By Jason Saints
Hello there, stranger. Room for one more?”
The voice suddenly came to me right then as I sipped on my lukewarm coffee, at a little café just to the side of the airport’s arrival halls; it was nearing late evening and even so, bustles of people paraded down the polished marble floors. The voice that called to me was of such a petite nature that it took me a few moments to actually register what I just heard.
“Of course, make yourself comfortable.”
I answered, without giving the stranger another glance. I was too caught up in my own world, which at the moment consisted of the getaway itinerary I was supposed to plan a week in advance for my cousins coming from overseas. You’d think that for people who were so adamant about family “bonding”, they’d give a heads up as to what they had in mind, not to mention their surprisingly loose budget, despite the fact that this was to be their 3rd flight over in two weeks.
“Miss, your tea.”
“Ah, thanks. One other thing, I’ll have the all-day breakfast.”
“Very well, miss. How would you like your eggs done: Sunny side up, poached or scrambled?”
“Scrambled would be lovely, thank you.”
“Alright then, I’ll be right back.”
I took a short glance up towards the stranger at my table, the voice I heard belonged to a woman who looked no older than 23, her black hair done into a single braid that rested atop her shoulder. She wore a simple white blouse over a black tank top, and her hands were adorned with wristbands, all of different colors and styles.
After internally commenting on her wardrobe, I went back to poring over my phone, dozens of lists, schedules and eccentric cousin text messages were the only things that flew through my mind, and I was getting a massive headache for having to manage it all.
“What cha got there?”
I looked up to find that Ms. Stranger was actually addressing me, her eyes darted from my phone to meet mine, a friendly smile tapered to her face.
“Oh, well nothing much. Just planning another weeklong stay for my cousins, you know how it is with family.”
“Looks like you could use a break.”
“Heh, guess that’s why I’m at a quaint little café having some French toast and coffee.”
I took a moment to first gather myself. Now, I’m not one to usually be sociable with my friends and colleagues, let alone talk to strangers at an airport, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t beginning to enjoy this person’s company.
“So, what’s your story? You arriving or leaving?” I asked, pointing out her brown rucksack.
“Hah, more like wandering around. I’m planning on hitting the town later, after everyone else has gone to sleep, I hear the night skyline here is quite the attraction.”
“Well, it isn’t all that, provided you’ve lived here for more than 5 years.” I joked.
“Well, that’s why I keep moving around, so that I’ll never get bored.” She flashes a coy smile.
“I’m Nate by the way.” I say as I offer my hand.
“Cassandra, but most people just call me Cass.” She says as we shake hands. A waitress walks over with what looks to be a breakfast platter: English muffin, scrambled eggs, some bacon and a hash brown.
“You must have quite the appetite there.” I comment, looking at her food.
“Yeah…I actually think this might be a bit too much, wanna share?” Cass mutters out sheepishly.
“Huh, you definitely qualify as strange…” I remark.
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, we’ve literally just met and yet you’re so eager on sharing your food, with someone who is a complete stranger, whose name is the only thing you know about him.” I flash my signature smile, but Cass doesn’t seem to mind at all and is already portioning out the scrambled eggs.
“Well, there is certainly no way I can finish all this, and I think it’d feel a lot more like breakfast if we just shared, we are quite literally hitting things off and well, why ruin a good thing?” She says as she pushes forward a plate filled with my portion of her food.
“Besides, I doubt that French toast is doing wonders for your appetite anyhow.” She smirks, reaching for a piece of smoked bacon.
“Don’t make me leave this table.” I retort back.
And that was how our meal went, passing witty banter and shooting the breeze about many things trivial. Remarkably, the conversation never turned personal, not that I was expecting it to, although it seemed that the atmosphere was already beginning to turn stale, and I could no longer come up with any sensible topics to discuss, and so I just let the silence hang between us, which Cass herself didn’t seem to mind.
Pretty soon, we were the only patrons left in the café, almost all of the other customers had probably gone to their respective arrival gates to pick up their families, lovers and friends and whatnot. Either that, or gone over past security towards their own flights out.
“Finally, peace and quiet.” I say out, relaxing myself a bit more.
“So, you’re the quiet, loner type?” She questions.
“I think that’d be pretty obvious the moment you set foot in here. I mean, no offense but most people to me are just a monumental waste of time and effort; always talking about things that are seriously trivial or just plain boring, fretting over problems that bear little to no significance to their lives. But in a nutshell, I just can’t stand people.”
“Interesting…” Cass mutters observantly, she’s all but forgotten the leftover food on her plate and is instead focusing intently on my face.
“You wanna know what my favorite place on earth is, Nate?” she chimes, eager to change the subject to something more light-hearted.
“Let me guess, a nice sandy beach with a nice cool drink in hand, bright blue skies?” I jokingly answer.
“Haha, that’s a good guess, but no. It’s airports.”
“Wow, out of all the places you could’ve picked….an airport? This certainly demands some heavy explanation.”
Cass was very pleased with herself, now that I’ve perked up quite a bit. She was practically beaming, like a fisherman who knew exactly when a fish would bite his hook.
“So? Why do you like airports so much?” I asked again, slowly growing impatient for her to answer.
“It’s the stories, of the people who come and go through here. Take that guy over there for example.”
Cass points to a man wearing a nice brown suit jacket, navy blue jeans and brown loafers, an orange flower in one hand.
“He’s probably waiting to see his lover, whom he hasn’t seen in, judging from his expression, quite some time now. You can almost feel the anticipation radiating off of him, quite exciting really.”
She takes her gaze off of him and looks around for another person, this time stopping to pay attention to a woman standing off to the side, bags lay strewn around her feet, her hands furiously working at the touch screen of her phone.
Cass’ face immediately twists into a small frown upon seeing this woman, she takes a long, deep sigh before turning back to me.
“See her? She’s probably on the verge of leaving her husband after finding out he had an affair, and she’s either texting him, to offer him one last chance, or she’s texting someone else, desperately looking for a way out of her nightmare.” She solemnly finishes.
“Well, that certainly took a 180.” I finally say.
“Yeah, well that’s the thing about stories, not all of them are the fairytales we all wish to live, but they are stories nonetheless. And for that, they are still beautiful, in their own unique ways. And that’s why I love airports so much; because they’re like libraries, filled with ever-changing stories.” She finishes, gazing out towards the airport landing, watching the numerous people rushing by the café we were still seated in.
I let what Cass said sink in for quite a bit, then I turn back to face her, noticing all her features as if it were the first time, her eyes seemed deep and concealed, like they had seen so much and yet still wanted to see more, her usually cheerful demeanor was now that of intense contemplation, as if she had something on her mind that she just couldn’t quite get off.
“So, if your thesis is that airports are like libraries, what’s your story?” I repeat my previous inquiry. This time, Cass doesn’t even turn to me, she doesn’t even crack a smile, she just continues looking out at the sea of passer-bys pulling their luggage carts.
For a moment, I almost forgot that Cass was still pretty much a stranger in an airport lobby to me, who just so happened to be sitting at my table. And yet, I feel the slight hint of gratitude that she chose to sit with me, have a conversation with me. It was probably one of the only times I’ve felt glad meeting a new person in a long time.
“Hello, Earth to Cass?” I nudge her, but it takes a while before she finally snaps back to reality.
“Huh, yeah sorry about that. I’m still here, Houston.” She plays along, getting back into step with her cheery self effortlessly.
“Oh right….to answer your question…I haven’t quite found my story yet.” She says, feeling the least bit ashamed to admit as she begins to play with her braid.
“Huh, guess that makes you the librarian then.” I say, now my turn looking out at the vast sea of faces. Cass turns and looks at me like I’ve gone crazy.
“Yupp, because you get to be the one who watches over all these ‘stories’, and you get to be the one to share them with all the other people like myself who don’t have the luck of seeing them in the way that you do – Wanna know what I think? I think that’s your story.” I say to her while trying my hardest to give a warm smile. And finally, she manages to laugh.
“That is probably the lamest thing I’ve heard in my entire life…but I like it, thanks Nate.”
“Pleasure’s all mine, Cass.”
Just then, my phone rings, alerting me to a text message from my parents that my cousins would be at the arrivals gate in a matter of minutes, I turn up to face Cass, who is still giggling over my lame insight and I feel a twinge of regret that I have to leave as I reach for my jacket.
“Well Cass, it’s my cue to leave. Nice meeting you and thanks for the company – and the breakfast.”
“Pleasures all mine, Nate. And thank you for what you said.” She waves me goodbye as I leave money for my coffee and hurriedly jog out the door, in the direction of the arrivals gate.
I’m about to stop and look for my cousins when I happened to spot an overhead sign, pointing to the public transport interchanges, and my eyes automatically dart to the location of the taxi stands. My mind lights a bulb, and I instinctively whip out my phone and type a quick message to my cousins, before cracking a sly smile and breaking off into full sprint.
“Well, guess that’s me too then.” I talk to myself as I sling my rucksack over my shoulder, I make sure to leave a generous tip in the jar and thank the waitress for her hospitality as I walk out the door and once again into the airport lobby, I stop at a few store windows and window-shop for a bit, looking over the cool gadgets on display.
“When was the last time I had something cool?”
I leave the tech shop behind me as I steer myself into a convenience store, I take myself into the drink aisles and my hand slowly reaches for a Diamond Black grape cider. But I think better of it and instead help myself to a mango juice and a Snickers bar.
“Tonight’s a good night, why ruin a good thing? I smile inwardly, proud of myself for trying to be happy without alcohol in my hand for once and get into a little skipping beat as I make my way towards the taxi stands.
I hop into the closest cab I see and toss my rucksack onto the seat as I get in, slamming the door well behind me. Glancing up from a newspaper, the driver looks at me through his rearview mirror.
“Bit late out for a walk miss, where ya headed?”
“Town, take me to the sights.”
“Alrighty then, best you buckle up now.”
We’re about to pull out of the curb when out of nowhere, a loud rapping noise comes from the taxi’s side window and we stop as the door opens and someone gets in right next to me.
“Excuse me, but you apparently can’t tell when a cab’s no longer for hi-“ I trail off as I look at the person next to me.
“Hello there stranger, room for one more?” Nate asks in his best behavior, and at that moment I’m stuck between feeling weirded out and wanting to cry, but I think it’s the latter as a lone tear slowly streaks down my cheek.
“Sure, make yourself comfortable.” I say again before turning to the cab driver.
“Where to then, mister?”
“Anywhere, so long as she’s paying.” He cocks his head to me, giving me a sideways glance. I playfully slug him on the shoulder.
“Alright wise guy, you sure your cousins won’t mind you bailing on them?”
“I told them to go on without me…and then turned my phone off so they wouldn’t be able to reach me.” He chuckles to himself.
“Well ok then, where shall we go?”
“Town, I hear the night skyline is quite the attraction.” I let him have the last laugh as our cab pulls out of the sidewalk and picks up speed down the highway, and the both of us look out our windows as our eyes follow the gravel road leading straight towards downtown.