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AT THE AIRPORT

by Paula LaRocque on December 15th, 2011

A young man waits at the fringe of a queue of passengers boarding a plane for Denver.  He’s somber, with that indefinable look of some foreigners . . . hard, raw cheekbones, a curious haircut.

The long line dwindles, the passengers boarding in groups from priority to coach to open boarding to last call. And still he waits.  And watches, scanning the long terminal corridor, growing concern showing in the creased forehead and solemn line of his mouth.

Then he is alone, his boarding pass in hand, the flight attendant looking his way, her own expression not yet anxious.  Most of the travelers seated nearby, like me, are waiting for a later plane to another destination and are drowsing, reading, tapping computer keyboards, fiddling with their mobiles.  But some have caught the aura of drama around the young man and are watching with him, gazing down the long corridor as if they might be able to call up the person he awaits—a young woman maybe, breathless with apology.  But maybe not.  Maybe a friend, an aging father.  But why didn’t they come to the airport together then?  A business colleague?  No, pleasure surely, and adventure—he’s wearing casual dress, a back pack.  Headed for Denver.

The flight attendant says something I can’t hear to the young man and, checking his watch, he moves a little closer to the gate’s double doors and draft and subdued jet roar.  A voice over the intercom announces last call for the flight to Denver: All passengers are aboard, and the doors will close in three minutes.  The young man pulls his roll-on to the door of the gate and stands with one foot in the terminal and the other on the ramp.

My eyes meet those of another traveler; her expression is grave.  She glances at the young man and down the corridor and back again at me, shaking her head almost imperceptibly.  I blink hard and look down.  The voice on the intercom continues: If Denver passengers Tasir Sopha or Ashley Anderson are in the terminal, they must report to the gate for an immediate departure.

Now I see a slender elderly man in a hat and with a wide snowy mustache coming down the corridor as fast as his bandy legs will carry him.  He is dragging a roll-on and waving a boarding pass.

My eyes fly to the young man, whose expression does not change.  No.

“Mr. Sopha?” the flight attendant asks the elderly man.  The young man pulls his foot from the ramp and backs up a little to make room for the older man to pass, then resumes his stance on either side of the threshold.

The intercom calls yet again for Ashley Anderson.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the attendant says to the young man, then something else I don’t catch.

“I know,” he says. And stands for a moment, looking as if he could jump either way.  Then, with another long glance down the corridor, he decides.  He bumps his roll-on across the threshold and, planting both booted feet onto the ramp, enters the gateway.  The flight attendant presses him from behind, and he moves out of sight.

The attendant pulls the door closed behind them, and the latch catches with a soft chink.

It sounds final.

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