Heathrow/Leap Year. Creative Non-Fiction by Aoife Nally

Do you have this fucking thing or not? You don’t fucking know, but your suitcase filled with a few shirts, season undetermined, a dress your Mother would like and some chunky black heels you could wear to a funeral, nearly knocked you backwards as you lifted it into the cab.

Yes, cab, no fucking tube for you…80…90…100 minutes in a crowded, smelly, congested tube to get to a crowded, smelly, congested tube with wings for 6…7…8 hours in the air, no way.

Besides you’ve been feeling tired lately, like bone tired. Last few days climbing the stairs to your flat has been like a marathon hike up the North face… fucking air pollution, stinking city air, just need to get to Canada and you can breathe again.

So you sweat through the starch cotton sheets of your dark brown, faux masculine, anonymous, commuter chic airport hotel that you “Treated” yourself (no treat) to last night. You helped yourself to a few medicinals from the mini bar and fell into a fitful sleep.

The face you find in the mirror next morning is dangerously pale and greased with sweat, you were up in the night screaming at the hotel manager to fix the heating in your room, cool one minute hot the next, not acceptable. Your eyes are a little too blurry to see just how wide your pupils have dilated. You brush mascara where you hope your lashes are and blink in the fluorescent light.

Ten minutes rattling around on an empty airport shuttle and you’ve sweated through your good shirt. Terminal three is shut, all flights to and from China have been grounded, “probably for the best”, you think. Heathrow is practically empty, those that don’t have to fly aren’t. You start running through the talk you have to give (and are in no way ready for) in your head, to try and stop it spinning. Give yourself a sense of purpose in this big empty place. The terminal has become a massive stage of grey and black granite, like a play with no players and too much light. No one speaks to each other and you stand very far apart. Your ears are so congested you can’t tell, but it feels, deadly quiet.

Perfectly coiffed women in impeccable makeup stare blindly over their paper face masks, looking through you, “Don’t let them see you sweat”, as they calculate the reality of their profession falling out of the sky, subconsciously taking the brace position. Her blue-gloved hand takes our passport like you’ve handed her the Black Death and you think, maybe this thing is serious after all.

You carry your fever in plain sight, practicing your “I’m feeling fine, actually, yes my travel is essential” half smile for security. You are wearing your winter coat, thinking you’ll look normal, but you are running hot, hot, hotter cooled only by the breeze of borders closing behind you.

Your bag is practically empty, but do you pack for the end of the world anyway? And how is it getting heavier in your hand?

There’s a plague on or haven’t you heard? Somehow they’ve let you through. Why did no one stop you? Only half the flight attendants are wearing masks, you think are they overreacting or am I not getting it? The plane is empty, you each have a row to yourselves, your grin at each other like spoiled kids. Everyone nervously chatting, three flights were combined to barely fill one plane. You get a thrill of adventure, danger even, but why do you feel lucky?

Feb.29th… Lockdown in 16 days. Leap year and you need to get across the pond. Herd immunity, pick your herd. Stay and take your chances or get out of Dodge.

The crumpled loo roll falls out of your pocket. The girl across the aisle jumps whenever you cough. “Just a bug I picked up from the kids, I’ll be fine in a day or two…” you say casually. You can’t be sick, can you? It’s just that thing the girls had at work, right? You wonder.

You release that thought, downing Ibuprofen, the thought on the breath, the breath into the recycled air of the economy cabin, while the plane drags you up into the air and over the water.

Aoife Nally May 12, 2020

Aoife Nally… Visual and performance artist of Irish descent living and working in London, UK. Currently grounded in Canada, safe and sound with family.

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