Anna smiled as the security agent handed back her passport and moved forward to the conveyer belt. As she pulled out some trays from the stack and set her belongings in them, she glanced up and saw Felipe in the line across from her and frowned. They were racing each other, having chosen separate lines, and up until this point she had been ahead of him, her line moving at a steady pace.
She hurried with the trays, moving them onto the conveyer belt, and went to stand at the line in front of the x-ray machine.
“Shoes,” the bored woman standing on the other side of the machine said.
Muttering under her breath, Anna quickly slid off her shoes and jammed them into the tray alongside her purse and jacket. Felipe, she saw, was still removing his belt. She had time. Back at the line, the woman waved her through and Anna went, savoring her triumph. It was short-lived, for the alarm sounded.
“Check your pockets, ma’am,” the security guard said. “Keys. Cell phone. Jewelry.”
Anna frantically searched her person for the stray item, but was unable to locate anything. “I’m sorry,” she said. “There’s nothing in my pockets.”
“Come through again.”
Anna did, and this time no alarm sounded. Still the woman insisted on waving her squeaking wand around Anna’s body. Each change in pitch sounded ominous, but when she was done she waved Anna away. She went over to collect her things and met Felipe, who was watching her grinning, beyond the security checkpoint.
“You owe me lunch,” he said, as she came up to him.
“Damn machine. You did something, didn’t you? Paid them off. Set up the machine to malfunction.”
“My tentacles are everywhere,” he said, with a smile.
They started walking toward their gate, crowds of people flowing around them.
“What’s our gate,” Felipe said, fumbling for his ticket.
“C44,” Anna said. “It’s always the farthest one.”
“Never fails,” Felipe said, scanning the signs ahead of them for directions. “We have lots of time though. If we see somewhere, we should stop to eat.”
Anna nodded amiably and they continued on their way. They stopped at a burger place where the lineup seemed reasonable and ordered lunch, Anna’s treat. They said little as they ate, both of them entertaining themselves by watching individuals among the crowd as it passed by. When they were finished they made their way to the gate. The flight was on time and they still had more than an hour until boarding, so they found seats and read, Felipe pulling out a book while Anna followed twitter on her phone.
A couple, with their young daughter, sat beside them as their boarding time approached. Her face was twisted into a foul expression, pushed there by her evident exhaustion. The couple looked haggard as well, obviously having spent the night on an airplane. Anna gave them a sympathetic smile. As she did, the girl began to wail uncontrollably.
“She didn’t sleep at all, last night on the plane,” her mother said, as the father collected the child in his arms and walked about the waiting area.
“Poor thing,” Anna said.
When she turned back, she saw that Felipe was gone and smiled to herself. He had never had much patience for children, even less so for crying ones, so she was not surprised he had decided to absent himself. He’d left his book and backpack behind, so she assumed he had just gone to the bathroom, or for something to drink.
She turned her attention back to her phone, zoning out of all the noise, the squalling child, the constant hum of chatter, and the repeated airport announcements, glancing up from time to time to see if Felipe was returning. He did not, and she felt a flicker of annoyance that he had not told her where he was going, and mild concern that he was not back yet so close to their boarding time. Plenty of time yet, she reminded herself. It wasn’t as though he could have gone far.
Ten minutes later, when the announcement came that they were ready to begin boarding, her concern turned to worry. She glanced over again to confirm that his things were still in the seat beside her. What could be taking him so long, she wondered, as people began to line up to board the plane. She checked her ticket and saw that they were seated in zone four, so there was still time for Felipe to return. Taking out her phone she texted him, asking where he was.
There was no response and he did not return in the next five minutes, as they boarded zones one through three and called for zone four. Feeling uneasy, but still not wanting to panic, she gathered her things and Felipe’s and went to stand near the back of the line. She still expected Felipe to appear, a smile on his face, and a jest on his lips.
“You really didn’t expect me to make it, did you?” he would say.
“I was fully prepared to leave you behind,” she would reply and laugh, hiding the anxiety she was feeling.
She pulled out her phone again and called Felipe this time. The call went through to voicemail and the sound of his voice asking her to leave a message only added to her growing panic. Standing felt useless, so Anna decided to walk around the concourse in the hopes that she could spot Felipe. She wandered back toward the duty free shops, checking to see if he was inside browsing, and idled briefly by the washroom, considering asking one of the men going inside to look for her husband. That felt ridiculous though and she abandoned the thought, returning to the gate.
Zone five was boarding, and there were only a handful of people still waiting to get on the plane. Anna’s hands were clammy with sweat and her mouth was dry. After texting and trying him on the phone again, she decided she had waited long enough and went to the gate desk and got the attention of one of the attendants who was not processing the passengers.
“This is so stupid,” she said, “But my husband has wandered off and isn’t answering his phone. I don’t think he realizes the time. Can you call him for boarding.”
The woman smiled and said she would. A moment later Felipe’s name was called out on the loudspeakers across the concourse. Surely he would come now, thought Anna. But he still did not appear.
There were no passengers left to board and the attendants came up to speak to her. “We’re closing the door in five minutes, ma’am. If you don’t board now, you’ll miss your flight.”
“I can’t go without my husband,” Anna said, her hands trembling.
They nodded sympathetically. “Unfortunately we can’t wait. Federal regulations. We’ll announce his name again”
“Of course,” Anna said, trying and failing to smile.
She wandered away from the gate, fighting the urge to cry. The call for Felipe came again and she looked up, expecting to see him emerge from the crowd, harried and worried, but there. He did not and the world seemed to shrink around her, the light going dim. She could only see immediatley around her, not to the far ends of the concourse and everyone’s face was a blur. The air seemed strangled in her chest.
“Felipe,” she called out, as loud as she could. “Felipe. Please.”
She could feel people staring at her, but she ignored them, calling out again and again. In the distance, she could see three figures moving toward her, wearing official-looking uniforms.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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