Not very long ago, an actor landed at Landvetter Airport in Göteborg, Sweden, carrying two extra large, black, military-style duffel bags that were incredibly difficult to carry, two shoulder bags (one specifically designed to carry laptop computers but was, at the time, not), a backpack, and two boxes of differing dimension. He struggled to maintain his balance and was cringing slightly, as the combination of straps overwhelming his shoulders had recently broken skin.
He noted that the landscape surrounding the small international airport bore an incredible resemblance to lower Michigan, where the nearly thirty year old actor had spent his childhood. The smaller of the two boxes began to shift, and he quickly had to shuffle his feet to the right in order to balance himself. An old woman named Birgit, who had just flown in from Greece, commented, in Swedish, on his excessive amount of luggage; he didn’t understand what she said but smiled and nodded anyways. He passed under an air conditioning vent and stopped to enjoy the cool, circulated air. It made the hairs on his bare neck stand at attention and his body shivered quietly.
The Brussels Airport (or BRU), where the thespian had been laid over for just under seven hours had lost use of its air conditioner that very morning in early July due to overheating. The cause was a high-pressure system that had built up further north off the coast of Africa than it customarily did. The heat wave, which was sweeping through most of northern Europe, had also caused mechanical problems with many of the gates in the sole terminal. And the Belgian employees were forced to herd all of the world travelers into just over half the gates than the European hub normally had to offer. It was a very crowded, sweaty, slightly rank six hours and thirty-eight minutes.
As much as he was enjoying the cool, soothing air, his shoulder was beginning to throb, so he continued on. It was just past eleven A.M. when he passed the final, extremely clean baggage carousel and followed a group of French school children into a large corridor, which he assumed would lead him to customs. The thin strap of his improperly used laptop bag slid off the wide, thick backpack strap and dug into his shoulder causing a rather severe level of pain. But, to set everything down, at this point, when so close to customs, would be more of a hassle than he felt would be worth the comfort of his left shoulder. He released a seething breath through his clinched teeth and quickened his pace.
A young woman, wearing a Landvetter sweatshirt and cargo pants stocked with a flashlight, a notebook and an absurd number of pens for one person to carry, asked him, in Swedish, as he passed her, where he was arriving from. He didn’t understand, and while still walking, he explained that his Swedish was not very good when he was so tired. This was a vast exaggeration, as he spoke no Swedish at all. She repeated her question in English and politely apologized for assuming he spoke Swedish. He had, by this time, reached her and was unsure if he was supposed to stop to continue this tete-a-tete. His shoulder pain had reached a near disastrous level. If he dropped the two boxes, he would damage the only valuable possessions he still owned – a professional grade DVD converter, his collection of DVDs, two harddrives, and a large porcelain bowl his mother forbade him to sell. He told the blonde-haired airport employee that he had started his journey in New York and had just come from Brussels. She made a joke about the air conditioning. He didn’t laugh. He could feel blood from his shoulder beginning to soak into his blue, cotton t-shirt. She followed up with an inquiry about why he had come to Sweden. He answered quickly and directly. “I moved here.” She smiled and threw her arm open towards the end of the corridor, where the French children had already disappeared. “Välkommen!”
He shuffled his feel as quickly as he could, anxious to get to the customs line, where he could set down the heavy black bags that contained every piece of clothing he owned and were causing him considerable pain. His arms shook, and his backpack pressed sweat against his sore deltoids. He passed through the large white doors, ready for a full interrogation.
There were no lines. There were no customs booths. There was no one there to check his passport or listen to his story about why he had sold all of his Earthly possessions and moved from New York City to Sweden’s second largest city, which hosted a population just over that of Cleveland, Ohio. He was in the lobby of the airport. He was free to remove the bags that had been causing such discomfort. He was officially in Göteborg. He was confused. For weeks, he had been preparing for his customs interview under the assumption that he would be ridiculed, poked, prodded, possibly tested to his very limits to be allowed entrance, as a new inhabitant, to a country he had never before set foot in. In fact, he was looking forward to it. He was ready. His anxiety had subsided. His nerves had settled. His fear had been squashed. He wanted to stand in front of a cranky, overly suspicious, uncomfortably dressed agent and declare, “I am Aaron Murphy, and I have moved to Sweden to live with my fiancé. Try to stop me.” Yet, all he got was a woman in a dimly lit corridor, wearing an airport sweatshirt, carrying a wealth of ball point, who didn’t even ask to see his ID. He was more than a bit disappointed. Also, he had a hell of a wait ahead of him. He had told his ride to show up at quarter to twelve (forty minutes away) in anticipation of the only kind of customs interview an 80’s born American could imagine – long, brutal, intense, and possibly ending with rejection. Welcome to Sweden, indeed.
The image of carrying the bags had my shoulders burning!
Your writing reminds me of Ian McEwan…have you read him? HIs most famous is Atonement. Although themes differ, your narrative style and wit are similar to his.