Sandra’s Departure

I smelled the odourless cling of disinfectant as soon as I entered the airport car park. I could always smell it but here it was more pronounced, the airport being one of the last places where any congregation of people could happen. Perhaps they needn’t have worried. There were no congregations. No people.

It was the first time that I leave the house after sunset in months. What used to be a hustling congested Hawalli was deserted – perhaps one car. The Fahaheel highway way too, save for two or three cars being checked at a police checkpoint. Another two parked on the side with policemen at their windows. Out after curfew without permission. It would be the first of three checkpoints blocking highways on my 1 am airport run.

Along the Fifth I counted three lorries and four cars then a few more cars on the Airport Road, perhaps six or eight, either on their way to or returning from the airport.

It’s a road I used to drive daily on my commute to work and back. Busy at five in the morning and congested all day till midnight. Today I almost didn’t touch the breaks the entire way.

Even for one in the morning, this was eerily quiet. Kuwait has a big culture of going out late into the night, 24 hour coffee shops, malls, and restaurants abound. It also has a big culture of driving around at all hours, what with petrol being cheaper that water and days hotter that 45C.

There was one car dropping off passengers at the departure terminal. There were six or eight people in evidence – the driver of the car unloading the bags for his two passengers, one policeman, three men in high visibility vests with airport markings, and the two of us.

Make that nine people.

The eerie calm carried into the airport terminal. As I waited with the bags for dinars to be exchanged into Euro by a lone, masked money changer in a cluster of five or six closed exchange shops, I noted the departure screen – the TV types that are dotted around – not the main big one.

I’d never seen blanks on them before. You normally have to wait for the screen to turn over several times indicating departure over the next four to six hours. Now there was one forlorn screen, switching between Arabic and English, with two or three blank spaces.

The flights were almost all to Egypt and India. Repatriation flights for foreign workers in Kuwait. There’s been a big drive and an amnesty allowing residency violators to leave. Also many people who no longer had any business in Kuwait after the economy shut down. Lost jobs, lost incomes, and broken dreams in a world turned on it’s head.

A short list of departing flights can tell you a story like that.

Two of the eight flights listed were marked VRG and GAY. I assumed these were special flights of sorts, perhaps empty departures, or other special purpose flights. I tried to work out the acronyms but not with any degree of enthusiasm.

Several times tears threatened to well out of my eyes, not just at my own predicament, it seems, but perhaps at the what the world has become.

Eight departing flights in 24 hours, two with special markings.

Ours was the Doha flight. I say ours but I wasn’t leaving.

My companion was. My last friend and romance, and the first person I’d heard myself propose to. My friend, my lover, my companion, my margin of comfort, confidence, and error for the last four years was to board that flight and I may never see her again.

Be safe.

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