Some times when I look around me in a crowded place I wonder “Who are these people? What are their stories, their heartbreaks? What is their life like?” It’s easy to forget that those passing by are more than just faces; each of them have a story as complex as the next.
For this assignment we were to write four different perspectives of the same setting. I chose to write about Shiphol airport in Amsterdam because in airports, there are people from all over the world, each with completely different stories, and I also happen to be familiar with Shiphol. There were several stories I could have told, but four that stood out the most…
Asher didn’t know what time it was. Or what day it was. What he did know was that he was far away from home—which was where daddy still was—and that he was still far away from America—which was where they were going. He decided visiting America couldn’t possibly be worth all this trouble. From what he remembered, it was all just a bunch of aunties, uncles, and cousins he didn’t remember, a lot of grown-ups who wanted to tell him how much he had grown, and visiting more churches than he could count.
On top of all this, the baby was crying. “Mommy, can you please tell Becky to be quiet?” he begged.
She gave him a look of pure exhaustion. “I’ve been trying Asher. She’s just really tired and fussy right now. It’s been a long day.”
“I’m tired, too.”
“I know you are, honey. We’re all tired. Do you want some cereal? Maybe some food will give you a little energy.”
Asher scrunched his face in confusion. “Is it breakfast time?”
She laughed a little. “Well, here it’s afternoon, but your body thinks it’s the middle of the night.”
“No, I don’t want food,” he decided. “When will the plane come?”
“I don’t know, honey. They’re having a delay.”
“Why do we even have to go to America? I want to go home,” he complained.
“We have to go visit all the people who give us money so that we can be missionaries,” she explained patiently. “And we want to visit our relatives. Just wait until they see how much you’ve grown.”
Asher frowned. He thought she’d say something like that, but he wasn’t sure why seeing people in America meant he had to wait in the airport in the middle of the night with a screaming baby sister. “Why can’t daddy be with us?” he asked. If mommy couldn’t make the airplane come faster, maybe daddy could.
“Believe me Asher, I wish he was here too. But daddy had some work to do back home. He’ll be with us soon,” mommy said, unsuccessfully patting Becky on the back.
“And when will we get to go back home?”
“Soon enough,” mommy sighed. “Soon enough.”
Asher mournfully looked out the window. Because when grown-ups said soon, it always really meant in a long time.
Everything was a blur to Tess. She had been wearing the same outfit for forty eight hours, yesterday’s makeup was smeared across her face, and her hair hadn’t seen a comb since… she didn’t know how long. It all started two days ago when she got the phone call: her sister Lotte was dead. The police said it was suicide. But there was no note, no sign of depression. Or at least as far as Tess knew. They hadn’t spoken in years.
Lotte, although almost the spitting image of Tess, was her polar opposite. Tess wouldn’t dare step out of line; Lotte was a rebel. Tess was shy and insecure; Lotte was the life of the party. Although Tess admired her elder sister, there was also a little resentment. It wasn’t easy to live in the shadow of someone like Lotte. Yet the sisters were fairly close until… until the fight.
She remembered it like it was yesterday. Lotte wanted to go see the world together, but Tess said they couldn’t leave their mother, who never quite recovered from father’s death, to fend for herself. After a few hours of yelling, cold glares, and slamming doors, Lotte finally packed her bags and left, never to look back.
In the years that passed, Tess married and had children, though she heard from relatives that Lotte didn’t do the same. No surprise there. Lotte was a free spirit. A few times Tess thought about calling her to say she was sorry, that she still loved her. She never picked up the phone, always thinking there would be time. Now…
Well, now she and her two small children were traveling to America for her sister’s funeral. America. Tess never thought she would go there, and certainly not under these circumstances. I’m coming, Lotte, she thought. I never could say no to you for long.
“Mama,” her daughter Fenna asked, bringing her back to reality. “When will the plane be here?”
Tess wearily rubbed her temples. “Yes, it will be here soon.”
“Is there anything to do here?” Lucas complained.
“See over there?” Tess pointed to a family sitting across from them—the one with the crying baby. “There’s a boy about your age. Go talk to him. Practice your English.”
After her children scampered off, Tess forgot about them and the other family until she heard someone talking to her. “Ja?” she answered, looking up to find the woman with the baby. She was holding out food.
“This is for your children,” the other traveling mother answered in American English. “They’ll be hungry.”
“Thank you,” Tess said, feeling slightly stunned as she handed the food to her children. “I just… I thought the plane would feed them.”
“Nope. Plane food is yucky!” chimed in the American boy, making a face.
“Well, I always try to plan ahead,” the mother said with a laugh. “Are you traveling alone?”
“Yes,” Tess answered. “My husband… had to stay in the country for work.”
“I understand that. Let me know if you need any help.”
Tess nodded. And for the first time in several days, a small smile crossed her face.
Emma kept having to pinch herself to make sure it was real. All the people, the sights, the sounds. It was even more than she’d imagined. In a world so big she was nothing but a small thread on the edge of a fraying cloth, a fly on the wall. While it was overwhelming, there was comfort in it, too. Because hopefully, just hopefully, a world so big would be able to swallow her past and everything else she wanted to leave behind. Because the only thing as big as the world was her future. That’s what Ruben had said.
With quiet fascination, Emma’s eyes flitted across the crowd of people. None of them seemed to be like her. There were business people reading their newspapers and checking their watches. There were tourists wearing t-shirts decorated with windmills and clogs. There were people snoring in their chairs, exhausted after the travel. Finally her eyes rested on a group of three children, giggling as they tossed pieces of cereal in their mouths.
They most certainly weren’t like her. She could tell from the blasé way they handled the food, as if it was a simple commodity, something to be taken for granted. And for them it probably was. But not for Emma. She knew all too well what it was like to live with a perpetual hollowness, an incessant gnawing at the inside of her stomach. She knew what it was to live in the dark and the dust of poverty, swearing to herself every day that she would do anything, anything to break the mold, to get out.
Because that had been her life. At least, before Ruben came. Ruben was an angel right out of a dream. He chased away all the dark shadows of Emma’s past and told her he loved her—really loved her. More than that, he was going to give her a future, the ticket out she always dreamed of. Together they got her a Visa and bought a plane ticket to America, where some of Ruben’s friends would hire her.
Emma glanced at her left hand. Ruben promised her there would be rings. After they met up in America and worked to have the money for a family, of course. She sighed contently and closed her eyes. Just one more flight and she would be free.
John sipped his coffee while scrolling through his Facebook newsfeed. It was good, but he’d had better. His phone beeped with an incoming notification—someone else liked a picture from his trip. Man, Amsterdam was awesome. He’d had so much fun touring the city in the last few days. The sights, the drinks, all the windmills and tulips—it was great. He even did the Anne Frank House and a few museums. Had to do some educational stuff.
What was not so great was the layover in the airport. Especially with the crying baby. Really, could that mom not get her kid to shut up? Oh well, airports were the downside of traveling. Though with all the fun he had, it was totally worth it. Where would he go next trip? Beijing maybe. He hadn’t seen a lot of Asia, but then again, an African safari sounded epic…
His musings were interrupted by a voice saying it was time to board the plane. Well, it was about time. Brushing off his bright orange tourist shirt, John put the phone in his pocket and dragged the battered suitcase behind him to the back of the line. For a moment he thought about pulling out his phone again, then he decided to listen to the people around him instead. Why not? Sometimes people in airports said interesting things.
A Dutch lady with her two kids were boarding the plane. Man, she looked like she had seen better days. Right behind her was the mom with the crying baby. It was starting to calm down now, though John had a sneaking suspicion it wouldn’t last. “How was your trip ma’am?” the flight attendant asked the mother.
She looked confused for a moment, then she laughed. “Great. It was great.” She shook her head as she pulled her kids and luggage down the aisle. Hmm… her reaction was kind of strange. Probably delirious from traveling.
Finally the girl in front of him started to board. It was the first time John really noticed her; she didn’t stand out at first, but once you looked closer… She couldn’t be more than fifteen years old. Where were her parents? And was that tiny bag all she had?
The flight attendant bit her lip, eyeing the girl’s scruffy clothes. “Are you traveling alone?” she asked. The girl put her head down and nodded, walking quickly past. Moody teenagers.
“Finally,” John muttered, pulling his bag onto the plane.
The flight attendant gave him a strained smile. “Are you ready to go home sir?”
“Hey, you could tell! Flight attendant’s intuition?” John grinned broadly, but the flight attendant made no response. “Umm… well yeah, I’m ready. I mean, Amsterdam was cool and all, but America is well… home.”
“Good. Move along now,” she ushered him. As John headed down the aisle he thought he heard her say something to her colleague about ignorant tourists. He shook his head in disgust. Who was she to judge him? It wasn’t like she knew anything.