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Danny's Reading: Storytelling

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Telling Stories

This is an article about airports. At least, I think it is...I'm not really entirely sure yet. But it definitely starts with airports. A lot of things do.

I've always had this kind of love-hate relationship with airports. It generally depends on where I happen to be at the time – on whether I'm excitedly hopping from one foot to the other in the Arrivals lounge, anticipating a joyful and long-awaited reunion with a special someone, or sitting in the dismal cafeteria in the Departures lounge, over an equally dismal and twice as bitter cup of black coffee, waiting for the final call that will whisk that same someone unceremoniously out of my life until the next time around. Two weeks ago, I found myself in the first situation. Two days ago, the second.

This is also an article about writing. At least, I think it is...

I've always enjoyed writing. My earliest memory of putting pen to paper in order to get an idea across was when I was four years old and it was my mother's birthday. I clearly remember my father sneaking into my room with a birthday card for my mother hidden under his jacket. He handed me the card and a pen...

"Here ya go", said he. "Write 'happy birthday' for mummy, and draw her a picture of something. She'll really like it!"

So I wrote 'happy birthday mum i love you' in big wobbly capital letters, and then, instead of drawing a picture, I continued with 'wuns upon a time there was a dog calld bob who had a big joosy bone...' It was, for all intents and purposes, my first story. My mother was impressed, or at least she pretended to be quite adequately.

For my tenth birthday, my parents bought me a typewriter, and I loved it. I used to spend hours locked away in my room, banging away at the keys. By then, I was no longer interested in dogs called Bob, and couldn’t care less whether they had big juicy bones to chew on or not. Because I had discovered that by hitting the right keys in the right order, I could create entire worlds where people had to do exactly what I told them to do and when I told them to do it, because if they didn’t, I had it in my power to wipe them off the face of the earth. Which I did quite frequently. In a dazzling variety of interesting - and often highly improbable - ways.

Of course, back then, these characters of mine were not really characters at all. They were simply names on paper. They had no drive, no ambition or motivation. They just walked, ran, strolled and sauntered – and occasionally got exploded – across my pages because I told them to.

And then, as I got older, I started looking at these names that I was casually and thoughtlessly flinging down onto paper, and wondering what the owners of these names looked like. I wanted them to have faces, and I wanted there to be a whole range of emotion and feeling behind those faces, and I wanted a personality and a character that could make the reasons for those emotions and feelings clearer.

My mother would skim through my latest snippet and grin and say things like "This reminds me of Uncle Joe. It's him, isn't it?"

And I would suddenly realise, to my surprise and occasional dismay, that it was. Which meant that I had to scrap the whole wonderful idea because Daryl Hunt, the intrepid adventurer who laughed in the face of danger and didn’t think twice about wrestling a couple of crocodiles and a tribe of murderous cannibals before breakfast… was in fact my Uncle Joe, who sold brooms for a living and whose idea of an exciting evening was sitting in front of the TV in his pyjamas watching American sitcoms and snacking on pretzels.

Which brings me back to airports...

Airports are fascinating places, or at least, they fascinate me. They are full of stories that haven't been told yet, because the story itself doesn't take place there. Airports are simply beginnings or endings… they have no middle. But they are full of potential characters, just waiting, with a little bit of imagination, to run, walk, stroll and saunter – and possibly explode – across a page. Two days ago, after the final call that whisked that someone unceremoniously out of my life until the next time around, I went back to my seat in the dismal cafeteria and ordered yet another equally dismal and twice as bitter cup of black coffee, and looked around. There were a young couple sitting at a table opposite me, both looking quite miserable and speaking in short, sad sentences punctuated by distant faraway looks and a palpable desire to freeze time. I have no idea who they were, or what they were talking about, but…

In twenty minutes time, Petra would walk across the departure lounge, up an escalator, and out of his life forever.
He wondered if she would look back. He wondered if she would smile down at him and wave as the escalator rolled her away into a file marked 'Memories and Regrets'. He wondered if she would cry instead. Most of all, he wondered why she was leaving. Even though he knew the answer, he still wondered.
He looked across at her, and said nothing. On the table in front of him, his cappuccino slowly got colder, the chocolate powder dismally sinking into the frothy milk. At the front of the airport cafeteria, surrounded by a rainbow of bulky haversacks, a long-haired bearded young man was desperately trying to keep a number of tired and grumpy-looking children entertained by strumming gently on a guitar and singing, in a very strong Italian accent:
'I am the music man,
I come from far away...'
Outside, a soft rain auditioned a tap-dance on the window pane of the cafeteria. Awaiting passengers looked up anxiously from their coffee cups as, in the darkness beyond, flashes of lightning danced spasmodically down from the sky.
"So this is how it ends?" said Petra suddenly. Although she spoke in a near whisper, he heard her clearly over the sound of the rain, the thunder, the singing. He cleared his throat, which suddenly seemed as dry as sandpaper, and swallowed painfully. When he spoke, it came out as a croak.
"This is how it ends", he said.
In the end, she didn't look back. He watched as the escalator carried her away – a small, skinny blonde girl in baggy blue jeans and a short white top with the words 'I Got Out Of Bed This Morning – What More Do You Want?' printed in black across the front. He watched some more as the escalator endlessly and indifferently looped the loop with a quiet slithering sound, and then he abruptly turned and stepped out of the lounge and into the rain. He stood there for quite a while because, as the old song says, nobody can see you crying in the rain.

So what happens next? I don't really know yet. Petra and Elliot may meet again. Maybe not. One of them might explode. Or maybe they'll get married, buy a dog, name him Bob and give him a big juicy bone...

This was an article about airports. At least, I think it was...I'm still not entirely sure. Maybe it was about writing. But it definitely ends with airports.

A lot of things do.

By Danny, teacher at EC Malta English school