Sunday, 11 June 2017

Encountered briefly

off the Heathow Express, he made his way to the concourse and strode to Terminal 3.
It was June and this was the sixth of his monthly visits that year to Hong Kong to check up on various business interests and ensure that his retirement funding was safe. Terminal 3 was like a second home and he moved towards the front door instinctively and confidently. He did not see her.

Past security and through the perfume vending shops and caviar counters, he wound his way through the causal travellers to the Cathay Pacific lounges and waited by the lift. She was some way behind, watching him carefully, deliberately holding back making sure he could not see her.
The boarding call for Cathay Pacific CX250 went out in the airport but she was already at the gate, waiting. Passengers started arriving and she moved to the furthest corner of the area near the gate, watching. The queue of economy passengers was beginning to grow, her queue, but she was in no hurry to join. She watched the corridor leading to the gate and soon spotted what she knew to be the first and business class passengers arriving - suits, smart luggage and attitude. After a few minutes she saw him, striding down to the gate, relaxed - probably quite drunk - and heading to the short queue of priority passengers. The boarding staff were looking intently at computer screens, swiping themselves in and out of the glass door leading to the gangway waiting for the cabin crew to declare the plane ready for boarding. The call came to start boarding and the priority queue began to move. When he had boarded, she moved to the end of the queue of economy passengers.
At the end of the gangway he showed the smiling Chinese lady his boarding pass, stepped on to the plane and turned left. Settling down, he sipped some champagne, flicked trough the various magazines and checked the selection of films on the TV set. His mind was far from anything that was going on behind him.
She stepped on to the plane and turned right.
The twelve-hour flight was punctuated by dinner, drinks and films for both of them. He thumbed through some documents and checked a few details on his laptop. The week ahead was as familiar to him as having breakfast. Always the same. Same hotel, same colleagues to meet, same restaurants and then the inane expats who knew he'd be in town eager to see him for a drink and tell him about how wonderful life was in Hong Kong. Truth is, they were bored stiff. He knew that but he played up to them; they had contacts and contacts were everything in Hong Kong. And then there was her. He always thought about her when he was travelling because he was usually leaving her or returning to her and either way, memories were evoked. Anticipation and reflection are two sides of the same coin and his life was spent flipping that coin. Casually turning the page of the in-flight sales magazine he decided not to buy anything...there was always next time.
She hardly slept. Between films and trying to read she stared forward at the curtain separating the economy and premium sections of the plane. She knew he was there and had to overcome the temptation to go through and see him. She wasn't ready and she knew he wasn't either. She thought about him and realised this was his life. She too knew about the two sides of the coin, except that she was not flipping it. Instead, she felt flipped. She looked back to what she had left that morning and fretted over the details of locking the house, cancelling the newspapers and packing. She drifted off to sleep, could not be roused for breakfast and only woke when one of the cabin crew asked her to fasten her seat belt for landing. This unnerved her as she wanted to be well prepared for landing. Instead she had a book to pack, shoes to put on and a passport to locate.
'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hong Kong International Airport'.
The seat belt sign went off and he was up and ready to leave immediately. A few minutes wait and then the smiling Chinese lady bade him good morning and he stepped on to the gangway. He was in the airport in seconds and heading to passport control; today the flight had docked at the 'low' gates so he only had to walk a few hundred yards to the gates where his Hong Kong frequent visitor barcode would let him through in seconds.
She was panicking, the economy passengers could not leave until the business class passengers were off and the curtain - which had been closed at landing - remained closed. She was not near the front either. Eventually she left the plane and she started running towards passport control. There was no sign of him. The passport queue was growing and she joined it and snaked her way to the booth.

Finally, she was in the baggage hall but he was already through. She had no bags to collect so she ran to the customs gate and though into the main. airport. And then she saw him.
Leaving the customs hall, he scanned the crowd at the barrier and slowed down until he saw her. A well attired and beautiful young Chinese girl ran to the end of the barrier and when he reached her she flung her arms round him and they kissed.

They walked out into the main hall, he with his arm round her, talking animatedly, and then they stopped. He pulled her towards him, cradled her head in his left hand and pushed her hair back out of her face and kissed her affectionately on the forehead and then on the lips.
'Hello darling' the familiar voice at his shoulder said. He let go of the girl and looked round.

'Who is she?' said the girl. He did not answer.

'I'm his wife' the woman replied for him. 'You're always telling me I should come with you on your business trips' she said to him 'so I thought I'd come and surprise you. Looks like I did.'

The story continued…but the marriage did not.

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