Everyone should do it, the rite of passage holiday. Seven days of no sleep, no memory and enough alcohol to start the onset of cirrhosis of the liver. I’d spent mine in Magaluf. But as the coach pulled into Palma airport, the lights on the tarmac had never looked so promising, full of routine and darkness and London’s marigold of autumn colours. Two hours away.
The queue to the check in desk indicated the start of our night in captivity. People were already sitting on their luggage, meandering around pillars in a sense to make the queue seem shorter. There was a four-hour delay, the Rep said. I have since learnt from this holiday never to trust a Rep again.
Each person in the queue seemed to calculate the breakdown of hours. Two hours until we reach the front counter, a maximum of an hour and half until we board.
We glanced around the rows of empty check-in desks, through the windows of the shops, already settled in their twilight gloom. I spent a few minutes staring at people’s holiday souvenirs, ripped ‘On Tour’ t-shirts, ankle bracelets and the odd freshly moulded cast.
Palma airport is a mass of white walls, air- conditioning vents and marble floors. We were grateful for the long walk to our Gate, yet anxious whether the hands on clock would be positioned in our favour.
By 3am, angry expressions turned in tired ones; the dark circles among the faces of passengers seemed to sink in unison towards the cheekbones. Conversation amongst passengers began. ‘Where are the Reps?’, ‘Why is there no information?’, ‘This is a f#cking joke!’, followed by ‘I know, my Dad’s meant to be picking me up’, ‘I’m meant to have work tomorrow’, and ‘Don’t worry I’m going to complain about that f#cking lying Rep as well. The prick’.
Tensions seemed to rise between couples, families and friends. The girl behind me remarked to what I assumed could only be her boyfriend ‘You shouldn’t have taken that picture’.
‘Just get over it’, he replied, waving his Celtic tattooed arm away in defiance.
I paid regular visits to the smoking room throughout the night. The stained polystyrene tiles were a comfort from the many nights passed away by other delayed passengers who’d spent the hours wondering if they would ever get home.
At 5am, a different Rep turned up. Silence cascaded among the crowd and we gathered in a circle around him, now joined together in frustration. He was a dumpy man, pale underneath sunburn. The type whose wife left him and the lifestyle abroad was a way to reinvent himself, even though the tucked in turquoise shirt portrayed the complete opposite.
‘Unfortunately, the plane is still stuck in London and won’t be arriving here until tomorrow. You can check in from 8am. I am very sorry. The plane seems to be missing a part’.
‘And what about my luggage. I have medication in there!’
‘You can’t expect my misses and kids to sleep on the floor’
‘All I can do now. And I apologise, is take you to a hotel and bring you back to check-in tomorrow morning. For free of course’.
Other passengers packed up their belongings.
And so, with the 12 of us, the airport gradually grew silent again. After another hour’s conversation, sharing mobile phones to give updates to the cat or loved ones, sharing fags with those without the sense to buy 400 of them, we tried in vain to sleep.
I envy those who can sleep anywhere. Anything comfy to sleep on would do, although it was the inevitable the cold grooves of the metal seats would imprint the fat women’s back opposite and puncture my bony spine.
Sunrise. The eighth day I’d seen it. It was like looking at the day from the wrong side.