I was rushing through the airport today, fretting about the usual things- why there was no sign on the railway platform which told me which terminal to go to; whats going on at home with the wife and kids and why the youngest is still struggling to hold down a job; why the company’s bank is being so uncommunicative about some simple business matters and why my knees still ache from a weekend of some occasional tennis and more frequent beer drinking.
I flowed into the check in desk, through passport control and the security desk and border control guard easier than usual – it was early afternoon so the bulk of the business travel had flown out earlier in the day – breezed through the departure lounge, made some last minute calls and texts and emails, trying to put a temporary end to many of the business matters which were calling for attention before I set foot on the plane.
I got to the departure gate quicker than normal and went through the final check in like a knife through butter. Possibly the easiest trip i’ve ever made through an airport, certainly in living memory.
Then, as we queued again to make the final steps onto the plane, the queue slowed to a stop, was pressed into a single file against the wall and the fellow travellers went quiet. A couple of heavily armed security guards patrolled the line looking purposely at each one of us. Directly into the eyes. Not around the eyes, not below the eyes, not above the eyes, but straight into them. We looked back, or averted our gaze. They moved up the line, slowly, continuing the gaze. Behind them, another guard restraining eager cocker spaniel was briskly sniffing every passengers bags, trousers, shoes and skirts. He – the dog, not the guard – wagged his tail eagerly and stopped by one young man dressed in jeans, anonymous black top and incoherent trainers. He’d been carrying a rucksack on his back all the while and had been to asked to hold it to the floor so the dog could smell it. He resisted for a flash of a second – not long, but he did resist. He lowered the rucksack – some famous mountaineering brand I remember from once driving into the Lake District – slowly to the floor. The dog looked at him, into the eyes. He looked back at the dog. And then it’s handler. The handler looked at him, nodded to his companions who came over to join him and silently the three armed guards took the traveller under the arm and his ruck sack out of the queue and disappeared him down a side door which had a big yellow ‘staff only’ sign screwed into it.
But before he was disappeared, he looked at me, in the eyes. I looked at him, in the eyes. I thought, you were trying to kill me. He knew what I had thought and nodded back imperceptibly. Yes, I was going to try and kill you. And all the other people on this plane with their family job bank and knee worries.
Why are you trying to kill us? I wanted to ask but our exchange was nearly at an end. He was resisting his guards ever so slightly, you could see it in his muscle tension in his shoulders as they tried to silently disappear him.
But he still had time to think back at me, I was trying to kill you because you are you and I am I. And we shall never see eye to eye, no matter how hard we try and no matter how hard we think we are thinking together. And in one last parting thought, I conveyed to him through my gaze, You can’t kill me because I have a conference to attend today and a family to come home to and a daughter who needs a job and a pair of knees which need healing, not destroyed in a bomb blast of your making. You can’t kill me because I have a bank loan to pay off and bills to pay and it will be Easter soon when I have to go and visit my mother and brother and his family. i knew he had received these thoughts because he tried answering but he was dragged away before he got a chance to open his mouth.
The queue sighed and relaxed. We stayed moving onward again toward the fuselage of the plane the suicide bomber had nearly joined us in. I thought, thank God for the security forces and cocker spaniels as I sat down in my seat and did up my seat belt. I looked out of the planes window and could see some shapes bustling back the terminal – six security guards now, 3 cocker spaniels and a man in a hoody, trainers but bereft of rucksack. He threw back one parting thought: It’s not over till its over. Your time will come, and certainly during your living memory. One nil to you at half time.