Plastic and chrome seats, barely padded by institutional fabric, hard against
my butt. Gray light falling from over my shoulder against neutral beige walls,
against neutral beige faces of waiting citizens.
Second hour here, and I'm bored out of my skull.
So where is he?
Looking around at the people. American stereotypes. The granny with her knitting. The heavyset guy slumped asleep in the horribly uncomfortable chair, neck all askew. The yuppie in white shirt and suspenders on cell phone, talking intensely about matters of zero importance.
And the family next to me. Thirty-something mom, older sis around nineteen. Younger sis around my age. And little bro around six. Classic. Mom & older sis chatting about something domestic. Little bro bouncing off the seats. Younger sis looking out the big plate-glass window at the gray light and the gray concrete every few seconds.
Long wait for them, too, I guess. Wonder who they're waiting for? Doesn't matter. Nobody I know. Just another citizen.
Dad, where are you?
Flurry of movement. The row of faces across from me abruptly snaps out of its
collective boredom. Looking past my shoulder, necks craning. I turn
Ahh. Here at last.
Seats vacated as the citizens rise, head for the doorway. Behind me, the big
gray fuselage taxis up to the people-tube. Okay. Dad's gonna be off soon,
we'll claim baggage, then head out to the entrance where Mom will be waiting
in the van.
I hope she's waiting. I've already been here too long.
Over to the gate. Glass door, and behind it the dark tunnel leading to the
plane. Wonder who's gonna come around the bend first?
Not Dad. He's always somewhere in the middle. Always.
There's that family, right in front of me. Little bro hopping from one foot to
the other, squealing: "Where is he? Is he off yet?" Older sis shushing him:
"Calm down, Petie. He's about to come up the tube. I miss him, too. But let's
be patient." Younger sis watching silently, big grin on her face.
Wow, they're excited. Must be somebody they really want to see again.
Movement down the tube. Somebody coming. Too dark for me to see.
But they know.
Older sis is squealing now: "I see him! It's him!! Little bro, almost shrieking: "Jake! Jake!"
My gosh. Who is this Jake? He's gotta be special.
Figure coming up the tunnel. Not very tall. Slender.
It's a kid. Jake is a kid.
Closer now. And gray light falls from a side-window on his face, on him.
And in that very ordinary gray light, in the dullness and dreariness of that
gray afternoon in that beige airport among all those beige citizens...
Gigantic sunburst halo, radiance of cosmic brilliance.
He's around twelve. Close to my age, maybe slightly younger. Blond hair,
medium length, combed to one side, hair gel. Tan, freckles. Small gold
earring, left ear. Orange Nike T-shirt. Baggy dark blue denim shorts. Wallet
in hip pocket linked to belt loop with heavy silver chain. Nike sandals, no
socks. Discman headphones around his neck, over gold necklace.
Gold necklace, yes, shining like gold. But not shining like him.
He's coming up the last little stretch of corridor. I barely notice the flight
attendant at his side. He reaches the end, the glass door opens. Petie
screams: "JAKE!!! And now he sees them, and now he breaks away from his
escort, and now he's running over and now he's picking up Petie, little bro
Petie who ran to meet him partway, and now he's hugging Petie so tight,
picking him up and swinging him around, not minding at all that he's not much
bigger than Petie.
And now he speaks: "Petie! Petie!" His grin is like the sun itself, driving away the gray afternoon, effortlessly, all power and light.
The whole family's a blur in front of me, Jake at the center.
Mom pecking his cheek.
Older sis hugging him tightly, picking him up clear off the ground,
his T-shirt coming up
and his underwear showing,
his hair getting mussed,
and he doesn't mind, how could he mind?
And questions and stories pouring like rain:
"...hot in Orlando..."
"...left my soccer shinguards..."
"...must be tired..."
"...sleep for a week..."
"...call your girlfriend as soon as..."
"...Aunt Susan's spaghetti..."
"...missed you sooo much................................................"
.................oh please, don't go, oh please........................
But they're going.
They walk past me, conversation still cascading. They don't spare me even a
Does the sun ever see the sundial that marks its passing?
I turn to look. Between mom and younger sis, his retreating figure leaving,
leaving as he came, sudden sunburst now fading into the gray afternoon. His
walk, his legs, his butt, his narrow strong shoulders, his halo, shining back
at me, unconsciously.
They move off past the magazine stand and the row of screens and the ordinary beige citizens, throwing sparks all around.
And he's going.
And he's gone.
I'm still looking after him, looking at the gray that closed in his wake, when
I feel a tap on my shoulder. I jump, turn. It's Dad. He speaks: "You looked a
little distracted there, Danny. See a cute girl?"
He smiles. Good old Dad. Good old beige Dad.
Dad picks up his gray carry-on bag. "Let's grab my suitcase and head home. Hope Mom's waiting. I'm starving."
We move out. I'm looking ahead, craning my neck, but they're gone.
He's gone. Jake is gone.
We head down the corridor, out to the concourse, down the escalator to baggage
claim, Dad talking about the trip. And I'm walking with him, and I'm walking
through the beige afternoon, the ordinary bland citizens all around me, going
who knows where, never seeing the brilliance I saw,
the sun that came so close,
that passed through me like a bolt of blue fire,
and left me in smoke and gray ashes.