On Monday morning, Thomas’ parents drove us both down to the South Terminal at Gatwick Airport. The winter air was still bitter and the snow had turned to black ice by the side of the road.
I had wanted to drive on my own to the airport, but Roy and Diane were persistent and managed to persuade me to go with them. Nobody really said anything in the car. Thomas sat quiet within his large black headphones and dark green puffer jacket, and Roy and Diane spoke quietly to each other in the front of the car.
On Sunday evening I had gone over all of the information about Myers and Daeva Pharmaceuticals, and to be honest I wasn’t that troubled by the meeting anymore, I was even excited about it.
The only problem was sitting right next to me.
I just had to make sure that Thomas came out with good information at the right time, and didn’t do anything crazy, especially at the airports where we would be under the tight scrutiny of security.
Once the car was parked and we found the check-in for British Airways it was about ten minutes after seven. Airline staff, dressed in their neat blue uniforms, were logging into their computers, and eager travelers shuffled into line between the red-cord barriers.
Diane grabbed hold of Thomas and hugged him. Surprised, he glanced at me and immediately looked away. “Take care, pet,” she said, her tone sad and longing.
Roy rolled his eyes. “He’s only going to be gone a week.”
I shook Roy’s hand. “Thank you for the lift, Roy. Drive safe on your way home.”
Diane let go of Thomas and turned to me. I stiffened. “Have a nice trip, Matthew,” she smiled.
I relaxed. “Thank you,” I said, and returned her smile.
Roy tugged on her coat sleeve. “Come on, let’s leave them to it.”
With fierce resolve, Diane turned on her heels and strode away, locking arms with her husband. Before stepping on the escalator down to the car park, they paused one last time to wave, and then disappeared.
“I thought they’d never bledy leave,” said Thomas. He picked up the edge of his blue plastic suitcase and wheeled it over to the back of the line.
I followed him with my own case. “So, you’re looking forward to it, then? You weren’t very talkative in the car.”
“I was tired,” Thomas replied. “Didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Yeah, I had trouble dropping off.”
“My sleep machine is broken.”
It took me a moment to realize what he meant. “You mean your ocean noises thing?”
“Yes. It just stopped working, and so I had to move my CD player into my room, find a good CD, and put it on repeat.”
While this didn’t seem like a big deal, I knew it must’ve caused Thomas a great deal of distress. I was suddenly struck by a bad thought. “Thomas?”
He glanced back over his shoulder.
“Are you going to have trouble sleeping in the hotel without your ocean noises?”
He shrugged. “Probably.”
I made a mental note to purchase a large bottle of Jack Daniels at the first opportunity. The line shuffled forward and a young couple who looked like they were off to tackle the rain forest dragged their baggage over to the check-in desk.
Check-in didn’t pose any problems. We handed over our suitcases and I took both of our boarding passes, and then we got in line to go through security. Thomas had put his headphones back on, which I appreciated because it kept him distracted.
Leading the way, I flashed the security guard our passports and passes, and he waved us through to the line to go through the metal detector. I waved my hand in front of Thomas’ complacent face to get his attention. He pulled one of his earphones aside. “Listen, Thomas. We’re about to play a game here.”
His eyes sparkled. “Really?”
“Yeah. We have to take off our shoes and empty our pockets into those plastic grey treys that pass through the machine. Then we pass under that electronic arch, answer any questions from the gate keeper, and then once he’s let us go, we put on our shoes and take back our belongings as fast as we can. You understand?”
He nodded, and studied the automated black belt pulling people’s possessions through the scanner. The line was backing up behind us and I crossed my fingers that this would go smoothly. I let Thomas go ahead of me.
We loaded up the treys with our stuff, and I smirked when I noticed that Thomas’ black carry-on bag had a Legend of Zelda badge sewn into it.
Once our possessions were in the treys, we stood to the side and waited for the guard to call us through the metal detector. He was a big red-faced fellow with wisps of blond hair on his balding head. “Remember,” I whispered over Thomas’ shoulder. “Answer any of his questions, get your stuff and move on.”
The guard waved Thomas forward and he walked through and under the arch. He was stopped and my heart jumped into my throat. I saw Thomas turn and raise his arms as a scanning device was waved over his body. After a few quick seconds he was allowed to go.
The guard then waved me through.
Quickly, I walked on under the arch, was scanned by the guard, and then I too was allowed to go and get my stuff.
I breathed a sigh of relief and caught up with Thomas by the baggage scanner. But the belt had stopped. The dark haired woman operating the machine was pointing at a monitor and consulting her colleague over the contents of a bag.
“Thomas?” I said. “There’s nothing crazy in your bag, is there?”
He shook his head, fixated on the operator’s chin.
“Whose bag is this?” asked the operator in a shrill voice, glancing at the two of us. She waved the guard over from the metal detector. Thomas’ trey exited the machine and was immediately removed.
“That’s my stuff!” Thomas yelled. “Give it back!”
The operator opened Thomas’ black travel bag and pulled out a pair of nunchuks. My mouth dropped open.
“Are they yours?” the guard said to Thomas.
“No, they’re mine,” I said quickly. “I forgot they were in there. You can keep them. I didn’t know they were in there.”
Thomas’ face had turned red. Worried that he was about to vault over the belt to snatch back his bag, I reacted stealthily and put my hand on his shoulder. I lowered my voice. “Pretend those nunchuks are mine and that I’m going to give you them back when we get home. He has my nunchuks right now, not yours.”
Thomas remained tense, and he would not take his eyes from the operator holding the two black wooden sticks adjoined by the chain. The operator shared a glance with the guard. The guard nodded. “You can take your bags and move on,” she said. “But these are staying here.”
“Put your shoes on,” I whispered to Thomas. “That’s fine,” I said to the operator. “Thank you.”
The travelers behind us were staring, curious. Some were laughing, but others seemed annoyed by the delay. Thomas put his shoes on, and snatched his bag back from the trey when the operator returned it to the belt. He then stormed off towards the departure gates and duty free shopping, looking once again like someone had jabbed him in the butt with a pencil.
When I stepped through from security, I had no idea where Thomas had gone. I checked my phone and saw that we still had a couple of hours before departure. I decided against calling him, just in case he needed some time to cool off.
I hadn’t even known he owned a pair, but I was looking forward to our conversation about why he’d packed them in his carry-on luggage.
I glanced around. The terminal was like a giant mall.
There were shops all around the perimeter, and there was a large space in the center with rows of blue cushioned chairs. Near an electronics store a shiny silver sports car was perched on a platform behind red velvet ropes, and there was an attendant with a wooden box, collecting entries for the competition to win the car. On the other side of the floor-to-ceiling windows, aeroplanes roamed free out on the concrete wilderness, and in the distance some were taking off with their noses high in the air.
I checked one of the blue departure monitors and saw that our flight to Newark hadn’t yet been assigned a gate. I decided to do some shopping, and my eyes were immediately drawn to one shop in particular.
Bottles and bottles of fancy spirits, apertifs and digestifs, wines, and liqueurs.
The elegantly lit store with its polished wooden floor coupled with the bright and exotic bottle packaging would have had you believe that the bottles contained the elixir of life, and stood in stark contrast to the vomit laden urine soaked streets outside of the nightclubs I had become accustomed to while at university. Still, if I was going to survive this trip, Jack Daniels was a necessity. Elixir or not.
When I left the store, I checked the monitor and saw that our flight to Newark had been assigned to gate 35. I heard myself sigh and checked the large waiting area for Thomas. I half expected him to be sitting on one of the chairs with his head down, eyes closed, and listening to his headphones. But he wasn’t.
Over the heads of a large group of teenagers, who were horsing around with each others’ bags, I caught sight of the sign for the men’s toilets. Could that be where he was?
I drifted over.
The men’s room was busy and there was a line for the many wall-mounted white porcelain urinals. I couldn’t see Thomas in line or using a urinal, and so I strolled over the beige floor-tiling, passed the row of sinks and mirrors, and checked the toilet cubicles. All of the doors were closed, but at the very end by the white tiled wall was the unmistakable black bag belonging to Thomas, poking out from underneath the door.
While wondering how to communicate with him without coming off like a pervert, the stall next to Thomas became available and I hastily moved in, closed the door, and hung my bags up on the door hook. I sat down on the toilet and lowered my head to the gap at the bottom of the cubicle wall.
I whispered. “Thomas? Thomas, is that you?”
There was no reply.
“Thomas?” I repeated, wondering if it would be acceptable to stand on the toilet and look over the cubicle wall.
“I’m playing Harvest Moon. Go have a cup of tea.”
It was so good to hear his voice. “We need to go down to our gate so we can board the plane.” Have a cup of tea? Where did he think we were?
“Okay,” said Thomas. “Just let me finish.”
I nodded, to myself in the cubicle.
“I just need to finish watering my crops so I can take them to market and figure out how to buy the flame sword,” he continued. “The dragon killed me last time because I didn’t have it.”
I sighed and palmed myself in the forehead.