A Week at the Airport
Some lovers were parting. She must have been twenty, he a few years older. Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood was in her bag. They had oversize sunglasses and had come of age in the period between SARS and swine flu. They were dressed casually in combat trousers and T-shirts. It was the intensity of their kiss that first attracted my attention, but what had seemed like passion from afrar was revealed at closer range to be unusual devastation. She was shaking with sorrowful disbelief, he was cradling her in his arms, stroking her short blonde hair, in which a hairclip in the shape of a tulip had been fastened. Repeatedly, they would look into each other’s eyes and then, as though thereby made newly aware of the catastrophe about to befall them, she would begin weeping once more.
People were passing and evincing sympathy. It helped that the woman was extraordinarily beautiful. I missed her already. She could not have been unaware of her appearance. It would have been a significant part of her identity from the age of twelve and, as if in its honour, she would occasionally pause to look at the effect of her grief on members of her audience before, reassured by their intense curiosity, returning to the dampness of her lover’s chest.
We might have been ready to offer sympathy, but in actuality, there were stronger reasons to want to congratulate her for having such a powerful cause to feel sad. We should have envied her for having located someone without whom she so firmly felt she could not survive, to the gate let alone to a bare student bedroom in a suburb of Beijing. If she been able to view her situation from a sufficient distance, she might have been able to consider it as the high point of her life.
There seemed no end to the ritual. The pair would come close to the security zone, then break down again and retreat for another walk around the terminal. At one point, they went down to arrivals and it seemed as if they might join the taxi rank, but they merely bought a packet of dried mango slices from M&S, which they fed to one other with pastoral innocence. Then, in the middle of an embrace by the Travelex desk, the beauty looked down at her watch and, with the self-control of Odysseus negotiating the Sirens, ran away from her tormentor down the corridor behind a screen towards the security line and the gates.
The photographer and I divided forces. I went airside and observed her remaining stoic until the concourse, then foundering again at the window of Kurt Geiger. I lost her in a crowd of French exchange students near Sunglass Hut. Richard pursued the man down to the Heathrow Express, but so great were the crowds there, he was unable to secure a steady picture of him. The object of adoration boarded the train for central London, where he sat impassively staring out of the window, the only sign of emotion an unusual juddering movement in his left leg.