It’s 5:30AM and I’m getting ready to go to the airport. I make my current favourite tea (rooibos + cinnamon) while the rising sun slowly drenches everything in gold. My heart aches a little to be leaving, but the next adventure already awaits on the horizon.
As we approach London and begin the descent, the sun disappears and the white clouds become progressively greyer and greyer. I step out of the airport into a cacophony of swearing and cigarette smoke and I’m glad I won’t be here long.
I see Fred in the evening, for the first time as a friend and not a lover, and the moment he walks through my bedroom door I’m shocked by how unfamiliar he looks, how much of a stranger he’s already become. We talk and cry and hold each other for hours. I give him a care package of snacks from Cyprus and a book that changed my life, then he gathers the last of his belongings, and leaves.
There was a study conducted in the 1960s where a dog was put in a cage, and the right side was charged with an electric current. The dog soon learned to avoid that side of the cage. Then the currents were switched so the left side was electric. The dog soon learned to stay on the right side. But then the entire cage was electrocuted, and the dog became confused and after a while simply lay down and took the shocks. The cage door was then opened, but the dog made no attempt to leave.
The study showed that after prolonged exposure to stressful or abusive conditions, the instinct to flee was significantly reduced. London is my electrocuted cage, and waking up in my room I already feel the pull of the current. I wonder what I’m doing, if I should even get on the plane, if maybe I should just lay down and stay there.
I unpack my suitcase from Cyprus and pack my suitcase for Brazil and then before I know it on I’m on the way to the airport again. My mama comes with me and the man at the train ticket office asks me if I’m going to Brazil on a school trip, or an internship, or to study. I’ve always been mistaken to be younger than I am, and I giggle at his obvious suprise when tell him I graduated two years ago.
I am tired and sleepy on the first flight, but we land before I have a chance to fall asleep. I don’t worry; an 8 hour layover awaits me once we land and I plan to get plenty of sleep, uncomfortable or not, in that time.
It’s 1am in Madrid and everything is closed. People sleep on the floor or the metal chairs, and since there’s hours to spare and my arm is tired of lugging my suitcase down what seems like miles upon miles of corridor, I sit in a quieter part of the airport instead of making my way straight to check-in. But eventually I can’t bear the repetitive squeak of a nearby escalator a moment longer and wander off.
There are more people here, no free benches, and the loud chatter of conversation and construction work finally drowns the last hope I had of catching some sleep. I settle on the floor with my laptop to finish watching the last episode of Friends. I try not to think about how Fred and I had binge-watched the series together and how here I am now, finishing it alone on a cold airport floor.
After a while someone comes and lays down next to me. Whether its the tiredness or the social conditioning to avoid eye contact with nearby strangers that comes with years of riding the tube in London, I don’t even look up. Soon they’re chuckling and I realise they’re watching the screen over my shoulder. I turn the laptop so they can see better, and then we’re talking.
He’s a model and an MMA fighter and for the next 7 hours we talk about love, spirituality, relationships, who we are, where we come from, where we want to go, and bond over mutual exhaustion and sleep deprivation. He goes to get water, and brings me back a fresh orange juice, my favourite, as a surprise.
We discover we had been on the same flight from London and will now be on the same one to Lisbon. By chance there’s an empty seat next to me on the flight, so he comes over and we lean against each other, my head nuzzled into his neck, his head resting on mine. I hold his hand, and he softly traces my cheeks.
In Lisbon we share a sonho (doughnuts in Portuguese are called “sonhos”; literally “dreams”). I say since sleep is elusive and we can’t dream a dream, we might as well eat one instead – silly jokes and things like mishearing each others names or tripping over hand luggage at the end of an escalator are all the more hilarious for the tiredness that rings through us both.
His next flight is before mine, and suddenly the last call is being announced and he’s wrapping me up in a tight embrace and then he’s running and then he’s gone. I pick absent-mindedly at the sonho, mulling over how differently the past few hours went from how I thought they would. How beautiful it is that two strangers can connect over nothing more than a coincidence, a strange magic, that brought us both to the same place at the same time. I look at the photo we took together to make sure it really happened, then I get up and set off, just me and my backpack.