You know that adage about how Inuits have 47 different words for ‘snow?’ I think about that sometimes when I come across a feeling that can’t be explained, or one that doesn’t seem to fit into an appropriate category. Maybe we just don’t have a word for it in my mother tongue. Or maybe the closest word just falls short? Such is the case with loneliness. Wouldn’t you agree?
It’s such an intricate feeling, it can encompass so many different experiences. Loneliness isn’t always a sad feeling, and it isn’t even always experienced in solitude. It’s possible to be lonely in the middle of a room full of people, or on the happiest day of your life. It transcends.
A few months ago I came across a post from Mari Andrew, one of my favorite writers on Instagram, where she outlines different types of loneliness (I’ve included her greatness at the bottom of this post). I loved it, like I do with most of her stuff. But one type of loneliness that she included just hit me right in the gut: “Loneliness of needing to verbally process with someone who is trapped in another time zone.” This! This.
I’ll start with airports. They’re either a beautiful cacophony of global humanity, or the absolute bane of my existence, depending only on if I’m running late or not. And I’m usually always running late, especially if I’m traveling alone which, these days, I am more than I am not.
I’m halfway through one of those weeks that started off bad and quickly got worse. My mind is spinning with tasks of privilege. I mentally recount all that is wrong: My puppy has her period (for 22 days and counting) and she is bleeding all over everything. Our washing machine is broken. Our cleaning lady bailed on us three weeks ago and we haven’t heard from her since then.
I cross Borcherd Street from my apartment to the vacant lot with the Bluegum tree, adjacent to the public parking lot on the corner of Banhoek and Andringa. Moira is perched under the tree like always; Dino isn’t far away. They both approach me with gusto and I can tell that even though it’s 11 am, they’re both three sheets to the wind. Dino asks where my dog is while Moira hugs me and asks me to buy them a loaf of bread. Sometimes she is very belligerent and sneers at me when I walk by, muttering under her breath in Afrikaans. Today she tells me I look beautiful and tells me, “I’ll be waiting for you, sweetie.” She will forget about me by the time I walk back home.
“Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
-my Great-Grandmother Colligan
This is the tale of Leigh, a stranger who quickly became a friend at O’Leary’s Irish pub in Terminal 3 of Abu Dhabi International, at 8am and two Stellas deep.
I’d been in the airport for 13 hours, and had two more until the departure of my connecting flight to Johannesburg. It had been a particularly unpleasant evening with the only airport hotel for non-visa holders booked to maximum capacity. After being saved from the piece of terminal floor upon which I’d set up a makeshift lean-to with my backpack and scarf, an incredibly kind airport worker named Magdalena brought me to the Muslim female prayer room next to the elevators in Terminal 4. I spent the rest of my night curled up in the corner of dark cocoon of a room, but I had to scram at sunrise because the shifts were changing, and clusters of female airport staff were coming in and out to do their makeup and gossip over tea in paper cups. I seemed to be a pretty unwelcome intrusion, so I decided to gather my things and venture into the heart of the airport.