The complete stranger cheerily said “bye-bye” (the Asian way: “bai bai”) and stalked off out of sight. What a cheeky bastard.
I needed to catch that plane!
Perhaps it would have been funny if my classmates and I were not standing in immigration at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport – to emigrate rather than immigrate, and then to immigrate and emigrate a few more times on our tour of Asia’s more temperate countries. Boarding time started 25 minutes ago, and we had 5 minutes to get on the plane – maybe. If the plane hadn’t followed the procedure of locking the doors 10 minutes before departure time.
The older Japanese classmate my friend had allowed to travel with us had long since disappeared. He made a gesture for us to stay where we were and to wait as he tried to figure out why this line was dizzyingly long, and then he vanished. My cute Indonesian friend had begged the airline personnel to wait for the rest of us, who were unable to jump the line due to our desperate situation, but I later found out that she only followed our cheeky friend when he suggested that she could wait for us – and purchase a new airline ticket. We should have been together, but one family would not allow our entire group to pass them in line, and despite our urgency, the Taiwanese officials would not help us to advance through the crowd. They grimaced slightly, silently saying, “Good luck, but deal with it.”
My Korean classmates had waited for each other to clear immigration and were nowhere in sight by the time the worker was satisfied with my identity. (I was irritated the he asked for my birthday, but smug as shit when I rattled it off with no hesitation because, duh, I’m not an imposter.) So I passed his podium and realized that the “bai bai” guy hadn’t quite left; he waited to tell me that I needed to run – with no more elaboration. Perhaps following the other Kuala Lampur bound passenger, ducking under the ropes and skipping the more tolerant travelers really would save us.
So, run, I did. Boarding pass in hand, I double-checked the gate as my feet slammed onto the floor and I got a calf cramp. I spun around in circles too long at a critical junction, making quadruple takes with my ticket and the airport signs. I fought the effects of my newly-begun hyperventilation. C5. Okay, B something and C5R were straight ahead; C6 – C10 were to the right. Where the @$#% was gate C5? After a normal breath I spotted a sign – to the left. I ran on auto-pilot and willed myself into caring about not crushing toddlers and sending strollers careening as their parents pushed them at a leisurely pace in the middle of the hallway.
I ran down the stairs, praying that the gate hadn’t changed. Good, only one direction to go. I didn’t have time for more quadruple takes. And then I looked to the left. Bad – very, very bad.
I was immediately struck by the emptiness of the gate – a stretch of cream tile and windows without faces pressed up close, peering out towards the luggage and gesturing workers, to the plane they were about to board.
At least before, when we worried that we would miss our flight, I took solace in the subject “we.” I had never missed a flight, and I felt confident that the four of us would come up with a plan to arrive in Kuala Lampur. I didn’t blame the others for going; I’m sure they had mixed feelings, and I would have left, too. I wasn’t really so selfish as to hope they wouldn’t catch the flight. I just had to come up with a new plan. If only my numb brain would whir into action… I was just too busy staring at the empty space where just a half hour before all of my would-be fellow travelers lounged, re-packed, snacked, and left their carry-ons as they took one last trip to the restroom…
“Miss? Kuala Lampur?”
The large pillar had hidden the counter from view.
The lady I saw at check-in two hours previously was waiting for me expectantly so I resumed running past rows and rows of empty chairs, handed her my ticket and followed her jog… on the wrong side of the divider ribbon. I learned to ignore my calf cramp since my attention was diverted to a fiery combination of chest pain and side pain, but I sprinted like a wounded superhero into the priority entrance because it was the only one open.
I was disgustingly sweaty. And I felt like an asshole, like I was the whole reason for the flight’s late departure, but I breathlessly made my way to the very last row in the plane, where I slumped into my seat, feeling as if I were sliding across home plate when a couple of even worse stragglers boarded.
Miracle of miracles. We all made it. Do it with me. Face palms down, extend arms outwards, and say it: “Safe.”
. . . . .
* The photo of the plane is not from the same trip.