By Antony Johae
There were many people in the lounge at Terminal 26 – travellers arriving and those waiting. Stars fllashed on the monitors signalling the many flights coming in. The digital indicated fractions of a second skimming by, the seconds slowly, the minutes imperceptibly, the hours interminably.
A woman, waiting, glanced up at the figures, and at a monitor which read: Flight 601 dep NY 0300 arr Lon 08.08+2.35 – down. She approached the arrival area feeling irritation at the two-and-a-half minute delay.
She could see him appear, head first, as he ascended the automatic stairs; then coming closer along the moving floor. He stopped in front of her, not recognising her. She raised a hand for him to notice, but he turned away as though expecting to meet someone else.
She touched his arm and he turned sharply as though stung. He recognised her then and nodded. They walked from the space lounge into a dark tunnel.
She formed a number on the panel; the door opened, a light came on, and they walked in. A viewer flickered silently on the wall; the glass looked down on the hotel foyer, and across through a translucent ceiling to a highway junction. She pressed a button and the glass turned opaque; another, and the viewer faded away. She turned to him, but he was sitting on the bed facing away from her.
"You want – " she said blankly.
"Yes," he said, stood up, and went into the next room.
She opened a compartment and saw the nightwear hanging ready. She took his out and laid it on the bed. She held hers over her arm waiting for him to finish. She remembered their last meeting at a congress in Tulsa. He had taken her to his room and made love to her.
The door opened and he came in wearing a bathgown. She saw that his hair was wet and she felt like touching it. She looked down; his toes were hairy and the veins protruded on the arches of his feet.
"You go," he said and stepped back so that she could pass him.
She hung her nightwear behind the door and, as she turned, saw herself in the mirror. She tried to see herself as he would see her, but could not visualise herself at that moment. She set the shower temperature and pressed to turn it on. The steam hung heavy as the water rained over her. She felt his waiting presence in the other room and her body surged as she grasped the cloth to rub herself dry. She chose a perfume from the dispenser and stroked herself with it; brushed her teeth with an electric head and combed her hair.
He was lying with his back towards her when she returned. There was a damp patch on the pillow; his hair was still wet and he was asleep. She lay down next to him and looked up at the mottled ceiling. She could feel time draining away – her 24-hour annual leave. She sat up and took an earpiece from a drawer. She flicked it on and a picture came up on the wall facing her. It was the end of an old movie set in the future, though 2001 had already passed: humans caught in a time warp, frozen in caskets on a journey to stars light years away. She smiled ironically as the last title faded away.
Later she ordered a meal on the automenu. She would have ordered for him, but he was still asleep. He had hardly moved throughout the morning; nor could she hear his breathing, only see his body rising and falling with every breath.
Having eaten, she sat at the ordinator, keyed in the network, and selected the zone she was working on. A conundrum confronted her. It was one she had been trying to work out for some time. The computations on the screen did not agree with her projections, yet somewhere hidden in the ordinator's memory, or in hers, an error must be found and synchronicity restored.
She worked into the evening, finding no solution. His sleeping form seemed to deny it to her. She came over to the bed and looked down on him. His face seemed detached from his brain, like a dead person before incineration. She lay beside him looking up again at the blotched ceiling; then closed her eyes.
She woke and he was not there. Only the light in the hall was on. She turned the glass to transparent and could see from the lit-up highway that it was night. She clouded the glass again; at the same moment, a recorder began to flash. She responded and heard the official time check, then his voice: "Entrance: 21.55." She dressed, pushing the nightwear – his and hers – into the ejection tube. She formed a number on the panel, the door opened, the light went off, and she walked out.
There were many people in the lounge at Terminal 27 – travellers departing and those waiting. Stars flashed on the monitors signalling the many flights going out. In the fraction of a second in which she glanced up at the digital, it read: 22.31:6.47. She had no time, now that they were entering the departure area, to say what she wanted. She was able to form only one word – "Tulsa" – at which he smiled gently, and walked onto the moving floor. He looked back at her for a moment; then his body disappeared, head last, as he descended the automatic stairs. She looked at the monitor. His flight was indicated and the star was calling him: Flight 1005 dep Lon 22.50 arr NY 17.58 – down. She waited until the monitor indicated up; then set her face towards the dark tunnel.QLRS Vol. 15 No. 2 Apr 2016