Thursday, 6 August 2015
Heathrow Arrivals, Terminal Four. I've snuck my way forward, inch by stealthy inch. As members of the crowd in front spot a relative and move away, so I have advanced into their vacated space. Now, a whole hour after arriving, I'm finally at the barrier, in pole position, with no possibility at all that he will miss me as he emerges, or more importantly that I will miss him. Husband is somewhere still at the back where we began. He doesn't have my pushy tendencies.
All life is here, or so it seems. Young and old. Big and small. Tall and short. Fat and thin. White and black. Asian. Middle Eastern. American. European. African. Indian. Particularly Indian, since the flight from Delhi has just arrived. I know this because now it says 'DEL' on the luggage labels.
"Look," I say, to Husband, who is too far back to hear me, "it's the flight from Delhi!" (Eldest was transferring at Delhi for the last leg home.)
"My wife is coming from Delhi," says a young man squashed next to me, "who are you waiting for?"
"My son," I say.
"How long has he been away?" he asks.
"Five weeks," I say, then seeing the look on his face that I imagine might be saying, 'only five weeks?' I offer, by way of explantation: "When he was born I couldn't bear to put him in the transparent cot next to the hospital bed because it felt too far away." He laughs.
A tiny round Indian lady, somewhere below me to the left, smiles up. "Your son," she says simply, nodding with understanding, "I'm waiting for my son too, with my new grand-daughter!"
I'd noticed her before. She keeps saying, "Come on! Come on!" loudly, staring straight ahead and shifting her not inconsiderable weight from one foot to another. I smile back.
The young man comes from Wolverhampton. Now he lives in Hertford, which he prefers. His wife has been in India for two months, trying to get a visa so she can work in the UK. They got married last year in India. He loves it there. None of his family could make it to the wedding, but still he had the best time of his life. It was very difficult to get the visa, and expensive: £600. He's longing to see her.
I learn all this while keeping my eyes glued on Arrivals, not wanting to miss The Moment, which feels a bit rude. I'm used to looking at the person I am talking to. Plus it lends the wait a strange quality: an audio track, about how this young man loves his wife and has missed her, accompanied by visuals of countless heartfelt reunions. The combined effect is moving. Very moving.
Because although some of the clinches are perfunctory, most are intense and emotional. Lovers who run to each other, kissing passionately, not caring that hundreds of eyes are watching. Parents and children with tears of joy. Grown men bear-hugging elderly relatives. I can't help but feel, as part of this impromptu audience, that I'm witnessing something profound. This is the real deal, that thing directors and actors strive to recreate. Maybe Richard Curtis had it right? Here at Heathrow Arrivals, Terminal Four, it's love, actually.
And it makes me think about those desperate people at Calais, wanting to come to the UK. Because these are the lucky ones. Those who've made it through the proper channels, not the one with a tunnel. Who already have relatives in the UK. Who are citizens returning from holiday. What people want, it seems to me right now, squashed up against this barrier, is to be with those they love.
Surely most of that "swarm", who've taken desperate steps to leave homes and relatives to travel across sea and land on journeys of unimaginable peril and hardship, want that too? To be safe, of course, to work, to prosper, and ultimately, after sending money back home, to be with their families again in the UK if they possibly can be. They are people after all, just like those arriving here, people who are part of a family.
Finally Eldest appears, smiling, his two mates in tow, and I have had too long to stand and think, imagining this moment. Impulsively, and as I have seen others do before me, I dip under the barrier between us, and watch his smile fade...
He's taking it all in. The straining crowd behind me, more like an anonymous mob to him, no doubt, than the impatient group of love-hungry individuals I've come to know. And as I reach him, my arms outstretched, I catch him uttering, "My mother's come under the barrier!" as he tenses for our public embrace.
Love E x
P.S. Four of us set off for our mini tour of Europe by train this morning - Amsterdam, Munich, Venice, then on to Le Marche in Italy, with Eldest flying out to meet us there. (And btw we thought of it before that David Nicholls fella.)
And I just read The Accidental Tourist (Anne Tyler). How have I not read it before? Fantastic.