By John Young
So here I am in the airport departure hall at the end of another holiday—another holiday by myself. This time, I am glad—really glad—to be going home. It’s not that the holiday was bad. Well, no worse than usual, just doing the sort of thing that I do at home—eating out in restaurants a lot, walking about. Not that I was doing much walking recently. I guess I’m not as fit as I used to be.
I don’t quite feel myself. I hate doctors, I really do, but I think I should get myself checked out when I get home. At least the pain in my chest has gone. I wonder what caused that?
Reality doesn’t seem quite real, near but at the same time a bit far off, more like a picture projected onto glass. Waves and packets of home-goers pass: children are shepherded along by mostly patient parents, elderly folk in wheelchairs are steered to departure gates, a few groups of young guys well lubricated with beer exercise their vocal cords, young couples wrap themselves in each other’s company. And then there are few loners like me.
Something’s going on. I see two Spanish police officers chatting in a taped-off area beside a fashion shop. There’s a body covered by a blue sheet lying on the cream coloured tiled floor, except the sheet isn’t big enough to cover the body. A yellowish-white arm is sticking out. Just like a good-sized skinned fish on a fishmonger’s slab, I find myself thinking. An expensive gold watch encircles the narrow end next to a hand where the tail would have been had it been a fish. Something about the watch attracts my attention. The police officers are looking the other way. I edge casually towards the arm. The watch seems to be exactly like mine, an antique Rolex my father bought me when I was in my teens. That’s a very, VERY grim coincidence, I think, with a shudder.
Nearby, I see a bundle, a shirt I think, and some hand luggage, then off to the left a long black bag with several handles, two at the sides and one at either end. I picture the body being enveloped by the bag, the zipper zipped up, and people grasping the handles. “Ready, lift,” someone might say in Spanish, then onto a trolley and away the package would go, first to the airport place reserved for corpses and onwards to an autopsy table.
Procedures. Always procedures, checklists. There would be a procedure for dead bodies in airports, forms to be filled in, duplicated, then filed in different folders. The body would recommence its journey, navigated to its special place in the cold hold of a plane near the luggage of passengers mourning the end of their holidays. On arrival, the undertakers would be waiting with a hearse, paperwork would be signed, the body exchanged, then forward to final goodbyes: crematorium or graveyard, a funeral oration about Harry or Hans, a collage of cobbled together flattering fragments about his sense of humour, how much he was valued as a father, friend, or business colleague.
How would my remains be processed? What might they say about me? The absolute truth? It doesn’t bear thinking about. Ok, there have been ups and downs. Well, some small ups and a few bad downs. But overall, as lives go, perhaps I have earned a marginal pass.
A short, rotund, middle-aged woman marches into view. Her grey hair is fiercely pulled back and secured into a stubble of a ponytail. She converses for a moment with the police officers, glances at the corpse, looks around, points at the body bag, barks into a walkie-talkie, and strides off.
I am thinking about procedures again. There would be a procedure for the man’s watch. Soon it would start its own journey—removed from the wrist, perhaps scrutinised for a moment, listed on a form, then dropped into a bag, then into another bag labeled ‘possessions’ in Spanish. What would be its destiny? Might it end up on a nephew’s wrist, perhaps? Unlikely. Young folk like electronic stuff. More likely it will land in some assorted knickknack tin box in the back of a seldom-opened drawer, or perhaps to a glass case in a charity shop or in a pawn shop.
My flight gate flicks into view on the departure board.
As I amble along, a tall, youngish, cheerful-looking man in a white suit blocks my path.
“I wonder if you have the correct time,” he asks, smiling.
I am always wary about being approached by strangers, but I seem to recognise this guy from somewhere.
A very strange question, I am thinking, still uneasy. There are clocks everywhere, but from sheer habit, I make to glance at my watch and…it has vanished.
“I’ve lost my watch,” I stammer. “It’s valuable.”
“Hmmm,” he frowns for a moment, then playfully makes a face as though a solution has suddenly occurred to him. “I think,” he says gently, “I know where it might be.” He points to the trolley, now loaded with the bulky, black body bag being steered towards a lift. “But,” he adds quickly, “you’ll not be needing your watch, or your hand luggage, or indeed much else where you’re going. Everything important is supplied.”
He takes my arm and firmly leads me towards a busy fast food outlet where staff in red chequered shirts are dispensing beef burgers, massive buckets of fries, and assorted drinks to a long queue of homebound travelers. A brilliant white door has suddenly appeared.
“But…I don’t understand…”
“You soon will,” he says. “You’ve been asleep—sort of dreaming—and you’re waking up.” He senses my hesitation. “Nothing to worry about. Everything’s going to plan. Now, do come along. Departure is a very simple procedure.”