At approximately four o’clock that afternoon, a taxi drove into Adelaide Airport and stopped outside the main entrance. The male passenger in the back reached forward to settle his bill with the driver. Both then stepped from the car, the driver going to the boot to fetch his passenger’s luggage, watchful as other taxis and airport buses drove by him to their drop-off or pick-up points.
The driver reached into the boot and pulled out two pieces of luggage, one large case and a smaller cabin bag. The passenger thanked him and carried his luggage to the entrance of the terminal. The glass doors slid open and he walked into the light and airy building. He looked for the screens indicating the flights and departure gates, found his flight number, checked the departure gate, and went across to the check-in counter. He sighed in frustration when he saw the length of the queue ahead of him, and slouched wearily onto the end of the line.
He was a short, thin man, almost totally bald but for a few tufts of greying hair over his ears. He was in his mid-sixties but looked at least ten years older. His once sharp eyes were tired now, and had an almost haunted expression. He deliberately lowered his head whenever someone made eye contact, hiding his soul from potential scrutiny.
The queue moved at a steady pace and the man shuffled along with it. Each time the queue paused, the man used the break to ease the pain in his legs, transferring his weight from one leg to the other.
He tried to feel excited about this journey in the same way as he had about journeys in the past. He almost remembered what it was like—the excitement of new and unseen places—but he was unable to stay in the moment for long.
He was almost at the front of the queue now, with only three people ahead of him. Then he could check in, relax, and have a cup of coffee before his flight. He began to fumble in his coat pocket for his ID.
As he came to the counter, he reluctantly raised his eyes to meet those of the woman on the other side. She smiled at him, but he didn’t respond. He put his cabin bag down on the floor at his feet and lifted his suitcase onto the scales to be weighed.
From the other side of the counter, the attendant examined the hunched figure. She recognised anxiety of a kind that wasn’t connected with a fear of flying.
‘May I have your name please, sir?’ she asked with a smile.
‘Mr Vasilakis … Mr Spyridon Vasilakis.’
The man thought her smile was made more attractive by the warmth of her voice. For a brief moment he wished that he wasn’t going anywhere. He thought it would be nice just to stay where he was and listen to this woman talk. He handed over his ID, and she noticed the tremor in his hand.
‘Thank you, Mr Vasilakis. I see you’re meeting a connecting flight to Athens. You’ll have a bit of a wait in Melbourne, I’m afraid, because yours was a late booking. Can we assist you in any way at the Melbourne end before you connect?’
The man lowered his eyes and shook his head, then stooped to pick up his cabin bag. ‘Thank you … no. Thank you for … for your kindness.’
The attendant looked at him with concern, but was aware of the queue of people waiting behind him. She wondered if it was wise for him to be travelling alone. ‘Do you have your passport with you, sir?’ she asked quickly. ‘You’ll need it for your connecting flight.’
He straightened, his cabin bag in his hand, and patted his pocket to reassure both her, and himself. ‘Yes, thank you. It’s here.’
He almost remembered how to smile, but his facial muscles were out of practice and nothing happened. He turned away towards the departure lounges, straining to hear the attendant’s kind voice behind him, until he could hear it no more.
He stopped at the top of the escalators and wondered whether to have coffee before going through the body scanners, or afterwards. He decided to go through the scanners first and then it would be over and done with. He shuffled towards them and was pleased to see that here the queue was moving along quickly, but he worried that his slow shuffle would make others behind him impatient.
The people behind him adjusted themselves to his pace, continuing to talk among themselves while waiting their turn. They all searched their pockets for keys, mobile phones and other metallic items to place in the plastic crates at the scanner point.
The man passed through uneventfully—almost invisibly, he thought. He picked up his bag from the conveyor belt and looked for a coffee shop. He chose the one with the fewest people, where he sat in the farthest corner to wait for the girl to come and take his order. He was relieved that she came to his table quickly, as he was very thirsty. He ordered a toasted cheese sandwich and a cappuccino.
He set his cabin bag on the spare chair and rested his elbows on the edge of the table, holding his head in his hands. He sighed deeply. The sigh seemed to deliver him some much needed oxygen and he relaxed, lifted his head and folded his arms in front of him on the table. Wondering how long it would be before his flight, he pulled up the sleeve of his jacket to look at the watch on his left wrist.
His eyes fell upon the tattoo on the skin just above his watchband. Amidst the sparse hairs of his outer forearm, was the outline of a faded crimson heart, surrounding the words Charis, Nicholas, Theodore. As he continued to stare, the painful memories overwhelmed him like a tidal wave, and the outline of the tattoo gradually blurred, as he saw it through a film of unshed tears.