The chances are 50/50 whether my flight will get cancelled, if I’ll get to Miami (where certainly everything is a bit nuts) or, that I’ll stay in Lisbon until coronavirus boils over.
Shifting the warm comforter at my hostel bed so I can reach for my phone as the alarm sounds, I turn it off. I peel my eyes open.
Like a boring deja vu, I check my flight status on the TAP website.
In the flight number field, I enter for the tenth time in the past two days “922.”
“On Schedule.” Mechanically, I get up, shower, and put on the same clothes I’d worn the day before (with clean undies and socks) because I’m lacking in will and creativity.
For the second time in two days I turn in my keycard to reception, which is again more empty than usual. Again, I tell the reception I might be back because my flight might get cancelled. This also feels like deja vu to the reception, because I’m still wearing the same clothes.
Making the same trek through the Lisbon metro, speaking to the guards again when I arrive, I enter the airport.
Nervously, standing in line at the TAP departures desk for my boarding pass, I double-check the flight status again on the website.
The woman at the counter asks me where I’ve traveled.
She asks me for my passport and swipes it through a reader on her keyboard. Looks at the screen. Fiddles with keys.
Swipes the passport again. I look away, bored, waiting.
Waiting to face whatever the universe has in store for me. Even when it’s disruptive, there’s a purpose, experiences and a gift behind it.
The woman swipes it at least another 10 times, without exaggeration. Fidgets with keys. And gets nowhere.
She calls a young man in some kind of airline uniform over. With one look at her screen he points out on the left side with a gloved hand “You have to click: ‘American citizen'”
“Ah!” Now you can tell she is going through screens, making progress, marking things, answering questions.
Soon I have a boarding pass in my hand. I normally request a window seat, but I don’t want to mess with destiny.
My hand is numb. It’s almost surreal to have this piece of paper that will get me onto a plane in my hand.
Mechanically, secretly sure that this flight will cancelled, I go through the motions.
Security checkpoint 1.
Avoid the tempting restaurants and café’s, like Paul’s, and to get straight to my gate.
Security checkpoint 2.
Order a tea and my first pastei de nata at the VIP café right in front of my gate. Write to the Puerto Rican women and let them know that so far they’ve let me through the gates and the flight is so far on schedule. Write to a dear friend who’s offered to send me money.
Chill for 15 minutes.
Stand in a short line to walk into the boarding area, which is roped off.
“What countries have you visited?” I’m asked by airport staff before being allowed into the boarding area.
“Canary Islands and Lisbon,” I reply.
“Oh, I’m from there. Tenerife,” replies the handsome airline staff member.
Chill for another 15 minutes in an almost empty waiting area.
Queue for boarding.
Wait for the flight attendants to announce “I’m sorry, dear passengers, but we may have an issue.”
Wait for the captain to announce “We’ve just had our flight cancelled.”
Wait for a raid by some homeland security somewhere that tells us all to de-plane.
But none of that happens.
We lift off. We are actually in the air and on our way to Miami.
Nap, eat, watch movies, write, entertain myself, sleep, cry for two solid hours during “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (thanks, Tom Hanks), eat again.
Wait to be told we are not allowed to exit the plane because coronavirus has infected the plane, because the government issued another ban while we were on our way, because our pilot is Mexican … who knows.
We exit, fill out a form asking if we’ve had a fever, contact with anyone that is known to have coronavirus, etc. We talk with someone with a face mask, covered in some kind of medical protective clothing, clipboards, thermometers. “When you get home, be careful, ehhh… you can get food, but quarantine yourself for two weeks.” And we’re through.
Immigration asks where I’ve been. “Gran Canaria and Lisbon,” I answer.
Completely surreal. I’m now in Miami.
I catch the shuttle that will take me to the hotel where my car has been parked.
My lovely blue-grey Subaru looks like Rip Van Winkle. Covered with leaves and dust.
Now with the freedom that being at the wheel of a car gives you, I think: my parents live four hours away, and I probably shouldn’t visit them anyway, for quarantine purposes. My godparents live nearly an hour and a half away. And, again, I should quarantine myself. It’s going to be a lonely time in my apartment. I think about the people I’ve met in Lisbon, my beloved coworkers and dance students in Miami. So close and yet so far.
When I turn the key to my car in the parking lot, NPR is on the radio.
“Coronavirus this… coronavirus that…coronavirus, the government, coronavirus, and more coronavirus.”
I turn off the radio.
Still in the parking lot, I switch off the car motor to leave a voice message for a good friend in Panama:
“Sarah, you said you were aiming to move to Europe! Did you go!? Are you there now? With all of this? I’m just returning from Lisbon, I just got back to Miami, I don’t know if you know about my whole ordeal out there….But I just don’t know if I can handle being here yet.”