Roy Kesey – “Wait” (2006: The Kenyon Review)

Summary

A Canadian accountant sits patiently at lounge 19A in Wing D of Terminal 4.  He shyly takes note of a beautiful Ghanaian woman.  They are but two of many passengers who sit or stand or pace and wait for the fog to lift.  Hours stretch and airline personnel make assurances and serve crackers and purple tea.  A Bulgarian poet intermittently sleeps and quizzes the Canadian accountant from his crossword puzzle, children play games, and surrounding restaurants run steadily lower on cheese and coffee creamer.  Passengers complain at the gate, airline personnel placate and offer more tea, a Honduran woman watches the local news.  Night falls and pillows and blankets are distributed as some locals go home and others search for hotels.  

The next morning all gather to watch the TV; a cholera epidemic is sweeping through the city. The fog remains, airline personnel discourage passengers from leaving the terminal, and outside soldiers circle the tarmac. Hours pass, there is an enormous crash, and the power goes out; a meteor has struck the airport, but Terminal 4 remains intact. Passenger subgroups elect delegates, who appoint judges for an Olympiad, and for two days passengers compete in volleyball, tennis, synchronized walking, carpet polo, stroller bobsledding, boxing, and a beauty pageant.  Chocolate medals are distributed, and passengers slip into post-Olympic malaise. No functioning toilets remain. The accountant and the Ghana woman exchage gossip, but do not discuss their respective ex-spouses: warlord currently closing in, librarian currently dating a podiatrist. Airline personnel offer more purple tea; they have run out of crackers.

The following morning, the Cubans incite what passengers they can to rebellion; they will kill the soldiers and fly the plane themselves. The Canadian accountant and the girl from Ghana behold the battle from the lounge window. They hear the jets, then a crash. Airline personnel are happy to report that the rebels stole the wrong plane, that the remaining passengers’ flight should depart momentarily, when the fog lifts and the electricity returns and quarantine ends and the control tower is rebuilt. Restaurants are out of everything, passengers commence to fight amongst themselves, soldiers counterattack, and soon all are killed but the Canadian accountant, the woman from Ghana, and a small Mongolian boy.  A giant air balloon smacks against the window, and the three climb on it as a furious warlord paces into the Terminal with machine guns and machetes.  The three survivors rise gracefully into the wind amidst the gunfire.    

Excerpt (Accompanied by Kathleen Martin’s Cantique de Noel)

A young Bolivian woman gives birth in the bookstore, the manager himself delivering, while in a restroom an old Kazakh man is bitten by a tiny blue snake–a species of viper says one local, a species of adder says another. The viper or adder escapes through a crack in the tile; the Kazakh dies and is buried in a planter…

All of the women in the lounge begin menstruating simultaneously; a tampon is worth a bottle of champagne, then two bottles, then a case. The men of each subgroup huddle, discuss suicide. The cold has gone treacherous, and as darkness at last descends, all extra seats are destroyed for fuel. The bookstore is dismembered for kindling, the manager at first resisting, then remembering his insurance and standing aside. Each fire is tended gently, but in the morning there are new claims of theft–missing Marlboros, missing Kents.

The delegates meet desperately; the Belgian suggests a spelling bee and is beaten senseless. The girl from Ghana tells the Canadian that things will soon go bad, that she has been in similar situations, and always things go bad. She asks if he has any skills that might be useful.

“I’m a whiz at analyzing debenture impact on leverage.”

“Anything else?”

“I’ve been known to make adequate preparations for balloon maturity.”

Just then, on the far side of the wing, the Greek defeats the Turk at ticktacktoe, announces that the Cyprus question has been reopened. The Turk pushes the Greek. The Greek pushes the Turk. Sides are drawn up, only two of them now, and there is punching and kickboxing and tae kwon do, there is pinching and biting and scratching, the soldiers kick down the boarding-gate door, are attacked by passengers bearing burning armrests and broken bottles of Moet et Chandon, the girl from Ghana drags the accountant into a corner and lays herself across him, there is automatic weapons fire and jolt of grenades, shouting and screams and then silence.

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