45 minutes to boarding
Santiago International Airport
I treat my time at an airport like a layover in life. I get there early, speed through check in and immigration, buy the cheapest coffee and pastry I could get my hands on, find a seat near my boarding gate, get my pen and notebook out and enjoy the next few hours of having absolutely nothing on my mind.
Because when you're in between places - between where you're coming from and where you're going - it's easy to forget everything. All the things I normally worry about in real life get checked in along with my luggage, and my mind is clear and empty.
I don't understand why layovers get such a bad reputation. In a layover, all you need to do is to make sure that you have your plane ticket and that you keep an ear out for your boarding call. When else in life are you not thinking about at least ten things all at once?
It's also a perfect opportunity to people watch. That's another thing I like about airports: there's so many people around, it's easy to just blend into the background and watch life happen to everyone else.
Case in point: the girl beside me is on the phone, sobbing uncontrollably. With my limited grasp of Spanish, I can make out "I don't want to go", "I can't live without you" and "don't forget me", which she says over and over again through her tears.
The airport is the last place she wants to be in right now. I feel for her, but I can't say I relate. What I've learned after packing my bags and leaving home is that if you want to see the world, you need to learn to say goodbye.
I turn my attention away from Miss Separation Anxiety to the deep, male voice to my other side. I'm greeted by deep-set eyes and the longest lashes I've seen on a man, it's almost criminal. He's casually offering a traditional Chilean pastry in his hand. Random.
"Umm, thanks, I'm good."
"Are you sure? It's your last chance to taste the real deal." His British accent throws me off a little bit. His unkempt hair, faded shirt and overall scruffy aesthetic don't tally with my image of a proper Englishman. "Once you're through those gates, you won't find anything close to this again."
"It's fine, really. I've had a lot of those on this trip."
He nods and retreats his outstretched hand along with the empanada, slouching back on his chair.
"You heading home then?"
He nods again, eyes set on his empanada. "Me neither."
"How long were you here for?" Normally I'm not so forward with the questions when talking to strangers, but he asked first.
"A week. You?"
"And how'd you find it?"
"It was good. But I mean, I could've been travelling anywhere and I would've felt the exact same way, to be honest."
He lights up at that. "Absolutely. At some point every country just starts to look the same, you know? Every country is supposed to be "different" and "exotic" and "foreign". But they're all just the same in that they're different. They're all the same in that they're not home. It can get quite repetitive. I'm over it, really."
What a ball of sunshine and positivity this one is. Probably one of those worn-out travelers who have been on the road for far too long. Wonder if I'll ever get to that point someday. For now, I'm just having too much fun.
"Actually, I just meant you could've put me anywhere in the world and I would've been happy because I would've been anywhere but home."
"Oh." That piques his interest enough to draw his attention away from the empanadas to look at me. "Well, that's a different way of looking at it, I suppose."
"I'd say so, yeah." I haven't met too many people on this trip since it's only been a few days, but because I'm new to the whole travelling thing, when I did meet people I mostly just let them talk, while I listened. It feels nice, to be making a point for myself this time around.
"There's one thing I'm sure we both agree on though: airports are awful."
I can't help but chuckle at that. "I actually love airports."
"Come on." He throws his hands up in disbelief.
"I do!" I sit up from my chair and turn my body towards him. "Look, airports are like, that time before a concert starts and you're already at the venue, and all you need to be doing is getting excited for your favorite band to come on. Nothing else matters, you know?
"It's like the last few days of summer before school starts. You have the right to do absolutely nothing because after a while you'll have to do homework and take quizzes and all those things. So you enjoy just doing nothing. Staying at an airport is like...taking a break. From life."
He's silent for a while, like he's trying to make sense of my sudden outburst. "So it's like a stopover on a road trip?"
My eyes light up in excitement. He gets it! He gets me! "Exactly! It's like a rest stop. You park, you relax, eat all the food you want -"
"That is quite accurate. I don't know why I get so hungry at airports all the time." There's a crooked smile that's formed on his face as he gestures towards the bag of empanadas on his lap.
"I know, I'm the same way! I mean normally I would've taken you up on that empanada, but I just had a really big croissant, so..."
He waves a hand as if to say that doesn't matter. "I'm glad we agree on one thing, at least."
"Yeah, me too." I notice the way his dark lashes perfectly frame his blue eyes.
"So where are you headed off – "
"The toilets here are disgusting. I can't deal with this anymore!"
It happens so quickly: one minute I think I'm having a moment with this blue-eyed stranger who offered me an empanada, the next, a girl crashes in on our conversation as she whines her way into the seat between us and right into the stranger's arms.
What's more, she looks like those travelling hotties you see on Instagram who make sleeping in a tent in the middle of the forest in their underwear look glamorous. I guess life just isn't fair like that.
Scruffy Blue Eyes gently rubs her slender shoulders in an attempt to calm her down from whatever drama she had to go through at the airport bathroom (which I actually found to be a rather nice lavatory when I went). "It's just for a few more minutes, babe, you can use the toilet on the plane."
"Ugh, whatever." She rolls her eyes at him and crosses her arms defiantly, like a petulant child.
It's hard for me to understand how attractive people with equally attractive significant others can find anything to be upset about.
It's not that I decided to go on this trip so I could find someone. I mean, sure, maybe in the back of my mind there's that tiny hope of living out that movie "Before Sunrise", but that's not why I'm travelling. And I can't be distracted by all that fluff.
I hear the boarding announcement for my flight. I briefly consider saying goodbye to Scruffy Blue Eyes before deciding it's a horrible idea considering his girlfriend's current mood.
I casually try to catch a glimpse of him for the last time, only to find those blue eyes, perfectly framed by those long, dark lashes, staring right back at me.
Flustered, I turn back to my notebook and dot the last sentence I had written, skimming through the page one last time before stuffing it in my bag and heading for the boarding gates:
Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan) – a wordless but meaningful look between two people who wish to start something they both desire, but neither are willing to take the first step forward.
© Dane Luna, 2019. All rights reserved.