• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 08
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Green Light for Go

Travelling during a pandemic is so strange. To me at least, old as I am. Old enough to remember the last time it happened, and the first time it happened. Old enough to remember a time before.

The airport is empty, even though we now live alongside deadly diseases. It’s precautionary, this slow ebb and flow of travellers. Some wear masks, though this particular strand of disease isn’t airborne. I join the masked, purely because the piece of cloth covering my cracked lips and reddened nose is a deliberate comfort. My mother made it for me, must be fifty years now, from spare bits of material she found in a box in the attic. A flower pattern, though florals were never my style; it’s why the mask still has its use. It’s effective because it was never used, even during the first and the second and the fourth pandemic, when masks like this were hard to find, and useful.

Those of us at Heathrow are wearing blank stickers on the top left side of our chests. None of us know what they signify. All we know is that before we’re set to board the aircraft, a harsh light will be shone on all of us, and depending on the colour the blank stickers turn, we will be allowed in or taken away. I have done this only once before and witnessed the procedure; the light made all of my unelastic skin turn vomit-green before I was allowed on the plane. A person behind me in the queue turned red and all of us would-be passengers watched as men in hazmat suits appeared as if from nowhere to drag them away, while they screamed bloody murder. Each of us was offered a little green pill once we found our allocated seats; the perpetually cheerful cabin crew demonstrated how to correctly down the pill: open the screwtop bottle, place the pill visibly on the tip of your tongue, retract, swing water down and swallow. Those who swallowed the pills arrived on the other side of the planet with an acidic taste inside our mouths.


Green Light for Go

It seems they’ve now expanded the procedure. Every nine minutes a strobe light flashes over the small crowd, and rows of people light up in green. It doesn’t bother me much but I can tell that it’s causing some anxiety to my co-travellers. A woman in a tailored suit is holding a bottle of cheap wine with ghostly knuckles; every time the light shines, she takes a swig of amber liquid and squeezes her eyes shut. A family of four keep moving, each time a little further from the centre of the hubbub. Someone travelling with a dog clutches it tightly to their chest while the dog whines.

Nine minutes. The crowd holds their breath collectively. I turn green once again and notice a drop of sweat drop from my nose. The family I noticed earlier freeze; the youngest in a pram plays excitedly with her red-tinted sticker.