I landed in Istanbul at around 4 am. Having flown business class and no other flight arriving at the same time, I got through the security check that led me to the transfer gates in mere minutes. I would have a little over three hours before the flight to Berlin. How to kill those three hours? How to use them? How to cherish them, even?
As the gate for my flight hadn’t been announced yet, I felt it was my duty to get acquainted with every corner of the terminal available to me without having to undergo another security check. Thus, I wandered through this temple of capitalism. Coffee. Suitcases. Sunglasses. Perfume. Turkish Delight. For the first time, I understood Jesus’ outburst of rage at the temple.
Sleepy salespeople had to deal with very chatty customers, fuelled by the still unadjusted inner clock of a different time zone and the breakfast they’ve enjoyed on their last flight. And the all-enveloping stench of a thousand different perfumes aimlessly sprayed into the air, on arms and throats. So unbearable. Even more so on an empty stomach.
So I finally gave in to my urge to have some breakfast and I ordered a Turkish coffee with cardamom and some baklava. The coffee was too bitter. The baklava too sweet. I guess that’s what it feels like to be in transfer, in between, neither here nor there, completely lost and free at the same time.
Time. It’s ticking more slowly when you’re waiting. But God forbid you’re having fun. Chronos will trade places with the Flash and move that hand around the universally accepted circle divided into twelf bigger segments and 60 smaller ones that supposedly represents time. I can’t think of a more banal and utterly unsatisfactory way to portray loss, hope, cheers and cries, memories, dreams, cruelty and kindness.
A mere 40 minutes had passed. Was this to last? Was I to last? Either way, I fixated on that glorious moment when it would be a quarter past. Nothing would happen then. But as of that moment, I was in the business of killing time, rather than using it.
I went to the same bookstore you have in every major airport. You know, the one with the abnormally large selection of books about management and a complete lack of any selection for anyone that doesn’t want to read common sense explained to them in a way that raises questions where previously there were none. I read the different titles that authors or publishers had come up with. Some sounded witty, some sounded dumb. Some made unkeepable promises, some made you feel surprised doomsday hadn’t come yet. But then again, everyone has their own definition of doom. Some people see it where others bloom.
I moved seats quite frequently. I sat at different gates. The people gathering in front of a specific gate always form a community, bound by their common destination. People nod at you approvingly, assumptions are made on your citizenship, yet no one dares to talk to each other. Unless there are Americans around of course. I have always liked them for that. I find talking to strangers deeply uncomfortable, but it is comforting to be reminded of how easy it is to make a connection with someone, to change your circles, to create a new life. I have yet to meet the person with whom I have had absolutely nothing in common and nothing to talk about.
I ended up choosing the perfect seat for the remainder of the time. No one sat beside me as I wasn’t at any gate. But where I was, was so much better. To the left of me were the bathrooms, to the right of me a duty free shop. I watched humans from every walk of life rush to the bathroom with a sense of urgency and leave it calmly, with a look of relief on their faces. I watched people browse the alcohol selection, the chocolate, and the coffee. Barely anybody bought anything. And why would they? Most people already had a backpack, a handbag and more lugagge probably checked. Not everybody would be afforded the luxury of a taxi upon arriving at their destination and on public transport every piece of luggage is like a cross you have to drag up to Golgotha. It annoys you, everybody else thinks you’ve done something wrong, and it might be the death of you.
I stood in line. I sat down. I looked to my left. There sat a beautiful Turkish woman, probably in her mid 30s. She was tan, had long black hair, perfectly manicured fingernails and a bright, white smile. She looked at me pleadingly. I knew what she meant and nodded my head ever so slightly. She proceeded to pull the armrest up, put her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes. Not a word was spoken. But I had the feeling we both needed this. For different reasons, perhaps. But it felt right. I couldn’t help but smile as I tried to put my earphones in without moving too much, lest I disturb this suddenly so familiar stranger. She needed the rest. I needed the human touch. And there was the lesson I had waited to learn ever since the first day in Vietnam. I could stop thinking for the next three hours.
The plane took off and she dug into my shoulder even deeper. The clouds seemed to part, I was overjoyous, you should have felt my heart! Then the food tray came. An abrupt end to this beautiful moment. Transfer time was over. My mind was in Berlin. I merely waited for the plane to get my body there too.