Observing at Airport

A huge white building greets my eyes. Its walls are huge windows, where the 4 p.m. sunlight shines through. The windows are separated by white wings. Its magnificent roof curves softly downwards from the entrance. This building is the only one for miles. It is isolated but nonetheless retains an aurora of importance. In the distance, a white plane climbs the vast blue sky until it becomes but a single speck.

Once I walk inside, in stark contrast to the isolated feeling outside, crowds of people greet my eye. A man with a phone to his ear walks by in a crisp suit. A boy with a green backpack holds the hand of a man with greying hair and glasses. A group of children with a purple tag hanging from each of their suitcases pass by, chattering excitedly. This is the Washington Dulles International Airport.

The airport is the second-busiest trans-Atlantic airport on the Eastern Seaboard. It sees an average of between 1,800 and 2,000 flights every day. Thousands of people walk past its entrance daily. Families, businesspeople, and travelers are but a few of the kinds of people who make up the mass inside.

“So how did you know? Did you work with someone?” My eyes wander to a man sitting on a black seat nearby. He is alone and there is no sign of a phone, so I briefly wonder whether he is talking to me. However, I detect earphones and assume that he has some kind of communication device that allows him to make calls without a phone in plain sight. I almost laugh at my foolishness, and then leave him to his own little world.

My feet take me to where the crowd of people is the most dense: the Meeter-Greeter Area. I sit in one of the black seats in the waiting area, blending into the diversity of the people there.

A man wearing a cowboy hat is sitting next to me. His phone rings, startling me, but I seem to be the only one other than the owner of the phone to have heard it. He leaps to his feet and takes his call, moving towards the arrivals line.

People stream from the arrivals gate. A plane must’ve landed. A young woman leaves the arrival line and laughs as she sees a man walking towards her. They start to kiss (for an uncomfortably long time) and I cast my eyes away from the PDA. However, no one seems to notice, or maybe they don’t care.

An elderly couple seats themselves next to me. A man stands beside them, most likely their son who had met them as they came through the gate. “Can I get you something? I know you look exhausted.” The couple shake their head. “You have not aged one day,” the man says fondly. After some more small talk, the three leave. It seems like the man is taking the couple to his home. It also seems like a young boy named Mike is eagerly waiting for them there. They disappear into the crowd.

There is a little boy, maybe eight or nine, in the middle of the Meeter-Greeter Area with a smartecart that has numerous luggage bags packed on top of it. He seems to be standing guard over it, waiting for his parents while turning in circles like how a carefree child would. Several people pass by – a couple, a man with a pet carrier, a group of young men – but none of them so much as glance at the young boy standing there all by himself. Looking at him, a word came to mind.

Islands. Whether part of a group or alone, the passengers were islands. They minded their own business and went their way. The airport was an ocean; although it was filled with many diverse people, each group or individual was their own island, separated by invisible waters that we call social norms. Ironically, a sense of loneliness pervades through the mass.

It is almost 6 p.m. The man with the cowboy hat is still standing by himself near the bollards. He has moved himself to the very front of the opening where the people who landed had trickled out about thirty minutes ago. Nothing but air surrounds him within a 10-foot radius. He glances at his phone and looks up. I wonder how long it’ll be until the person he is waiting for will show up.


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