The Directory by Rebecca Coyte - Twist in Time Literary Magazine
Airports have always terrified me. It may seem foolish that something as innocuous as an airport could instill such fear in a person, but the idea of them positively disturbs me. That tentative, in-between place where people last touched ground, soon to board a gravity-defying, cylindrical enclosed tube, about to climb to 30,000 feet at 300 miles an hour. When you think of it that way, airports are a terrifying prelude to a claustrophobic person’s worst nightmare possible. And then there is the gnawing anxiety of having to go through security checkpoints, having my body indecently scanned from head to go, my pathetic double appearing on a screen while some power-hungry agent snickers and evaluates me inch by inch, finding nothing except a 20-something, insecure software developer who just wants to put my shoes back on and end this indignity. My tendency to ruminate on experiences before they are even close to occurring, to prepare and plan for the worst, to freak out over mundane details like, “What if I forget to take off my belt?” or, “Did I leave any liquids above 3 oz. in my bag?” would keep me up all night before a flight; so I would essentially be a haggard bleary-eyed mess by the time I reach the actual airport, nauseous and already downing anti-nausea medication and coffee simultaneously in an attempt to counteract my sleepiness and racing mind. Perhaps it all harkens back to that singular bizarre moment in my 11th year. There we were at the airport: my parents, older sister, and I standing in line, waiting to go through security so we could board a plane to what was claimed to be the Happiest Place on Earth. I was ready, pillow in hand, still in my pajamas because it was so super early, and amazed by all of the people going to so many places—all busy, all looking a bit nervous, staring ahead just praying to get through the line to reach their flights in time. With a little luck, maybe they would even have a chance to buy a magazine or use the restroom before their flight. There I stood, my nose firmly stuck in my high fantasy book, when I noticed that odd man standing directly in front of my ridiculously normal family. He looked out of place. Attired in a gray utilitarian suit, with a black nondescript briefcase, black nondescript shoes. A plain faced man, cleanly shaven, with pale, grayish eyes that matched his suit. He kept glancing about nervously, standing on his tiptoes attempting to peer ahead, then immediately glancing behind himself, as if searching for something familiar, a person or a place; I wasn’t sure. As my attention drifted from my book, I slowly glanced upward to see his eyes meeting mine. He looked worried, as if at any moment, something bad was going to happen. A bomb, a shooting, a natural disaster—it was as if he were preparing for the worst. His pallor was almost greenish-yellow, as if he was going to be sick or pass out. Sweat was beading upon his forehead even though the temperature-regulated airport was a cool 60 degrees or so. At this point, I completely abandoned my book and pretended to watch the line ahead, although the entire time my eyes were fixated on that strange man. He was nervously stepping from left foot to right, then he would double tap the right foot on the ground and switch from right to left, right to left. It was as if he were marching in place. When he got up to the security checkpoint, the overweight attendant with an unfriendly scowl upon her face indifferently mumbled, “Boarding pass and I.D., please.” He shuffled his feet uncertainly and started rummaging through his pockets, pulling out all manner of receipts, spare change, lint, and crumbled tobacco. The security guard became impatient, looked directly at the man, and repeated more loudly, “Boarding pass and I.D., sir.” The gray fellow then began to speak in a language that was foreign to me, but sounded vaguely European. It was not until several years later (thanks to my high school’s foreign language program) when I realized that the man was in fact speaking in perfect French. He kept repeating the same phrase over and over: “Je n’ai que ces papiers…Je n’ai que ces papiers,” he stammered as he clutched a thick, passport-like booklet in his hand. The cover was a deep red color with a golden seal in the center. I was unable to make out the name of the country from which it came. After examining the booklet, the annoyed security guard called over a colleague to take a look. They both looked puzzled and then called over yet a third guard to inspect the passport. By now, the line was quickly growing and people began grumbling complaints about the hold-up. My father exchanged a somewhat puzzled look with my mother and then stated, “Hmph…Looks like we got a nut up there.” Still, he did not seem the least bit concerned. But I noticed something that seemed to escape my parents at the time. The security guards seemed genuinely perplexed and spoke in hushed whispers. More and more of their coworkers came over to see what was happening; then a supervisor arrived and took a curious look at the passport. The whole time, the gray man was muttering under his breath and shaking his head, becoming increasingly agitated. The supervisor spoke something softly into his radio, and within a few minutes, there were armed airport security guards there to escort the gray man away. As he walked past me, surrounded by a cadre of security personnel, he looked at me in a pleading fashion. I wasn’t sure but it sounded like he said something such as, “Je veux juste rentrer à la maison…Je veux juste rentrer à la maison…Je veux juste rentrer à la maison…” over and over. That was the last I ever saw of the gray man and for years it bothered me, but by the time I was an adult I just chalked it up to a crazy guy at the airport who maybe forgot to take his meds or was having some sort of a nervous breakdown. My experiences with anxiety and depression further supported my theory that this man was simply mentally ill. And here I was, 27 years old, standing in the security line at the same airport, nose firmly planted in a book, patiently pretending to read while I instead peered up from my book and watched all that was happening around me. Every person seemed suspicious, any one of them could be the next terrorist, perhaps already armed and ready to board my plane, maybe even sit beside me, fidgeting and fussing until we were at least 20,000 feet in the air before making his move. How would I react? Probably just stick my cowardly nose in a book and wait for the inevitable end to come. My paranoia was limitless. Seeing that there were still at least five people ahead of me before the security checkpoint, I fumbled in my messenger bag for another dose of my anxiety medication. The first pill did nothing to curb my unrelenting fear of…well, pretty much everything. As I fumbled with the bottle, hands shaking, Goblin, my trusty companion, meowed from her travel case. “Poor kitty…we’re almost there.” If she could handle this, I could handle this. I had to be strong—ya know, for my cat. The thought of being strong for my cat actually helped to lighten my mood, as I pictured a natural disaster striking, an airplane going off course and smashing into the terminal, and all the while I—the brave hero—protects my poor innocent cat and keeps her from danger. I assumed that maybe the medication was actually starting to kick in, when the unexpected suddenly occurred. Something I had always imagined in my worst-case-scenario visions but never actually thought could be possible. The terminal went dark. Not just dark like daytime-indoors-dark. More like pitch dark. It was the middle of the night and the power went out, creating a black abyss of hushed voices, screams, shouts, cries and general worry from the public. Oh Christ…I thought to myself. Keep calm. Keep calm. It’s fine. “It’s okay, Goblin, we’re fine…” Then I remembered that cats can see in the dark and I chuckled in spite of myself and my overbearing nature towards my not-so-helpless feline companion. I waited for what seemed like minutes, but was more accurately only seconds—waited for some sort of emergency system to activate, a backup power source to kick on and provide some light, some explanation. But there was nothing. And then I realized that all the noises around me had ceased. For a split second I felt like I couldn’t breathe. And then it was over. The lights magically seemed to turn on with a pulsating flash, the air felt electric, and my arm hair stood on end. I was back in line. But something was terribly wrong. Something was immensely different. Goblin meowed in protest and I assured her that we were fine. Everything was fine. Only it wasn’t. For a split moment, a strange feeling of disorientation took hold of me. I couldn’t move; I could barely breathe. Everything felt foreign. The air felt strange, the ground seemed to vibrate with an unknown power source that continually surged under my feet. A numbness overtook me. “Oh no,” I murmured, “I think I took too much of my meds.” The hypochondriac side of my personality took effect. I began ruminating on my symptoms and the fact that I probably needed to see a doctor immediately. It was around this time that I began to focus on my surroundings. The airport looked off…something was different but I couldn’t quite place my finger on it. The people all looked dull…gray. Automatons carrying identical black briefcases, glazed over expressions covering their faces. There were families, yes. But the children seemed joyless. Gray. Everyone seemed gray. Then I studied the airport more closely. I didn’t remember everything being so colorless. The walls were a dull metallic silver, the carpets a dull blue and gray checkered pattern. The security guards wore black, with gold emblems emblazoned on their breast pockets. Funny, I had never paid attention to their uniforms before. But they seemed wrong. Everything seemed all wrong. It was eerily quiet; people did not speak much to each other. Mothers quietly hushed whining children. Adults did not easily converse with one another or make small-talk, only uttered general colloquialisms such as, Pardon me, and, Next in line, please. And so it went on. I decided that it was indeed my medication causing these hallucinations, and perhaps my anxiety doubled this effect. I approached the security kiosk and held out my driver’s license, hands trembling, palms sweaty. “Your wrist, sir,” was all the man said in a monotonous voice. That didn’t make any sense. “My what?” I asked him, unsure if I had heard him correctly. He looked up at me. He had cold gray-blue eyes. No emotion lived in those eyes; no feeling did those eyes hold—those eyes would never betray his confidence. “Your wrist, sir.” He spoke plainly but more slowly and forcefully. So I hadheard him correctly after all. He asked for my wrist. My wrist?!? “Ummm…. okay,” I fumbled and dropped my driver’s license, and as I bent over to pick it up, my head began to swim. Dizziness overtook me. I slowly stood and uneasily grabbed onto the kiosk to stop from falling over. “Sir, are you feeling quite well?” I trembled all over, but managed to hold up my license again. The security guard grabbed my right hand and turned it over, ignoring the license. He peered at my wrist and attempted to scan it with a red infrared light emitted from a silver, pen-like instrument. It beeped once but nothing seemed to happen. He attempted to scan it again to the...
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