She had been waiting at Heathrow airport for the last thirty minutes. She didn’t mean to show up this early, and technically she didn’t. Arrive early that is. Glancing upwards at the flight departures and arrivals boards for what felt to be about the fortieth time in the past five minutes, she noticed that his arrival was still blinking, mocking her.
It wasn’t as if she could text him. She had tried, but his phone was still turned off, not wanting to be charged fees in this land he would now call, “international,” and which she was temporarily calling, “home”.
There were so many things she wanted to ask him, even though they had spoken a mere ten hours ago, before he had quickly said goodbye before taking to the cloudy skies in Los Angeles. She wondered if it had been unseasonably warm there like it always was in December. Here, she was half-glad she didn’t have to go outside of the sterile terminal just yet. Even looking out the windows she could see how cold it was through the exaltations of air from foreigners lips, clouding into the air just above their heads, as if the skies were calling these tired passengers to come back and travel again. She could see the way their hands were rubbed together again and again to fight off the cold, while others who wore gloves smirked at them smugly from the corner of their eyes.
All that black luggage looked like an abyss down at the weary travelers feet. Most of them still had a long way to go too. For those heading into London, the Heathrow Express would whisk them along into the very center, but others that were heading to the countryside, had a much longer journey. For some, she could tell from their posture alone that it was good to be home though.
Others, most with screaming children and weary eyes, studying tube maps, felt scared and uncertain. Which line was Central? Did they take that one or Piccadilly to Paddington Station? She could read the questions lying painfully on their faces knowing exactly how it felt to be so lost, wishing she could go to them and tell them the best route.
But she wanted to wait for him. Had to wait for him. Wanted to see him round the corner of the international arrivals gate and search the crowd for her, lugging his own black suitcase behind him, filled with warm sweaters and the few books she had begged him to bring her from her overstuffed bookshelves back home. She wanted to see him lock eyes with her, and burst into a brilliant grin that she already knew would leave her breathless and gasping for air as her tears would begin to prick her eyes. Inevitably those hot tears were going to flow down her face, marring the perfect look her makeup had created, and his would start to become red too, tears cascading like waterfalls down his smiling cheeks.
And she couldn’t wait for the moment they would push through the crowds, not caring if people gave them dirty looks as they finally, finally, would be able to wrap their arms around each other in a tight hug that would squish ribs and press their beating hearts closer and closer together. They would both say, “I love you,” over and over again as if it were song lyrics they had gotten stuck in their heads. Inevitably a short distance away, a single traveler, with no one to greet them at the arrivals, or an old couple who had long since gotten past the days of anxious separations, would smile and feel the outpouring of love between the couple.
Caught up in her own daydream, half a smile on her face, she glared up at the arrivals board, crashing back to reality.
She almost growled in frustration, wanting to smash something. She had to remind herself though, that every time she had flown into Heathrow she had been delayed as well. There simply weren’t enough gates for the planes to allow passengers to disembark.
He was probably as anxious as she was right now, having been the one to actually suffer through a ten-hour flight in economy. On British Airways no less. She shuddered with the memory of how awful her first flight with the airline had been. Rude flight attendants. Soggy food. Less than stellar seats and tray tables. She considered herself lucky in that regard; she actually had a bed to lie down on last night and get some anxious fretful sleep, whereas his long legs had probably been stuffed behind someone in front of him. Likely someone who didn’t understand the meaning of the word “courtesy” and had slammed their seat back as far as it could go, nearly jamming the headrest into his chin.
Despite herself, she giggled at the thought.
Hugging her phone to her chest, burrowing deeper into the thick black coat she had worn for this meeting, she begged the air traffic control gods to please, please, just let him get off the damn plane. She didn’t even want to consider how long the lines were going to be at the customs gate. She hoped he would have any trouble finding it. This would be his first time travelling by himself and she wished she could hold his hand and walk him through the process, but that would defeat the purpose of him being alone. He could do this. In that sense, he didn’t need her.
She just wanted to see him so urgently, to kiss those perfect lips, to pull his jacket closer to hers and whisper that she had missed him so desperately but that none of that mattered now. He was going to be here, with her. Nothing and no one else mattered.
Thinking back to the last time she had seen him at an airport, waving goodbye to her while she joined the snaking security line at Los Angeles International Airport, she couldn’t believe they had even made it this far. Well, she could. They were soul mates, best friends, partners in crime. They belonged together no matter what. And he had helped her through all the tough times and the joyous one’s. From frustrations over converters and adapters with the wrong voltage, to the smallest things like completing her first homework assignment on the long road to her master’s degree, he had been there for it all. Just a quick phone call or text message away, always saying, “I love you” and, “I’m so proud of you.”
On the other hand though he was asleep half the time because of the dreaded time difference. Though, she had been too. That was one of the harder parts. And shoddy Wifi connections that left most of their Facetime conversations sounding like, “hello? Can you hear me? I can hear you, I just can’t see you! It says poor connection let me try calling you back.”
Now though, he’d be here in high definition quality. No buffering, no failed calls over thousands of miles, he would be here; holding her hand on the tube, seeing this city through her eyes.
She would show him her favorite Tesco stores (because no two were ever the same). The school where she poured hours of hard work and heartbreak into the pieces she wrote. The different palaces that each had something distinct about them and which one’s were not even worth stepping inside (“Kensington Palace is so overrated, and Hampton Court is far superior,” she’d say). She’d guide him through the underground, pulling his arm this way and that so he wouldn’t get lost in a crowd and quizzing him about how many tube stops they had left once they had dashed inside a carriage, because during rush hour, god only knows what would happen if they got separated from each other.
She would walk through Regents Park with him, pointing out flower beds and shivering in the shade of the trees, where the leaves hadn’t fallen quite yet. She’d drag him to all her favorite cathedrals, pausing for a moment to soak in the spiritual nature that both lifted a weight off her shoulders, and filled her spirit with longing. They would pray and she would feel close to tears again, wondering how she got so lucky to share this moment with him.
He would share his first trip on the overground trains with her, whisking through the countryside and wishing the train would slow down by a fraction of a second so he could take more pictures. Always taking pictures. Of her, of the beautiful architecture surrounding them at the very heart of the city, of everything. She knew he would never forget this trip, no matter what the future held for them, he would hold it close to his heart, because she would always be close to his heart.
He would gaze in wonder at the spires, the markets filled with a cornucopia of noise and food, smiling in wonder as she expertly made her way through a crowd, accidentally leaving him behind then needing to backtrack to grab his hand and urge him onwards, always travelling the same path twice for him.
He would be amazed by the beauty of the city, with its towering skyscrapers, age-old history, and culture running thickly through the streets and down every corner, blending old with new. Here, there’s always something for explorers and adventurers to find.
She couldn’t wait to make him tea, drink a pint with him at a local pub, show him her favorite German restaurant, go to a football match together, and fall even deeper in love than they had the previous day. Because this is what London did to people. It made them see its inner-most places, the secret hideaways, and public displays at the numerous free museums. It showed them that there was still so much to be explored, even after spending a week, a month, a year, living there. There would still never be enough time to explore it all.
It also showed people something about themselves, too. London had a way of awakening this feeling that in this city, great things were about to happen. They had already happened for centuries, that was evident enough in all the world heritage sites scattered throughout the city, but there was always something on the horizon of the Thames or hidden behind a rain cloud.
She wondered if he had happened to look out his window and see the city beneath him. Had he seen Big Ben covered up under its own construction, and the River Thames weaving its way through the gray city, creating a strong divide between northern and southern London? She hoped he would like the south side of the river as much as she did. She loved to walk down there and get away from the stench of the city, with the stuffy underground, the puffs of cigarette smoke blowing in her face every time she turned a street corner. On the south side, she felt she could breathe a little more freely, despite the cigarettes. No matter how cold it was she loved to feel the wind brush her hair off her shoulders, tangling it behind her and sending a smack of crisp, damp, air into her face. She loved closing her eyes and hearing the sound of the water slap against the banks and bridges. It wasn’t an ocean like back home, but it had to suffice in a city teeming with industrialization and a few gardens to break up the cloister of buildings.
And when it inevitably rained, and they would inevitably be unprepared for it, having grown up in a part of the world where rain is a mere hope on the horizon, they would fall into a café, soaking wet. The cold would sneak its way through their jackets and brush against their skin. They would laugh and gaze at each other in loving rapture, pressing their cold lips to one and other.
Huffing out a breath in frustration, she didn’t realize she had been tapping her foot so ferociously until the man with the tweed coat sitting next to her reading a magazine shot her a dirty look. She tried to give him a gentle smile and mentally ordered herself to stop when the lights on that one line she had been glaring a hole into for the past hour finally changed.
Her heart leapt. Of course, it didn’t mean he would be coming around that corner anytime soon, but that was the keyword; soon. Soon he’d be here. Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Fumbling for it excitedly, she pulled it out, eyes flying across the screen.
“God, that flight took forever. Finally off the plane.”
Grinning widely and a bit manically, she shot off her reply.
“Welcome to London. I can’t wait to see you.”