And so you are standing now in an airport cafe called Rustichelli and Mangione trying to get a slice of pizza and an espresso out of the bizarre basket case that is the Italian ordering system. You are contemplating your predicament as two people with more knowledge of the system than you barge in front and promptly receive both a slice of pizza and an espresso. You quickly learn. Your predicament is a 24-hour mistake that is disturbingly similar to the one you made only a day earlier which forced you to have to pay for a room in a Rome hostel despite the fact you wouldn’t actually be there that night because, for whatever reason, you thought you would be arriving a day early. You are also contemplating the 14 euro train ride that you took that morning to get from the Termini station to where you are now – level two, terminal three of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. You are contemplating whether or not you want to fork out a further 28 euros to go back to Termini and then back again to exactly where you are already tomorrow morning when surely your mother will be on the 10.40am flight from London Gatwick. There also is the 25-30 euros that you will have to pay if you don’t want to sleep in a Roman gutter. You make a call. You think to yourself that you can handle 24-hours in an airport. You can sleep in an airport. There are worse places in the world to be stuck for 24-hours. Bosnia circa 1999 springs to mind. So now the decision is made. The next thing is to figure out how to spend 24-hours in a place that was only ever meant to be used as a transition, a limbo, a go-between. But you are not going anywhere. Your are not to use the airport for its express purpose. You are not getting airborne anytime soon. So you think, not for the first time that day. You wander the shops. You think about buying an iPod touch, because that surely in itself would make the airport stay a success – albeit not a financial one. Not at 309 euros. The 8gb is only 239 euros. You keep walking. You think about the things that could be achieved in an airport. Perhaps something interesting, like a project. Like a photo essay on 24-hours in an airport. But then you realise your camera is in the bottom of your bag and you can’t really be bothered. Plus the departure lounge of an airport isn’t particularly interesting and its people not doing anything particularly interesting other than eating Big Macs and trawling around unnecessarily large bags on wheels. You shelve that idea only to regret it later when interesting scenes do eventuate. There is a funny/stupid looking dog drinking water out of the water fountain, for example. You have some work to do that you have put off because the right mood had not surfaced. If the mood is desperate boredom then perhaps something can be achieved. You sit down with you slice of pizza and your espresso. You put down your backpack, your jacket, your plastic bag gleaned from a Spanish department store and take out your laptop and try to begin a piece of writing that you started a week ago. It is something, if good enough, that might actually allow you to buy an iPod touch without feeling too guilty, but, of course, you can’t write anything. No, all you can do is bash out a second person singular stream of consciousness ramble about how you got to be stuck in this mess. You finish it with concerning ease. But then what? An idea. Make it a two-part second person singular consciousness ramble. More time is consumed. You buy a beer and read a few of the dozens few magazine articles that you store in a folder called “writing” for just this reason – killing time. There is one on DNA, another on Greek people and money, a series by an atheist on getting cancer, one on Donald Trump. Time needs to be slaughtered – hung, drawn and quartered – ideally wearing a kilt and a possessing fake Scottish accent. That at least would be dramatic. Then the thought dawns on you about later in the day, later in the night, when you will have to sleep here. You will have to bunk down with your backpack, jacket, department store plastic bag and miscellany of plugs and pretend you are not just some homeless person looking for some shelter. You walk outside for some fresh air and see a man with a Swiss army knife attached to his trousers with a blue ribbon. He is dragging two luggage trolleys packed full of boxes. They have dozens of plastic bags tied to them filled with plastic bottles, cigarette boxes, beer cans. The man seems to have a special affinity for baggage claim tags. He has large wads of them meticulously arranged and ordered. He jumps up on the fountain next to you and begins to wash his hands. Then he continues on his way, stopping momentarily to ruffle through a trash can. He finds two more baggage claim tags. Do they lock the doors? Will I be treated like a criminal? You think. You check the departures board. There is a flight leaving for Addis Ababa at 12.45am. Any questions I will pretend to be Ethiopian. Relief.
So you are standing outside the arrivals gate, terminal 3 at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport feeling particularly self-righteous. You are psychically lambasting your mother for flagrantly disobeying the first rule of parenting in a confused, human-laden environment. If you get lost…don’t move. But you are not lost. Perhaps a little late but certainly you know where you are and you know where you are meant to be. You know your mother’s flight number and that she is flying in from London Gatwick at 10.40am, changed to 10.41am on the arrivals board and then back to 10.30am. You are not completely sure of the time because you stopped wearing a watch a while ago and there does not seem to be any clocks at the arrivals gate, terminal 3 of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. So there you are as other flights arrive. The one carrying the New Yorkers from JFK. The one with the Dutch lead by and enthusiastic tour guide who holds up a sign that reads, “Holland Tours”, and who periodically bellows the word “Holland” to anyone who will listen. The one that brings the granddaughter to meet the grandfather seemingly for the first time. Scenarios flicker through your mind. Scenarios that you try to bring a logical argument to. The most likely one is the simplest one. The simplest one? You think. That her flight is delayed (despite the arrivals board saying it landed 20 minutes ago). That she is held up in customs (despite Rome’s customs officials being as care free as Care Bears on E.) More flights continue their way through the arrivals gate. The one that brings the clever foreign students who have managed to con their lecturers into thinking a semester in Rome will be good for their academic growth. The ones that require a sea of dark suited men carrying placards with names hastily scrawled in vivid marker. The one that brings the man in colourful traditional-looking African attire…and Crocs. There you are, watching these people meet their destinations. And as 11.10am arrives you start to think something is not quite right. You start to think of scenarios that seem to place your mother into the arena of the imbecile. Perhaps she arrived in a moment when my back was turned as I tried to find a goddamn clock. Perhaps she has gone to the rental car company situated two floors above in terminal 3 at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. So you weigh it up. Should you leave your spot hanging over the railings practicing saying that cool thing you learned in Italian? Or should you go the second floor in the hope of finding your mother picking up the car keys to a Renault? But why would she do that? What a ridiculously stupid thing to do. Of course your mobile phone borrowed from your aunt in London has run flat so the only way to make contact is through the pay phone in the corner of the arrivals gate. An American asks if you speak English because he is seemingly having trouble making a phone call. You tell him (in English) to try the number again. It works for him. But no such luck for you. You wait for a couple more flights to arrive. Then you make a decision. Up two floors in the slowest elevator known to man. Across the departure lounge with desperate souls killing time waiting for their purpose to arrive. And into the car rental sector. Of course there is no mother there. And seemingly no plugs in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. You scavenge. You soon find one and rummage around in your bag which is packed full of too many things you probably don’t need. So you are in a pile of clothes and laptop plugs. You find the particular plug you are looking for. You plug in your phone, with adaptor, and make a call…to your aunt. “Hi (your name here),” your aunt says. To which you reply: “You haven’t heard from mum have you?” To which she replies: “Yes, she is right here.” To which you say, on the second floor of terminal 3 of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport: “Fuck.”
In the deep, dark days when I pretended to learn things, I used to write about San Sebastian a surprising amount. Every time I had a Spanish exam I would trawl out this place on the north-east coast of Spain to demonstrate my new-found ability to conjugate verbs. The problem was I never actually knew what I was doing. I had just memorised a passage a tutor had written out for me one desperate day a week before school certificate.
As the exams changed and the verb conjugations became more difficult there was one constant in my language training. Every time, without fail, from when I was 14 when I was 17 and (I think even once in university) I trawled out San Sebastian as place where I once supposedly went with my family and where I nadared in el mar and played futbol on the beach. Where I once hired a boat and traversed the bay with the wind in my hair and the sun in my eyes. Oh the fun I had! The conjugations I completed! But of course I had never been there. I didn’t even know what the beach looked like let alone whether it was possible to hire a boat. But for three days last week I was there, and as a result, knowing what I know now, my passage (which got me 64 per cent in seventh form Spanish (boom)) might look a little different. For example, though my Spanish class often came up with some hilarious sentences involving mountain goats and plastic sandals, I don’t recall ever having to use the Spanish word for “orgy” in my efforts. However, the passage would still probably begin the same way as it always began. En mis vacaciones….and always end the same way it ended.
En mis vacaciones fui a San Sebastian. No podia nadar en el mar porque era demasiado frio. Que bummer! No habia barcos para acquiler! Que bummer. Sin embargo habia muchas cosas para hacer. Por ejemplo un noche tuve que escuchar a mis vencinos en mi hostel hablaban sobre los benficios de tener un threesome. Que bummer! Esto fue antes de algunos de los mismos vecinos hablaron acerca de si o no 9 / 11 fue un trabajo interno. Que bummer! El argumento de la niña fue que hay cosas sobre el gobierno que no sabemos por lo tanto, debe haber sido un trabajo interno. Pero ella aceptó que no sabía mucho sobre el tema. Un Americano se puso muy enojado porque su tío se fue casi a las dos torres de ese día. Dijo que estaba en el ejército o algo así.Él era de Texas y tenia un voz muy alta.
En la final creo que mis vencinos no tenía un orgia porque la chica dijo que un par de veces “yo no suelo hacer esto” y “no sé por qué estoy pensando en hacer esto”. Para que el wanker Australia respondió: “porque somos tan encantador”y el hipster deglasgow que llevaba un corbatín de tartán
dijo algo en voz inaudible. Las paredes eran muy delgadas! Al final no creo que mis vecinos tenían una orgía porque escuché el Australiano se sienten frustrados y cerrar la puerta. La niña Australia tenía clase.
Me gusta San Sebastian mucho!
He looked like what I imagine a tapeworm to be had that tapeworm the faint yet distinguishable presence of both arms and legs. He looked like how Ralph Steadman would draw a humanoid tape worm – disgustingly and cylindrically thin, no bulges anywhere, except for his eyes which squinted and puffed out like a balloon inflated by a helium bottle’s last gasp of gas. A sparse of receding hair retreating back over a greasy, sweaty, glinting forehead. The god-given and singular ability to squeeze into small cavities unnoticed and devour all that can be found.
Yes this man was definitely a tapeworm. This one spoke Spanish. He was from Barcelona. He frequented La Rambla. He was a social tapeworm. Then he stole my camera.
“Tienes una cigar,” he asked. He ducked and swayed like a boxer in super slow mo. He rubbed his hands as I imagine a tapeworm would, had a tape worm had hands. I turned to look at this creature. This caricature. He looked distracted as if the cigarette perhaps wasn’t the only thing on his mind. That perhaps the cigarette was merely something to fill the hours while he waited for the next opportunity to squeeze into some poor bastard’s cavity and exploit their belly full of goodies for all its worth.
I don’t know how to say “fuck off” in Spanish. But had I the vocabulary and verb conjugating ability I would have said that to this particular tapeworm. At least then I would have made my feelings known.
Instead I told him I didn’t have a cigarette.
“No?” he replied.
I shook my head. And in the time to move my cranium from left to right he was gone. Dashed. Off in a slithering flash.
I looked down at my feet. There was a bag there once. It had a camera with photos of funny and stupid looking French and Spanish dogs. A whole plethora of them. There was one, for example, the fat stupid looking one. And, of course, the tiny stupid looking one. I was waiting to have enough so I could publish an album with the working title of “stupid and funny looking French and Spanish dogs.”
That bag also had an iPod in it. With brand new headphones. The type that go right into your inner ear and makes you feel like you are listening to Kelly Clarkson 100 metres below sea level with waxy build up.
The Tapeworm would know none of this. Tapeworms are hermaphrodites.