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One Day in Doha

Sometimes people do stupid things. This was one of those times. I trusted my phone’s bold promise to update to whatever time zone we (my phone and I) entered and in this way (I prefer not to go into any more painful detail) I missed my connecting flight. The Qatar Airlines attendant scolded me then asked me to go to the transfers desk. Here the man punched away at his computer then shook his head. Things are never good when people shake their head like that. He grimaced. 7.15am Thursday is the next flight he said. I did the maths, it was now 1.35am Wednesday morning (half past midnight my phone said) so I would be at the airport for almost another whopping thirty hours. Doha Airport, the one I had been abusing so thoroughly over the past few weeks, dreading what now seemed like a measly seven hour transit time. A transit time some greater part of me had considered too piddly and taken irreversible steps to make my Doha stay more substantial.

Without a British passport I could not go wandering in the sweltering Doha streets, I was relegated to the air-conditioned blocks of space. The man who bore this news clearly felt sorry for me. He regarded me with lashings of pity and offered the only thing he’d been trained to: you can make use of the airport’s substantial facilities. Doha Airport has facilities? This Doha? There is free internet, he said. True. And there are the quiet rooms. Ah, the quiet rooms. I’d seen the signage when I was here three weeks ago but not sought them out. I thanked him, popped into the toilet for the necessary cry – no tears despite my concerted attempts but strange noises and a rumpled face. I was upset. I sent my dad – who I know keeps odd waking/sleeping hours – due to collect me in JHB at 8am that morning a text explaining the nitwit his daughter was. I ended with what I hoped was an upbeat: I’m upset but such is life. My dad, who clearly knows me well, wrote back within an hour and his first words were: calm down! I attempted to do so for the next eleven hours. I lamented my dead laptop and my universal adaptor that wasn’t with me. Like I needed any more material to feel more like a ninny. I wandered past the Qatar Business Class Lounge and contemplated my parallel life as a rich something or other. I went to look for the quiet rooms. The rooms did initially live up to their promise of being quiet. Remembering I was in Qatar I checked to see if they had separate rooms for men and women, they didn’t.

The room is called “quiet” not “comfortable”. It’s basically a square space – 50sqm? – with deck chair shaped seats covered in thick black leather-like fabric. It was half full at that particular time. I picked a chair with an empty one beside it and attempted to settle. My adrenalin was still high, wish I could say the same for my self-esteem. I tried to rationalise this gift from God. Clearly the plane I had missed would meet a tragic crash and thus my life would be spared. Except, as my sister-in-law has previously pointed out (I clearly do this line of logic often), that is not very nice. How awful to justify my mistakes by killing off hundreds of people. So I dropped that, twisted and turned and eventually slept. I awoke often to lament that only half an hour had passed. I woke once again. I’d chosen the “bed” right at the front of the quiet room by the glass wall that reminded me of a shopfront – it’s called “quiet” room not “private” room. Anyway through the glass I could see someone had left a small suitcase right in front of me. An unattended piece of luggage in Doha Airport. So the reason I’d missed the flight is because this is my end – I was destined to be in Doha when a piece of it blew up. Or not, the man by the water fountain collected his suitcase and I went back to sleep. And here the promise of quiet dies. A young man came to the empty bed beside me, plopped his ear phones onto his head and put the music loud enough that surely even if I had made my plane I’d be grooving to his beats. I considered tapping him on the shoulder but restrained myself. He then got out his mobile phone and started taking pictures of himself. Two, three, I think I heard the click go about ten times. Photo shoot over he begins to sing. I lie not. He is singing, badly at that, and a bad song so it’s an all-round catastrophe. I cringe and I send him hate vibes. Surely I can tap his shoulder now, maybe I’m too amusedly furious to do so. Maybe I prefer being angry. Anyway God is merciful and he curls into a large embryo and sleeps – the guy I mean not God. When I wake several hours later the singing dude is gone, there is a woman sleeping in his place and a chorus of snoring from the rest of the room. Discordant (wouldn’t it be better if they agreed to snore in the same key) and very loud snoring. I contemplated going round and shifting the positions of the snorers, I didn’t.

My dad and I had exchanged some text messages in between sleeps. He asked me to please finally buy a watch and not to trust cellphones, ever. I thanked him. He told me he’s moving house today, maybe that’s what I’ve been spared. Except that’s a selfish thought especially of a father who is so kind. I take solace in the fact that I packed the boxes the movers would be loading, that I’m a good daughter after all. So I’m here for no reason, but thankfully it’s midday on Wednesday. I relent and decide to buy yet another universal charger for $50. I’m trying not to think of what Qatar Airlines will charge me for the transfer, I’m telling myself my mistake will miraculously cost me nothing – I prefer this brand of delusion, I’m okay. I set myself at one of the charging points beneath a string of phone booths and start writing this.

A woman comes. She asks the man who sits next to me if he knows anything about computers, she signals her apple macbook. The story goes that someone bumped her hand with the coffee cup and her macbook received the splash of liquid and now won’t turn on. Can he help her? She’s upset but only in that way that isn’t really there yet. He’s kind and I’m kind (or bored) so we talk her through it. I go online and find a massive community of macbook users who spilt coffee or coke on their machines and I search through their solutions or their sad stories. We decide that she should be able to salvage her information at an apple shop but the machine may be done for. After more searching and talking it comes out that she’s on her way to Riyadh where she teaches English as a foreign language. She’s from Cape Town. She was home recovering. Three weeks ago she lost a baby she was carrying. Now this, she says. I can’t take it. Maybe I should jump off a bridge. By now the man has left us, sitting further away, and it is just us two women. I don’t say anything. Is that right, didn’t I hear that somewhere, when someone threatens (flippantly or not) to hurt themselves you don’t talk them out of it, you talk them around it somehow, through it. But I’m not doing any talking, out, around or through. She’s talking. After a while during a pause I ask her if she has friends in Riyadh and she says yes. Three weeks is a short time I say. I know, she says, I needed to work, I couldn’t just sit. She’d been planning a new life; she’d cancelled her job in Riyadh. Then the baby died. I search for an apple store in Riyadh, she takes the phone number but scoffs as to whether they would really be able to help. I’ve had enough, she keeps saying. I’m being tested, being punished and I’ve had enough. I start work on Saturday. With no computer. But maybe what she’s saying is: I start work on Saturday. With no baby. I want to give her a hug but I don’t know if she wants one. I disappoint myself by not breaking through the restrictions of what is done and what is not done between strangers. I just listen as she talks, she has a lot to say. And I watch her cry. Sorry I say. I’m numb she says. I nod. I offer whatever simple thoughts come to mind. Upwards onwards she says, an attempt at upbeat. We smile but we’re not really smiling.

She goes for a smoke and I see her wheel her luggage back and forth across the hall a couple of times. Are you okay? I’ll be fine she says. She thanks me although I have done little. She goes and I continue to think of her. And I think of her loss.

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  1. September 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Yewande. I cannot believe you missed your connecting flight after all the convos about dreading the wait 😦 Nightmare situation but look what it birthed? A really poignant story. I think we should start a collection of ‘Airport Tales’ 🙂 Hope you’re home safe and happy. And that the lady from Riyadh found some comfort…

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