“Is your company traveling Iberia Señora?” the lady at customs asks me.
“No. I’m flying alone.”
“Is your company flying Iberia Señora?” she asks again.
What company? I look behind me to make sure there isn’t suddenly an entourage that has appeared as my “company”.
Why is it so hot in here?
I’ve had to walk, probably six miles from the gate. I’m briefly wondering how everyone else has managed to pass me up. I am the only one these two customs agents are waiting on.
The woman’s raised voice rouses me from my thoughts.
“Hmm? Yes? I’m sorry. I have the boarding pass here in one of my bags! Mira! Mira! Just give me a second. Por favor!” Look! Look! Just give me a second, please!
She’s motioning me to a kiosk directly behind me.
“Señora. They will give you another one. It is fine.”
But I don’t want to stand in another line, I groan to myself. Granted there are only two people waiting and three employees on duty, but it’s still another line. I just want to get to Algeria! Is this place not air-conditioned?!
Quickly, despite my fatigue, I shove everything back in my bags and re-tie the broken strap on my one carry on. Hefting my personal bag on my shoulder I cry out weakly from the pain in my arm. I’ll be so glad when I don’t have to carry these again!
Making my way to the desk for Iberia Airlines, I smile at the woman in front of me. She’s toting a toddler in both arms and has suitcases at her feet. My back and feet hurt for her. Yet she still smiles.
It’s my turn and I muster a smile; draw some happiness from the woman next to me. I explain quickly to the man that I have lost my boarding pass and hand him my passport. Within twenty seconds I’m given a new boarding pass and pointed back towards the women in uniform.
I can already see the look on their faces as I inch my tired body their way.
All that stuff she has! – I imagine them thinking.
She’s going to take it all out again and moan and groan when she has to!
Yes lady, I’m not too thrilled either. (I often have these conversations in my head within seconds of interacting with people and frankly it’s quite annoying. I remind myself just as quickly that it will not help any anxiety lurking, worrying about the imaginary thoughts of another person.)
As I unpack my bags again, a pair of underwear fall on the floor. I don’t even care at this point. Granted I’m the only one in line but I don’t think I’d care if there were hundreds of people behind me.
Why is it so hot!?
“Thank you, ma’am. Safe flight for you.”
Wearily I look at the signs for my gate and a bathroom. I need to change from my pajamas to real clothes. I glance at a clock and notice I have a little over an hour before my flight leaves. I see the sign for the bathrooms and follow a woman and her young daughter in. I go to the last stall and the stink from the purpose of this area along with the humidity, hits me like a brick wall. I quell the urge to gag. It’s not that it’s horrendous, but the smell of cleaning chemicals from the little bricks of ammonia hanging on the toilets, mixed with body odors, is almost too much to take.
I vow to bleach my luggage soon, as I sit everything on the floor. Pulling on my jeans and a long sleeve shirt, I quickly open the narrow door back up and allow a small bit of air to rush in. I shove everything with my foot out into the main area of the restroom.
The Spanish word bounces off my brain and I find myself asking aloud, “Dónde está el baño?”
I laugh. Nobody is in here thank God. I think I’m going crazy from the heat and fatigue.
Little do I know that I’ll have to walk through a couple of miles of duty-free “mall area” with exotic looking Spaniards spraying me with every imaginable perfume available. I’ll eye the liter bottle of Jack Daniels and will be surprised to feel my mouth water.
I haven’t drank in several months. It feels good not to drink, but I can taste that Jack and Coke like its right there on my tongue. Funny how our mind finds that one thing that comforts us, or rather used to, in times of desperation.
Finally, my gate. Or so I think. After stumbling from flight attendant to attendant and being pointed in new directions I finally find what I’m hoping will be my last boarding area on this long trip. I’m the only one here and I notice that it’s only 30 minutes until the flight leaves. I just want to sit. My heart is pounding. I feel anxiety creeping in but remind myself of all I’ve been through since 5AM yesterday. How many time zones I’ve crossed with only three hours of crappy sleep and then I’m fumbling for my blood pressure machine. If I can just assure myself that my heart pounding is not from a heart attack, then I’ll accept that.
138/82. Great. I just need to relax.
A woman sits down across from me. I’d like a drink of water but I feel like if I get up to go to the newsstand across the way, I might collapse.
“Excuse me, are you going to Algiers,” I ask her. I haven’t even thought about whether she speaks English. Riad told me that not a lot of people in his country do. Only doctors, hotel managers and college students, really.
“Yes,” she says curtly but then follows it with a smile as an afterthought. I finger my hair.
I need to put my scarf on.
A few other people have shown up now and are waiting for the same flight I assume and I reach into my bag and pull out my black scarf. I take a moment to finger the material.
I remember the day that DHL delivered the package from my fiancé. I think back to how excited I was when I had first touched and looked at the four scarves he had sent me. The colors had been vibrant then and they had smelled of a faraway place. Now as I put the soft material to my nose, I could smell the stuffy interiors of the planes I’d just been on. If I breathed deep enough, I could smell the hotel I’d lived in for almost three months, back in Texas.
So far away now. So, so, far away.
Sighing I begin to tie the scarf around my head. Once finished I look in the mirror of my compact and decide it’ll have to do for now. I’ll freshen up on the plane.
Ten minutes until the flight leaves. Where’s the man or woman who takes our passes? Suddenly I’m petrified that the woman has misled me due to language differences and perhaps she’s waiting for another flight later in the day!
There’s no internet access and so I have no idea how to get ahold of Riad in case I screwed up and I miss my flight. Just the mere thought almost has me in tears – until a young man of about 18 casually walks up and sits down behind the counter. Suddenly there are a ton of people out of nowhere lining up and the young man begins to take boarding passes. Little do I know that this blasé outlook on life will be the new normal in the months to come.
I can do this, I think to myself as he hands my passport back to me.
Once on the plane I find I’m sitting between two young men and it’s cramped quarters. I find a flight attendant and explain that I have anxiety issues and if there is a window seat available after everyone boards, that would be great. She nods and I can tell it won’t matter. It’s not that I will have an anxiety attack, I simply am tired of being in such close proximity to people.
Once the plane starts making its way for takeoff, I sit back and feel exhaustion take over. I want to glance out the window but it feels rude to be looking in the direction of the man next to me and so I cross my legs and put my chin to my chest. Maybe I can sleep for a few minutes.
“Agua por favor,” I tell the attendant when she comes by with drinks. Water, please.
She speaks English and I have no idea why I’m speaking Spanish. Maybe it’s so I can feel special or something. I laugh inside. We humans can be strange at times.
I must have drifted off because now I’m awakened by the attendant coming with a trolley of perfumes. What is it with Spain and the perfumes?
“Ladies and gentlemen, please prepare for landing soon…,” I hear the captain drone on and quickly excuse myself to the lavatory to put on some makeup and adjust my scarf.
Looking into the mirror I see a very tired woman. Hues of blue and black caress the underside of my eyes and I dab on concealer to hide it to no avail. My lips are pale and my nose is dry. I rub some lotion on my face and a neutral shade of lipstick quickly passes my bottom lip as I crush my top lip against it.
That will have to do I think as I adjust the pins in my scarf and tuck some errant hair back in.
The plane swings a bit to the left and I catch myself on the vanity. Packing up my things I rub some water across my teeth vigorously and smile at myself. Patting my cheeks, I think, “I’m ready for my close up!”
Back in my seat, I fasten my belt and look again out the window. I know from Google that I should be seeing white washed buildings any moment as we cross over from the Mediterranean Sea to land.
The young man next to me is fighting to get the last mint out of a roll of Certs and he glances my way. “Welcome to Algiers,” he says enthusiastically. I feel myself blush. Not because of intimate thoughts but because my eagerness must be apparent. How else would he know it’s my first time?
Sitting back, I listen to the voices begin throughout the plane. It’s been quiet since we hit cruising altitude but now it’s noisy. Different languages being spoken; French, Arabic, Spanish, and a mix of French and Arabic.
As I look again out the window, I see the tarmac below and brace myself for landing. Once again, the man welcomes me to Algeria with a smile and I think about how he has no idea that I’m not just visiting – this is my new home.