Postcard from Istanbul Airport
John Burnside has a beautiful poem, ‘Annunciation in Grey and Black’, in which the poet/narrator, a middle-aged man, sits alone in an airport at ‘night, at the edge of the world, where nothing/sings, except this mop-girl in her stonewashed/coveralls’.
I dislike airports but it’ll be 3 AM when I’m in Istanbul for a transfer and surely at that hour it’ll be quiet and I can sit alone and reflect like Burnside on fading virility and the transience of beauty and the difficulties of reconciling atomisation with the fleeting and deceptively slight human contact afforded by global travel.
The astonishing glimpses into other lives. The fracturing of personal privacy set against the unknowability of the individual stranger. Weighty issues.
I can sit in the quiet early morning airport bar and ponder and cogitate and wait to be called to my connecting flight and perhaps write something.
The middle-aged writer dwelling on it all. The creative urge still burning. All low hum in, Burnside again, ‘the silted airport gloom’.
Don’t be daft. This isn’t a movie or a story or even a poem, this is Istanbul airport, a city in itself, colossal and chaotic; Heathrow, JFK, Charles De Gaulle are glider-parks in comparison.
Ant colony. Snooker balls shattered in a thunderous break, all bounce and ricochet and carom.
Smoking area, quick but no rush.
Signs everywhere. Seemingly random numbers and a smithereened alphabet. Suitcases and rucksacks and shinbark. Stumbling. Shoulders that barge. Desultory rapid darting drifts, the constant beeping of those little electric trucks.
Balcony, tobacco. Roll a cigarette.
A voice from high Tannoy – the flight to Tbilisi is now boarding.
Two quick draws, stub, E3 is the gate. 10 minute walk away. Run, scurry, up escalators and down stairs, lifts, moving walkways, get to gate: oh no, sir, you need A12.
Spin and scurry again, scamper, the sweat pooling now, the shoes starring to rub (there’ll be a blood blister like a ripe plum on the sole of the right foot), the strap of the rucksack raw on the shoulder and neck, ask a truck driver if you can jump on but oh no because the gate is upstairs, take the lift, twitch from foot to foot, quick, up and out of lift, moving walkways, A1, A2 is five minutes away, never gonna make this, next walkway out of order, scurry, jog, shins aching, the armpits and groin now jungles, get to A12, this plane is going to Kuala Lumpur.
Look on the board. C17, Tbilisi.
Now boarding. Things snap in the legs and back. Too old. Too old. Too much.
Spin, ricochet, reel about, move, scuttle, weave, excuse me please you family of 6 with a portable warehouse of luggage, Christ me shins, Jesus me back and now there’s an urgent niggle in the hips and the bladder’s complaining too no time to pee nor take on water and the throat is desert granite, run, moving walkways run on them too, stumble, bounce and career, sweat in the eyes, sorry, argh me ankles, rucksack slipping, feet hollering and oh there’ll be some damage there, boxer shorts slipping down to a thin incensing rim of a thing beneath the frantic arse-cheeks, maybe swimming across the water feature would be a shortcut, Jesus, Christ people if you need to peck at your phones then stand to one side!, this seethe and boil and here’s C17, boarding starts in 20 minutes.
Pant. Breathe. Smoking balcony nearby. Of course it’s the same one you started at, over a hectic and feverish hour ago. Of course it is.
Well. There it is. Best laid plans etc. Gan lang agley, gan lang agley.
Make for yourself a putative future situation in which you’re the star of your own narrative and reality will slam you down to earth. You’re old enough to know this.
How many times have you experienced such things? The world has a way of wrecking your vanities. Something to reflect on, on the return leg, at a quiet table in an airport bar, beer and notebook in the silted gloom.
You utter twerp.
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