In the airport a large, square, vending machine displays and distributes wilted bouquets of flowers. Each bundle slowly orbits on a rotating, metal Lazy Susan.
It looks like a time machine from Back to the Future, or a clunky display of microwaves stacked in a dated appliance store, assembled to resemble a giant four-paneled window frame. It’s a totally creepy object. A halogen tube runs along the top of the box and reads, in electric-green cursive, FRESH FLOWERS. Underneath this is a bright box-panel of white light that blares 24-HOUR FLOWER, accompanied by a sleazy picture of a rose stem laid sideways, as though reclining. Running down the centre line, dividing the four glass-fronted boxes, is a cash-slot machine. The slowly turning flowers sag, baking in the airless container, wrapped in cheerless plastic and secured with nasty, cheap, fuchsia plastic bows. The top right window is empty. Someone must have, that morning or last night, paid a stupidly expensive price for a gesture of love. In its empty settee is a violent-looking black metal cage twirling where the bouquet of roses and baby’s breath once spun.
I text Esteban a photo. Seizes means of nature, I type.
Wow… last minute gestures for men to take home to their wives after a weekend in Vegas, he responds.
The airport feels like the cavernous afterlife. There are no people. I can’t think what time I’ve arrived here and I’m fogged in jet-lag but it is so empty, so bleakly, starkly, harrowingly empty I genuinely wonder whether I’ve died. I sit on the shiny linoleum floor and lean against the wall to charge my phone. There are hardly any power outlets here, and none are placed beside seating. I’ll be in this airport for twelve hours.
You are making me laugh hysterically as I wait for the plane to arrive. I am holding my navy-blue passport which contains biometric information used to authenticate my identity and citizenship, to regulate the movement of my body, and maintain the regulation of borders. Resting on my lap is the wooden chess set you sent me from Ukraine, embossed with a faded ink stamp, postmarked pre-Soviet. It arrived at your apartment wrapped in soft layers of taped-together bubble-wrap tied by a blue-and-red ribbon embroidered in constructivist folk-art patterning. Each hand-whittled piece has a softly-rubbed emerald-green carpeted underside. The board is ringed with deep circles made by coffee cups during extended, late-night games played by Communists, or so we speculate, which makes me as glad as it makes you, despite my not having grown up under the regime as you did. I roll the soft wood of the queen piece between my forefinger and thumb. You are many hours away, where it is snowing.
I think back to our departure, hours earlier. I had stripped off my layers of clothing beside the airline counter, pulling clothes off at the same time as piling clothing on in order to reduce my luggage weight. Wow, you said, in admiration. You look so glamorous doing that. There is a certain elegance in taking off one’s clothes with swift movements, suggesting desire and haste, at the same time as covering oneself, suggesting self-consciousness. My suitcase was still overweight, so I left several books with you, as you did with me when you left the west coast for the east, many months prior to this scene. I now wonder whether we will ever give back to the other what is ours.