It’s 4am and Stansted airport is heaving with activity.
The shops and currency exchange stations are open an doing good business, the overhead announcements are chiming in from all over the place and there are endless queues of people lining up to drop in their bags. Around me several other bleary eyed passengers are waking up and frantically checking their phones or watches to make they haven’t, by some cruel trick of fate, slept through the morning and missed their flight. Upon realising the time they look up, just as I do, and look slightly perplexed.
When had it gotten this busy?
I was awake, deciding to catch a moments rest only half an hour ago and the atmosphere had been almost the exact opposite of how it is now. Of course it had still been light, stuck in that perpetual artificially induced daylight that makes airports seem like another world altogether, but there had been no rush, no bustling travelers and excited holidaymakers.
In fact there had been almost no activity at all when I arrived at about 1.20am through until 3.30.
It had been quiet, the only sounds being the buzz of electrics and hushed voices emanating from a Pret at the back of the airport. Bodies had lined all the walls as people slept or waited or hid themselves away. It seemed to me as if there was some unwritten rule that no one would (or should) invade the centre of the vast space. Instead everyone huddled, either alone, in couples or even in the occasional group, close to the walls. Or they lay underneath signage, behind bins, computer terminals or in any other nooks and alcoves they could find.
I remember feeling exposed walking through the centre of these low down, silent crowds as I searched frantically for a plug socket. Most of these had already been claimed by other creatures like myself who marked their territory by setting up whatever piece of technology they had, making that area a temporary home. Like them, I too retreated to the corners and edges of the room, found somewhere suitably safe, and buried myself between bags and under clothes.
But now, as I awake to find the place alive and bustling, again I feel exposed, this time for the exact opposite reason. Because I am not a part of the noisy eclectic crowd rushing around. I feel exposed as those tall, noisy crowds loom over me, throwing dark glances my way.
Shocked by this sudden change of atmosphere, as if I had just tumbled through a looking glass or stepped into a magic wardrobe, I stand, collect my belongings and slyly join the crowd, getting caught up in the tide of people searching for cheap coffee and tax free chocolate…