On Wednesday, my wife left town for a business trip. OWIF is what she left in her wake.
I dropped my wife off at the airport; the acid smell of jet fuel and coffee and travel drifted into the car as I watched her walk into the terminal. She was wearing a coral-colored coat and towing a grey suitcase behind her. As the electric door closed I realized I only know what the hell color “Coral” is because of her; without her it’s all just a faded orange.
I shifted the car, a dark green Oldsmobile Aurora, into gear, slid backward to avoid a Korean family saying their tearful goodbyes – talk soon, call when you arrive, let’s Skype, blah blah. In this day and age there is no permanent goodbyes, no dock-of-Belfast, last-call-to-Ellis-Island, only a “we’ll video call when you get back home.” They’ll talk soon, but when is the next time we’ll touch? When I’ll smell your cologne, your perfume?
I turned on the radio, took a sip of coffee and started to list the day, the soft imperfect planning of everything I’m supposed to do for the day, a list that will be the standard by which I jusdge the worth of my day that night. Did I pick up the dry cleaning? Did I get that work done? Did I finish the grading? The car moved forward past a rental company bus, dark green and covered in soot, when a bright blue flash caused me to slam the breaks and spill my coffee.
She was a kid, about eight or nine years old, and she dashed in front of the bus just as it was pulling out and avoiding getting hit just in time to slam into the right side of my car. She was wearing a winter hat, grey and hand-knitted, and an coat that was so big on her I thought she didn’t have arms at first. It was a mens coat, a blue coat from one of those companies that sells camping gear to city folk that plan to go camping but never do. I was so startled I squeezed my coffee cup, leaving hot coffee all over my steering wheel.
It turns out she had arms, and she used them to cushion her as she ran into my passenger side door. Her face was pale, like the blood had run out of it, and she stood there, frozen, staring into my car as the rental truck pulled away, the driving cursing at us. It’s not my fault, I wanted to signal to the driver, I don’t know her. I didn’t know enough sign language to convey such a complex thought, so I just flicked him off.
The girl, still stuck in time, stared into the car as the bus pulled away. Behind the bus was a man in a large black trenchcoat, short cropped hair and arms so long they extended past the sleeves of his coat by three or four inches. He was tall, about six foot three or so, and as he looked in our direction he furrowed his brow, confused, for just a split second.
In his left hand he pulled up a walkie-talkie, and barked angrily into it. I couldn’t make out what he said, as the windows were up and the radio was on, but by the expression on his face I could tell that he heard something back that he didn’t want to hear. He pulled his right hand out of his pocket; in it was a small pistol, like the kind that are often lighters and picked up as novelties by people in Las Vegas.
He pointed the pistol at me, no, no, not at me, at the kid, and yelled something in a language I don’t know, but the internal rosetta stone told me that he was yelling “Stop.”
The little girl turned around towards him, huge coat dangling off her like an poorly planned halloween costume. They faced each other for what felt like, what, five seconds? A minute? Then the airport police started yelling.
There were four or five of them, running out of the terminal. Shouting by airport cops is not unusual; it is in fact more weird to see an airport cop calming smiling. These guys were not calmly doing anything – they were in full sprint towards the tall man. As he turned he head to look at them the girl whirled around, pulled enough of the sleeves of her coat up to expose a little hand, then opened the car door and jumped in.
I confess I didn’t know what to say or do. When unusual things happen we freeze, not necessarily out of cowardice but often out of confusion. There is a buffering time when you put a new DVD into a player, or when you load a new video from the internet. That was me; I was buffering.
“Drive,” she said, “please drive.” Control-Alt-Delete.
I drove. The sound of gunshots trailed off behind us.
[end of part 1]