I am a nobody.
Well, not really. I am a somebody but not somebody anybody notices. Sure, they call on me if they spill their drink or if they notice a sticky patch on the airport floor. But other than the human need for my mop, I am a nobody.
It has its benefits. After losing my job as an air traffic controller, I just carried on coming to the airport day after day. It was the only place I knew – the only place in which I truly felt like I belong. It was the only place with a free Wi-Fi connection where I could buy a coffee and apply for jobs without devastating my family with the news that I no longer had a job. But after months and months of doing that, the coffee bill added up. Luckily, I managed to pluck up the courage to get a job as a janitor at the airport. That really wounded my pride, but here I am, watching people and picking up their trash.
Watching people is the best part of working here. I get to see just barely enough into their lives to find it interesting, but not enough to create a reality that can shatter my mirage. How boring would it be if they were all just normal?
You’d be surprised how often I see the same people over and over again. Like my favourite couple. They are having an affair with each other – or at least, in my mind they are. I mean, what other explanation would there be for a beautiful young lady, presumably in her mid-twenties to be with a man in his mid-fifties? Don’t get me wrong, he’s not ugly: with a jawline that could cut glass and a well-maintained, grey head of hair, I could easily see why she would be attracted to him. But I also see the pale band of white skin on his left ring finger that never seems to be covered by anything.
I remember the first getaway they had together, her with her cheap Nike kitbag bursting at the seams and her faded Converse All Stars; and him with his freshly dry-cleaned sportscoat, Ray-Ban sunglasses and expensive Louis Vuitton luggage. Oh, how things have changed since then. He groomed her quite well. Now, she is covered head to toe in Gucci.
I see the gates that they board to their destinations. Sometimes, it’s just a few cities over, but once every few months, it’s an extravagant tropical island destination, or an elaborate shopping spree halfway across the world.
Watching them and their relationship seems harmless. They seem happy, even in their wrongdoings, but I’m a janitor, not the morality police.
On the other end of the spectrum, is Mr Business-Formal, always in a rush, always late for his flights – as often as they are (you’d think he would have gotten used to flying and being at the gate half an hour before boarding by, but the entire airport knows Mr Mike McKlein, aka Mr Business-Formal, who needs to report to gate so and so). He is doing everything morally right, or so it looks. His wedding ring glimmers in the fluorescent and artificial light of the airport, but the frown lines are permanently indented on his forehead. I have overheard his conversations, accidently, more often than I care to admit, and they all run along similar themes:
“No, the merger will be done by tomorrow”, “if I don’t get those documents by tomorrow, someone’s ass is on the line”, “well, if you are not interested, then there’s the door, there are a hundred other people who dream of being in the position you’re in”.
His other calls aren’t much different from his work calls: “No, Susan, he is a toddler, I don’t want to talk to him on the phone”, “I won’t be home for dinner tonight”, “I have to cancel our weekend barbecue, I’m meeting an important client”, “why am I getting a hospital bill, I thought he just fell off the sofa and cried a bit”.
What an asshole.
The people and their movements within this vast space that is the airport has become quite familiar to me. With as many people that pass through this space, each day is quite the same as the day before. Nothing changes. Everything moves at the constant pace of mediocrity.
There’s just something different. It’s like the feeling of walking into a room where you know you were just the topic of discussion. You can almost feel your name on the lips of those around you. It feels like there are awkward glances all around you, but when you look closely, you see that everyone is carrying on about their business. So what is it that feels off?
It’s a Tuesday, which means I’m not expecting see the return of any of the weekend-awayers. The intercom sounds for Mr Business-Formal to get to his gate and he brushes past me with the speed of a race horse, almost knocking my bucket over and, as expected, no apology escapes his lips. That slight distraction allows me to refocus and regain myself and my attention gets drawn to a peculiar situation.
I’ve seen all combinations of people at the airport: academics, travelling families, child minders and their companions, giddy school girls, heartbroken besties. At the airport, no one seems to hide their emotions. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. So when I see the faces of two young girls, trying with desperation to hide what seems like fear and uncertainty, I can’t help but watch a little closer.
Everything is off about these two young girls. They can be no older than my daughter at home. One seems slightly older, so I mark them up to about 13 and 15 years old. But, being under 18, there should be a steward or stewardess accompanying them to their gate before boarding, that is , if they are unaccompanied by an adult. Just as I look around to check for someone that might be minding them, I see him. He is the figure you’d classify as dodgy, suspicious, someone you probably wouldn’t want to leave your daughters alone with – but that’s just my opinion. He is of impressive stature, broad shoulders, tall, with a tattoo on the left side of his neck. Don’t get me wrong, I have tattoos too, but his tattoo, or what is visible of his tattoo, is the top half of a naked women’s torso without a head – a badly done tattoo, might I add.
He comes across as someone out of place, constantly fiddling with the collar of his check shirt and pulling at the hem of his vest. This makes me feel as if he is dressed out of his ordinary attire. His short cut hair has patches, making it seem as though it was done in haste. He is strikingly handsome, but the type of handsome that is made of hard features and little to no smiling. He is the type of handsome that would cause you to look away if his ocean blue eyes made contact with yours.
He walks up to them, says something to them and takes a seat next to them on the bench. All this wouldn’t have even been cause for concern if I didn’t notice the one slight movement that set my nerves on edge. The younger of the two girls, to whom the man sits next to, moves ever so slightly closer to the older girl.
Her body language tells me everything. With that slight movement away from the man, she turns her body and face ever so slightly away from him, puts her head down and stares directly to and only at her fingers. Another strange thing is that this airport is full of kids their age and at this point of their journey, kids are glued to a screen of some sort. These girls aren’t attached to any electronic devices. The only thing the older girl holds in her hands are two passports and two air tickets.
Now, I’m not Spiderman or anything, but my Spidey senses are tingling. I need to get closer to see if there is more to this situation than meets the eye.
The man has a small black kit bag on the floor and his passport and ticket are in his shirt pocket. I approach under the pretence of mopping the floor and, with my back turned to them, I pretend to trip over the man’s bag, losing balance and knocking the girls’ documents from her hand.
“What the f*ck, man! Watch it!” he yells at me in a deep voice.
“I’m-I’m so, so sorry, here you go,” I make my way to pick up the girls’ documents and I grab a look at the details as fast as I could.
Standing that close to girls, I see the black dye that clings tightly to their scalp. Alarms start blaring in my mind. Something is wrong and I need to alert someone. The images in the passports are of black-haired girls but the issue date of the passports is two years ago. Another peculiar thing is that the age of these two girls are clearly wrong. According to their passports, they are both 18 years old.
Here I am, a nobody, with the power to possibly save two girls’ lives or to misjudge an innocent man. I would hate the idea of someone questioning me being with my daughter. But would I rather be offended and know the world still has humanity and is willing to protect our kids from potential danger than have a child forever lost to the worst possible circumstances that this filthy world has to offer?
I make the decision. I go to the airport manager.
The next few moment go by in a blur. I scurry to the offices and tell the airport manager. They brush me off. But I can’t let the lives of two girls hang on me being brushed off by two busy pricks. I scream over the security. The security escorts me out of the offices. In my frustration, I don’t notice the security guards turning on the monitors that cover the gate where the girls are sitting. I don’t notice the security guards going to investigate for themselves. I don’t notice the subtle phone call made by the head of security.
Walking back solemnly to my bucket and mop, my eyes filled with tears, I hear a man’s voice yelling, I see them throw the neck-tattooed man down on the floor. Out of his black kit bag comes a number of magazine-style books. They cut open the spine and out of it falls a white powder. The girls, realising their refuge and safety, burst into tears and tell their tale of being lured, kidnapped, threatened and repeatedly raped. They tell the tale of their future being trafficked in a foreign land, far away from anything they know. From a distance, I watch them, my heart swelling with joy as they run into the arms of their parents.
And as for me, once again, I bleed into the background, cleaning up other people’s messes with no recognition. I am a nobody. And that’s ok, because those two girls are somebodies, and they are safe somebodies.