by her apparent lack of remorse for stealing my seat, and overawed by her allure. On the one hand, I wanted to let her know how ignorant I considered her to be; on the other, I felt a compulsion to tell her how beautiful I thought she was. Out of anger, I wanted to get as far away from her as possible; yet at the same time I hankered to sit down next to her. Resolving my dilemma, I compromised, slung my briefcase onto a seat more or less opposite and sat down next to it.
With nothing to occupy myself, I was thankful of the overhead screen directly above her, and leaning back with my arms folded, I began to study the departure information with mild interest. Every so often I lowered my gaze towards her, stealing a glance, watching her eager eyes skim the pages of her book as she devoured its contents. She appeared relaxed and at one with herself.
Up to the departure screen: ‘Flight to JFK – Wait in Lounge’.
Back down: a pretty cotton skirt and a loose fitting blouse, bare legs and slip on shoes.
Up again: ‘Flight to Cairo – Delayed until 23:30’.
Back down: she turned a page, looking about her as she did so.
Up: ‘Flight to Madrid – Go to Gate 17’.
Down: she flicked a few strands of hair out of her face.
And up: ‘Flight to Bonn – Boarding’.
She was staring back at me. I didn’t realise at first, such was the repetitive rhythm of my nodding. I must’ve seemed a little shell-shocked when I focused on her piercing eyes, for she started to laugh, but concealed it quickly by forging a smile. I smiled back, and she swiftly returned to her book.
In haste, I looked up at the departure screen to hide my embarrassment: ‘Flight to JFK – Go to Gate 25’, followed almost immediately by a broadcast over the flight announcement system, stating the same.
I stood, picked up my briefcase and paused for a moment, searching for directions.
“Gate 25 is this way,” a pleasant voice said, in a rich European accent.
I turned and there she was, standing next to me, a large leather bag slung over her shoulder, book in hand. She caught me by surprise, and before I could thank her, she’d turned and was off into the crowd. I watched from afar as she weaved amongst the hordes with an air of confidence. As if in a trance, I set off after her, almost indifferent to where she was going. If she was boarding my flight to New York, so be it; if she wasn’t, then I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go there anymore! Seeing her join the ever-growing queue at Gate 25, a rush of sheer panic and excitement washed over me, and I suddenly felt sixteen again.