The airport, which had for so long been just a series of sheds in dirt, has evolved a more modernised presence, and in front of me, beyond the paddocked carpark stands an impressive building of metal and dark glass, sloping down to one end like a giant shoe freshly landed in the desert. Vaguely landscaped hedges line the wide entrance to the building, their tapered shapes the same shade of red as the long pagoda roof of the airport, looking for all the world like an old Chinese temple. I steer the motorbike gleefully into a section of the carpark clearly labelled No Parking, and, leaving my vehicle overturned in the dirt, wonder why people don’t always rent transport. No responsibility, and all that. I walk up to the building whereupon the doors slide open for me silently. I marvel at their magic—not the voodoo magic African tribesman supposedly attribute to televisions and solar eclipses, but rather a simple wonder at a mechanism that has managed to work out here in the land of breathable grit.
Inside, the cool balm of air-conditioning washes over me. It’s busier in here, too, as an oasis often is. I begin to wonder how many people were here on day trips—escaping from everyday life into this glimpse of comfortable escape. Mostly though it’s fat men in business suits trundling wheeled suitcases behind them, clutching boarding passes distractedly, going somewhere intently. I stare up at the big computer monitor above my head. I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for, but I search generally for the word Canada, which I don’t see, let alone any arrival times or gate numbers. I walk up to a desk attended by a young woman wearing a horrible sky-blue blouse and a tired smile clinging desperately to her face. I have to wait behind three other people, and when it’s my turn I ask the girl when and where the next flight from Canada is coming in.
“It wouldn’t be coming straight from Canada,” she says.
“Why not?” I picture a plane touching down in another place, so far from where I am, with passengers un-boarding passively, with no hope in their faces.
“Because you can’t come straight from Canada to this airport. You have to catch a connection.” At my blank face, she adds: “You have to come via somewhere else. Probably Nairobi. Hold on, let me check.” She taps some noises into her computer. Her tongue, I notice, peeks out the corner of her mouth while she concentrates. She looks back up at me. “Ah, well, the plane would usually come through Nairobi.”
I sense the expectation in her face. I feel a little part of my stomach give way. “But?”
“There aren’t actually any planes coming in from Canada today,” she tells me.
Dammit. Fuckit. Dammit. “Are you sure?”
“Afraid so,” she says, eyes flicking up to the person in the line behind me. As if I’m wasting her precious time.
“I’m going to need you to double-check that,” I say, using my best diplomat voice. It comes out thin and weak.
Her smile disappears, and she fixes me with a human, impatient stare. “There ain’t none comin’, little man.” A covered-up accent slips through her clenched teeth. “Now get along so’s the important people can get where they’re going.”
And for once, I have nothing to say. I flash her a winning smile and give her the finger, but through my pocket. Something tells me she doesn’t deserve disrespect straight to her face.
I stalk out the exit, hardly waiting for the automatic doors to open before I’m out them. But then, when the sun hits me, something stops me from jumping straight back on my bike. Instead, I walk right down the length of the airport until I come to a chain-link fence: all that separates the dirt of the open from the dirt of the tarmac. And before I know it, I’ve stood for hours, knuckles crab-clawing the wire, waiting for his plane.