Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

The Three Stages

It was a hard start to the day, racing up the hill for the train in the dark, panting and wheezing as you crashed into your seat amongst yawning students, causing a woman opposite to enquire after your health. You assured her that you neglected to pack your health, before settling back into the seat and trying not to dry-heave and take noisy gulps of air. Perhaps a few extra minutes would have saved you the stares of your fellow passengers and seeing quite so many tiny stars wheeling about the carriage as you begin your journey westward. Between wheezes, you think of the contrast with a piece of writing you forecast last week, and smile – grimace – wryly.

Later that morning, you pace around the almost empty modern departures hall, watching a teenage goth girl re-position her metal jewellery after being forced to disrobe for the grumpy security personnel. Her parents head for the waiting area and try not to roll their eyes skyward too often. You continue to pace, trying not to get the smell of smoke on your freshly washed clothes and jacket, as your flight is called and boarding begins.

First stage over: you are leaving home territory.

Later still, you wind your way through a warren of unfamiliar corridors, between unfamiliar airport terminals. You stand next two two business people as they talk animatedly of the day ahead; vaguely familiar speech patterns confirm their northern European heritage. You forgo the cigarette which usually calms your nerves, and wait patiently, enclosed in a building in the country where you grew up and anticipating the second leg of your journey.

Stage two complete: you walk down the gangway to a plane from the second terminal of the day.

As you accurately predicted, the suave voice of the captain comes over the tannoy, to confirm the video screen display of descent, a little less than half an hour before you see your destination. As the plane dips its wing, you survey the choppy dark brown water, sunlit green meadows, and golden stone of the city. With a jolt, you realise that the city is waiting for you less than two miles away … less than one mile away … across the tarmac … through those doors. You find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings, an arrivals area without customs formalities, surrounded by passengers waiting to take the place you’ve vacated. Gathering your nerves into a tight bundle and tucking them into your belt, you step off the escalator, and look around to see what awaits you.

Stage three, complete.

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