Copyright is held by the author.
THE AIRPORT parking lots were alive with commotion. Aggressive horns honked, as people rushed between traffic to make their flights. I had been wandering for an hour amid a maze of endless cars, one row at a time.
Ernesto, next time you park your car make sure you remember where you put it, I mused, mumbling to myself. That’s how Nona Leoni would have said it.
Frustration was mounting, and I was exhausted. It had been a long-haul flight from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport. This was not the way to end, what had been a relaxing 14-day tour of Tuscany.
Sweat was pouring down my back, and my legs couldn’t take another step. Lost in a parking garage, I wasn’t going to live that one down any time soon. I lowered myself to the ground to take a seat on the concrete curbstone by the elevator. Not the most comfortable place, but it would have to do. Kicking off my new Italian loafers, I rubbed my swollen feet and heaved a sigh. My toes wiggled as I adjusted my damp socks and put my shoes back on.
I could see my reflection in the glass partition. My sandy brown hair was a shaggy mess. My cotton shirt was soiled with black smudges that looked like ink blots in a psych evaluation. Oh no, I’ve got a tear in my jeans! When did I do that? My head was throbbing and my fingers touched the offending spot at the back. To my surprise, there was a bump the size of a golf ball under my hair at the nape of my neck. My fingertips were streaked in a moist, sticky fluid. I had smacked my head pretty hard on the doorframe getting out of the tiny cab in Rome. I’d seen stars for a couple of minutes, before my vision cleared.
The dinging sound of the elevator announced a new arrival. The first person out was a white-haired old lady in travel gear. It was the kind that was made to wash out in the bathroom sink, and still looked good after you wrung it out by hand, and draped it over the hotel towel bar to dry. She was dragging a bold red carry-on with Canadian Flag stickers all over it.
“Ouch,” I yelled. The nerve — she just ran over my foot and didn’t even offer an apology. The woman just kept moving, fumbling for her key fob deep inside her purse, while muttering to herself. I was just about to say something, but what was the point.
Then, a 20-something flight attendant in a tailored navy suit and matching cap pinned to her wavy red hair exited the elevator. Her heels clanked on the pavement, and I couldn’t help but notice her long legs as she brushed past me. She was gabbing on her smart phone. I heard part of her conversation, not eavesdropping per se, but she was speaking in an animated tone.
“Yes, Liz I know. It’s awful. No, I don’t have any information. I’m late, can you give Tony a call for me. He must be worried by now. The backlog is insane. They’ve already cancelled dozens of flights,” she said, heading towards a silver BMW convertible. Nice wheels, I thought. The horn beeped, the lights flashed and she climbed in. That was the last I saw of her as she sped out of the parking garage.
Well, I guess it was time for row K2. The odds were stacked against me that I’d parked my Buick there. I’ve never been a lucky kind of guy, so chances were slim. In the next row a group of travellers were huddled together. I could see a blonde short-haired woman. She looked to be somewhere in her late 40s and was crying. Two other people were supporting her shoulders as she looked about ready to pass out.
“I can’t believe this happened,” she said. “What am I going to do?”
“Are you sure they were on that flight?” said a tall dark-haired man dressed in impeccable business attire, his voice deep like a tenor.
“I don’t know, they won’t tell me anything,” she said amid muffled sobbing.
I moved in closer to hear what they were saying. The woman her face tear-stained with mascara running down her cheeks said, “Why won’t they tell us anything? I’m going back to the terminal and wait for an update.”
That’s when I noticed the sirens; the sound was deafening. The woman, hysterical, sobbed, her hands positioned over her ears. “Make the noise stop,” she screamed. “Make it stop!”
The group moved towards the elevator and I watched them disappear behind closed doors. I needed to get a closer look and see what was going on. My car could wait. I headed over to the far end observation railing. I could see for miles from that location.
There was action on the tarmac. Fire engines, ambulances and other emergency vehicles where speeding down the runway towards a burning airplane. Suddenly there was an explosion. The intense blast was so loud it just about knocked me off my feet. An enormous ball of fire reached high into the sky like a volcano erupting. The passengers on that flight didn’t stand a chance. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, but it was still there. It was the worst disaster that I have ever seen. There was thick smoke everywhere.
I hurried back to the terminal to call a cab. The car could wait until tomorrow. All I wanted to do was get as far away as possible. I was trembling and had a sick feeling in my gut. The elevator seemed to take forever before the doors opened, with a young couple, the only passengers inside.
“Hold the doors,” I yelled squeezing through just before they closed. They looked like honeymooners. They were lip locked, and really going at it, oblivious to my presence or anything else going on. I was sweating and uncomfortable, and when the doors opened I made a quick exit.
I hurried down the ramp, cut through the arrivals, and was heading outside to the taxi stand. That’s when I caught a glimpse of the flight schedules. I looked up at the arrivals and stopped in my tracks. I stared at the board shaking my head, confusion setting in. The word beside my flight, AIRFLYTREXIAN 444-030 from Rome, said CANCELLED. I read the display a second time, trying to comprehend how that was possible. Beside me, I heard a short guy in khaki jeans and a cargo jacket talking into his cell phone.
“The landing gear failed and they overshot the runway. There were no survivors,” the man said, his voice quivering as he paced back and forth beneath the sign.
I kept staring at the man, unable to comprehend what he was saying. I was confused. It took me a minute to put two and two together. Then the reality of the situation became crystal clear. My trip and so much more was over. It didn’t matter where I had parked my car, and I wasn’t going to need a taxi after all.