By the time the plane touches down, I am ready for a cigarette. Quitting. That word always has a negative connotation but we can put that aside when it's used in regard to our vices. Still, it manages to seem pretty negative to me as I exit the plane amongst the throng of travelers and businessmen and tourists to the speck of international land in the middle of my nation's capital.
The first sign I look for, despite my other urgings, is the one pointing the way to the facilities. I could have pissed in the air, I suppose, but at the cost of nudging past a sleeping man in a suit and working my way back to the little closet where I'd undoubtedly have to stand awkwardly patient for the person before me to finish moving his ungodly smelling bowels. I don't care much for airplane restrooms, anyway, and the flight isn't long enough for me to test that.
Soon I find myself heaving a sigh of relief as I empty my bladder. The people to either side of me don't seem to notice the audible sound. You expect these things in an airport. There's always the weirdo who makes more noise than he needs to and the few people who just really didn't want to go on the plane. I'm happy to be that guy. Maybe I just like the attention.
When I'm done I turn around and begin walking back. My next flight boards in just about half an hour but, so long as I don't have to pass through security again, I'm content to use that time to kill myself. The smoking lounge is past the gate I exited and also past the gate I need to make my way to but not far off. It's a welcome sight but not an altogether pleasant one.
The airport is, by and large, well kept and clean. The walls, where not brightly painted with murals and abstract visions, are a smooth white lacquer. Inside is different. The walls and ceilings are all coated with a brownish-yellow film that nobody bothers to clean – it would be back in another day or two, anyway. The large room is nothing but rows of chairs running this way and that, arranged so that an optimal number of smokers can share the same fate, along with a few large yet mobile ashtrays that float between the rows as smokers enter and depart.
The rest of the world passes by outside and we can see them all through the large glass windows but we're not interested in them. In here, we're all the same shade of miserable. If you come into one of these smoker cages with another person, you're an anomaly. We come in here, typically alone, to sit in melancholy silence and quicken our own deaths. The outside world doesn't have much impact on that.
The inverse, however, does not hold true. The glass that separates us from the non-smokers, the happy families and healthy executives who would go jogging every day if their treadmill wasn't equipped with variable speeds, angles and cable TV, is the same glass they see in the zoo. I can imagine a sign that says “Please don't feed the smokers,” but the airport hasn't got the balls to post it and none of us in the cage has the wit to make one in expectation of these moments. Maybe we do have the wit for it, actually, but it doesn't really matter if we don't give enough of a shit to bother with it.
We all look dirty through that yellow-tinted window. We all look sad because, despite what lies some of the people in there tell, we are. The crowd goes on outside, laughing and joking, only occasionally looking over at the smoker exhibit, usually just long enough to say, “I'm glad I'm not one of them!” then passing on.
When my cigarette has burned down to the butt I dump the last smoldering embers into the nearest ashtray and exit the room. Fans are whirling overhead, sucking out the smoke just as fast as we can suck it in, but the aroma of ash and tar follow me heedless of the mechanical efforts. I really do feel better once I'm outside. Maybe it's just the nicotine fix that I needed (and I did need it, enough to roll up and smoke the next rude airport employee to give me that look that rude airport employees seem to love giving people) or maybe its just that I'm no longer immersed in the culture of loneliness that smoking creates but I do feel better.
The real truth? I think it's the invisibility I missed while I was in there. Being free is more fulfilling than being the captive; with a nicotine fix out of the way it's almost pleasant. If it weren't for that harsh thick smell that clings to me like a swarm of bloated leeches, I'd almost fit in again. I almost even think poor bastards to myself as I look over my shoulder at the room of people I just exited.