The airport security guard punched a random page in a small notebook and handed it back to me, while pointing to the next person in line. I grabbed my bag on wheels and as I started walking towards the gates, tens of people started accelerating the pace. It was like all of a sudden they were all part of a race walking olympic finals. As we turned around the corner, everyone started running frantically. A small man in a suit and oxford dress shoes, tripped on his suitcase and fell on the ground. I quickly crossed the crazy herd of people and gave him my hand to help him out.
“What’s going on?” I said.
“Seems like there is only one spot left!” the small man with slippery shoes replied.
He dropped my hand and started running again, with his suitcase bouncing from one wheel to another. For a second I couldn’t move, like a deer in front of a car’s lights. And suddenly my brain switched and like the others, I started running towards the gate room. It was like following a herd of animals running away from a predator. However, our journey didn’t take too long, a minute later, we ended up in a large gate room packed up with passengers. All of us turned our heads towards the ceiling as a cold voice came out of the speakers.
“No need to come to the gate, we will announce who’s boarding as we finalize the list. Please respect others and do not run in the hallways or the gate room.”
The majority of the group packed close to one of the gates broke up, looking for places to sit. A few people stayed in front of the desk, still asking questions to the hostess, who didn’t seem to have any intention to entertain any further conversation. I turned around and surveyed the area for a seat. I grabbed the handle of my luggage and I sat at the nearest open seat. A little girl was seated across my spot, a comic book high up in front of her face. She slowly lowers her comics and starts staring at me. I smile and look away, hoping she would go back to her book but she keeps looking at me. The type of situation that makes you extremely uncomfortable.
“So what happened?” she asked me.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Well you are here aren’t you?” she responds.
“Me, I’m joining my parents. They went just before me” she told me.
“Sorry to hear that”
“That’s ok, I’ll be with them soon. So how was it for you?”
“There were a lot of people. We went fast and now I’m here.”
She raised her comic back in front of her and just like that ended the conversation. I wasn’t really much of a social person usually, so talking about my journey to this place wasn’t exactly my favorite activity. I wish I had her comic, it was the perfect way to prevent this type of social interaction from happening. For lack of better options, I looked down at my watch but, I noticed the second hand wasn’t moving anymore. I tapped on the glass with my finger, like it would wake it up but, obviously nothing magically repaired it and the hand stayed still. I raised the crown and turned the hands in an attempt to fix it but nothing.
Nothing was going right today. Not like I needed to know the time anyways but it was a way to keep me entertained. Time wasn’t going to be of any help here, the crew would announce whoever was going to get in, whenever they felt like it.
“Hi everyone, the last spot is now available, please come to the gate desk to check-in!”
Just like that, the gate room looked like the departure of the New York City marathon. The little girl jumped out of her seat and started running towards the gate, dropping her comic on the floor. I got up, grabbed my luggage and started hurrying up to the gate. My luggage bumped into someone's leg and I instantly dropped it to the floor. I didn’t even get a chance to grab it back. I was literally pushed by a flow of people towards the gate, like a piece of wood trapped in a river approaching a fall. I bumped into a massive man’s back. He was probably twice my size and didn’t even look back. Everyone was essentially bumping into each other.
“Please everyone, stay calm! We will have other spots but it will take some time to unlock. If you are supposed to go, you will!” the gate crew shouted.
The crowd didn’t calm down. Seemed like no one wanted to stay any longer here. No one wanted to take a chance. As I was getting crushed by a bunch of panicked people, I got hit in the back of my leg. I looked down and the little girl was rubbing her forehead. She had tears down her cheeks but I could tell from her face fear wasn’t the cause. She quickly tried to get through the line of people but she wasn’t strong enough to push them away. I looked up, we were only one line of people away from the check-in desk. I grabbed her under her arms, lifted her on my shoulders and then I started pushing people away with my elbows. I might have gone a bit too hard as one man grabbed his right ribs, in pain. It opened the way for me to reach the front desk and I quickly dropped her in front of the hostess, on top of a pile of small notebooks.
“Take her. She’s joining her parents. The rest of us can wait!”
I felt two hands grabbing me by my shoulders and I suddenly was pulled back. I fell hard on my back. Surprisingly I didn’t feel any pain.
“The gates are now closed. There are no more seats available today. Please go back to your seats and we will announce when we have new spots available. Our staff, will come over and if you are eligible, you will be able to join the waitlist”
The crowd anger quickly shifted from the gate crew towards me. As people were getting back to their seats, I saw the little girl and a crew member walking on the boarding bridge. I couldn’t help but the smile on my face just fueled more of the anger the other passengers had towards me. They eventually dissipated across the gate room not without throwing at me a few good words that I wouldn’t repeat to a kid.
I finally got up, grabbed my luggage, stayed behind and kicked around by the panicked herd and went back to my seat. I looked down at my watch and the glass was broken, probably when I fell on the ground.
“You won’t really need your watch anymore.” a woman said as she sat across and grabbed the comics the little girl had dropped earlier. “Time does not matter here.”
“It wasn’t working anymore, anyways.”
“What you did for this little girl was really nice. You haven’t made many friends doing that but this was a nice gesture.” she continued. “It won’t really affect your balance though.”
“What do you mean?”
“We don’t give good points for good behavior, in the purgatory. Your balance only accounts for what you did during your life, not in the afterlife.”
I smiled, “That’s ok. I don’t mind.”
“So this is it huh? The purgatory? Why make it like an airport?”
“We get this question a lot. We try to match people’s era. Make them comfortable to transition into the next stage. It makes things easier for you and for us. People are less stressed.”
“I wouldn’t say that given what went on.”
“Yeah, hard to shake off past behaviors. But nobody can get hurt anymore so it’s less of a concern. If anything it allows us to validate who’s eligible for heaven or not.”
“I thought good behaviors wouldn’t change our balance.”
“That’s right but it influences whether you get on the waitlist or not. So congrats on that my friend, you are on the waitlist.”
“How long is the wait?”
“Ha!” The woman gets up and hands me the comic book. “I’m sure you’ll need this to keep your mind busy.”
As she leaves, I took a look around and saw a few groups of people looking at me chatting, clearly mad. I looked at the comic book and skimmed through the pages. I guess, I’ll have the time to really appreciate the art for once.