Rich Furman

Three hours and twenty minutes early for my flight.  There is no line. Two pounds under weight, I remove a few books from the leather bag I received on “New Dad’s Day” about seven years ago, cram them into my suitcase. The less weight upon my frame the less shock to my knees.

“Can I put my jacket in my bag? It might make me a bit overweight?”

“Do not worry sir,” overly formal, but nearly perfect accent, she smiles, and I am not sure if there is pity in her eyes or if I am only imagining it.  I look around, and am almost surprised that nobody is watching me bend down to lock up my suitcase. I am unsteady, and I feel so very slow.

*

I walk to the money exchange; I have about seventy dollars’ worth of pesos. The line: filled with Colombians who are grilled about their professions, how they came to possess so many American dollars, why they are exchanging money at the airport, a few other questions to which they respond with anxious, careful nods. When the interrogation is over, they search bewildered across three pages for where to sign four times, and finally press their right thumb on a pad of ink and lower it onto squares on each page. The final two exchangers, one at each open window, swap multiple currencies.

Seventy dollars is too much to toss, but I have nothing to hold onto, and given that my legs are starting to twitch, I consider handing my bills to the woman behind me holding two small children, even though my turn is next.

*

The immigration agent examines my aging passport with a jeweler’s loop, her eyes convulse from my picture to my face, her hands strokes the pages- I am a fragile, ancient scroll. She escorts me to a supervisor’s window where I wait with several others. I try to resist leaning on the ledge of the glass window that divides us, but after some time, my left knee begins to shake, so I push my right hand onto the ledge to release a bit of pressure. Disability, I say, in Spanish, an intentional gaze slowly traces a line from my hand to my eyes. He stamps my passport quickly, and waves me beyond.

*

The black sign shows a walking stick-figure, and a circled 7 Minutes to Gates 38-45. 7 minutes. How did they arrive at this answer? An average of some sample of walkers, young and old, strong and weak? An overestimate to encourage those who are late to sprint to catch their planes? Three minutes later I approach the next sign, 6 Minutes to Gates 38-45.

*

Three years ago, I would have shattered their pitiable guidance, laughed at the absurdity of moving so slowly through life. Now my unsteady amble, more side to side than forward and advance, knees that no longer listen.

*

Almost incomprehensible that I cannot simply command my body, an arrow, slicing toward my destination. Now I am a duck, no matter how much will I attempt to muster.

*

The cleaning woman stands over me with her mop in hand. She says nothing, but it is clear she is waiting for me to move. I feel my face twist into an angry snarl. I push hard on the vinyl backrest of my seat to propel myself vertical and walk away without a word.

*

Two yellow vested workers glide four collapsed, folding wheelchairs, one in each hand.

Moving toward me, they are dark shadows slithering along a midnight path, they span the entire width of my walkway. I step off as quickly as I can, almost falling into the row of black seats just before they run me over. It is time to buy a cane.

*

I stop in front of the Café Britt shop, almost the size of a supermarket. Chocolate, dark chocolate covered cashews, milk chocolate covered passion fruit, white chocolate guava, espresso beans of all three. How many airports, how many trips, how many samples have I eaten, bags brought home to my family, for how many late-night binges together while watching Grey’s Anatomy?  From about fifty feet away I peer in; I don’t see the hand-sized wooden sample cups, only the brown, blue and green bags on the walls. I only want a few pieces, but the extra steps? I continue to limp toward my gate.

*

I walk slowly down the long, intersecting ramps that lead to the jetway. I am surrounded by children, some in strollers, others walking in front of their parents, waddling forward with newfound legs and freedom. Some invisible force appears to prevent them from overtaking me, from running past. A squat two-year-old waddles just behind to my left. He wears a Micky Mouse t- shirt, his shoes are small, so small his feet seem cramped to me, and point at forty-five-degree angles from his center, and while his legs are marbles of gushy fat, it appears that he is about to pass me. But against all odds, I dig deep, am given the gift of speed, and arrive at the jetway before him.