When I pick Anna up at the airport I park in the short term lot. Her flight is minutes late, and it’s clear I’m going to have to pay six instead of three dollars to the parking attendant. I don’t care because I’ve always had a precious feeling for greeting returning travelers inside as opposed to outside the airport. I’m wearing a madras shirt tucked into my blue-jeans and my new-for-summer Sperry Topsiders. My sunglasses are resting on the back of my neck in what began as a sarcastic mimicry of fratboy style and is now only habit. Since Anna went away to a conference in sunny Atlanta, I’ve been pretending its warm here, too, and have left my coat behind. On my forearms, in the airport’s fluorescence, a barely perceptible suntan. She’s only been gone five days, but when I see her I know her hair will seem longer, the airport providing a somewhat rare occasion to glimpse one’s partner in an anonymous crowd.
Already, there’s a queue of greeters sitting in a half-moon of chairs bolted to the floor for exactly that purpose. In Providence’s TF Green International, passengers come through security and then immediately down two escalators. Giant, bluish sheets of glass obscure them so that they’re silhouettes until the last few feet when they emerge and become full-colored, living and breathing. The baggage claim area is centered around this spectacle. With the best chairs taken, I’m off to the side where I can see the returners and the people positioned to greet them. There are a few men roughly my age, standing, one with flowers, as close as they can get to the bottom of the escalators. A few single women also standing. But I know better. Last summer, the only other time I’ve picked Anna up like this, I stood too close and embarrassed her. She blew past me, slowed to hand-off her red roller-bag, didn’t kiss and hug me until we were back to the car. That was just after our engagement, and I even agreed afterwards that in what would surely be future airport pick-ups that I would find her curbside. But, here I am in the baggage claim, where I’m going to need to see her before she sees me. To not spot her would be, at least briefly, unforgivable.
The escalators start to fill and I watch shadows turn into people who are greeted or not. I count ten possible Anna shapes, get up, buy a coffee, go back to my spot and the guessing. I’m interested in how quickly I’ll know, by the shoes or by the knees. Anna sends a text message that says “Landed” and I send a text back that says, “Awesome.” A younger blond woman comes down talking to an older man before they part wordlessly and her waiting boyfriend comes forward to hug her. Most people walk with purpose and alone toward the baggage belts. A family reunion breaks out in the landing area. Two people begin salsa dancing. The escalators are packed now. All these possible fiancés come toward me then veer.
Jack Christian is the author of the chapbook Let's Collaborate from Magic Helicopter Press. His work has appeared recently in Web Conjunctions and at Flying Object.
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