I have emotional attachments to certain airport terminals – Changi is, of course, home; Guangzhou Baiyun evokes me and my mum catching the last Airport Express bus and gossiping for three hours while waiting for our boarding gate to open; Frankfurt Terminal Z demands both too much money for salmon steak and too much walking to get anywhere. It will always be associated with my first solo flight home to Singapore over winter break my first year. Narita is where I left my passport in a bathroom cubicle after brushing my teeth in the transit lounge at four a.m..
But Heathrow –
The last time I was in solo transit in Heathrow was at the end of last year’s heart-swelling summer. I had just spent two weeks in Central Europe with my family, had one of the most fulfilling months of my life living a poet’s life in Paris, gone to see two of my best friends in Brisbane and Sydney – with six total weeks home in Singapore sandwiched on either end. I was flying back to the US for sophomore year – and about to embark on a mini-road trip to Rhode Island and the Cape before settling back down in school.
Near the end of my five-hour transit, I was staring up at this exact Departures board in Terminal 5 when I received the diagnosis that would begin to reshape my life. I looked at the email from my doctor, looked at the Departures board – with all the cities I had visited, and the one I come from, all laid out in haphazard harmony.
My flight may have been to Washington D.C., but I no longer knew where I was going.
This time, I find myself staring up again at this board – and amidst the boarding announcements chiming in the background, the names of cities rearrange themselves into that very email from my doctor nine months ago.
Nine months later, having survived the storm of my sophomore year, things are no less foggy than they were – yet I see now where that flight to D.C. took me, and the trajectory in store for me when I boarded that British Airways flight.
Perhaps my attachment to Heathrow is this – it reminds me that I am on a journey. That I may still have no clear idea where this road leads and how I will get there – but as long as I keep setting down one foot in front of the other, hindsight will tell me all I need to know. That it takes leaving a place and knowing where I come from to begin to see where I’m going.