Layover

This entry is part 13 of 17 in the series Issue XII: Spring 2013 Prose

By Derek Loosvelt  

NYWC Workshop Leader, Osborne Association

Back before the Soviet Union fell, I was flying through Moscow. I don’t recall where I was heading. Perhaps Southeast Asia. Perhaps India. Point is, back then, when Russia was communist, all the inexpensive flights originating in Europe connected through Moscow. And in Moscow the waiting times for flights were very long. Sometimes an entire day. And since it was extremely expensive to purchase a visa to leave the airport, there was nothing to do but wait inside. I believe I had to wait for nine, maybe ten hours for my next flight. And at the time of the Soviet Union, the Moscow airport wasn’t what it is today. There were very few chairs to sit on, and the main waiting area had a single café. Which only opened for two hours a day. One hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. The time I was connecting through Moscow a young woman ran the café. I saw her open it both times that day. Each time she did hundreds of people descended upon her like flies. At the end of each hour the woman was in tears. People screamed at her. Called her names. Pushed each other. Shoved each other. Bit each other. More than a few fights broke out in line. And the Moscow police couldn’t care less. They smoked cigarettes and turned away. Point is, I watched all this from the floor. I sat on the floor alongside a large family of Africans also waiting for their flight. They all wore black and yellow robes. Robes that looked like priests’ cassocks. They were baggy and long. They reached to the floor. The Africans didn’t move when the café opened. This interested me. This interested me greatly. They all sat and appeared to be quite content. They had some food with them. It appeared to be rice. Plain rice, that’s all. In clear plastic bags. And some brown vegetable that looked like a potato but wasn’t a potato. Point is, all twenty or twenty-five of the Africans, some very old, some infants, there were perhaps four generations present, were quite calm, relaxed, unlike most of the people waiting for flights. And this interested me so I spoke to them. Some spoke English and I asked them where they were from, where they were heading. They were refugees. They were from West Africa and, coincidentally, heading to Norway, my home country, to start new lives. The Africans and I both thought this to be an auspicious sign. I told them a little about Norway and they listened to my every word. Their eyes were quite beautiful. I’d never seen eyeballs that clear, that white, in my life. Even the very old among them. At times we sat in silence and watched the other people in the waiting area. Point is, when it finally came time for me to go, when my flight was boarding, I said good-bye and wished the Africans luck. But before I left them, I asked them when their flight was leaving. The question just came out. A woman spoke up first. I wasn’t sure I heard right so I asked again. And when she repeated what she said I realized I had heard right. What she’d said was this: two weeks. Two weeks was her answer. They had to wait for their flight in that animal cage of a waiting room for two weeks. But the most amazing thing is they didn’t appear to be defeated by this at all. It didn’t seem to bother them in the least. They were content to wait. For all they knew, two weeks was the customary waiting time between flights. For all they knew, two weeks was nothing.

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