Our adventure didn’t end with the sights and experiences I previously mentioned. It ended with as much excitement – if not more – as we experienced during it…just to ensure not a moment of the vacation would be forgotten.
We took a shuttle from the hotel to the airport. It was $10 each (as opposed to a much costlier taxi ride). Good deal. We were the first guests the driver picked up. We made 3 more stops to pick up other passengers. The first group was a couple from the US, very friendly, very talkative. We exchanged life stories in 3 minutes flat. The second group was an older couple from Spain. The last group consisted of 3 men, all wearing very serious, surly expressions.
When they came on board, I had a little thrill of alarm, like you do when you perceive yourself to be in a dangerous situation. That two of the men took the seats at the very back of the van and the other – we’ll call him Passenger One – took the seat next to the driver so that we were literally flanked by them did nothing to ease my apprehension.
Of course, I didn’t say a word to my son.
Unfortunately, my son had a similarly negative impression, especially about Passenger One. Almost immediately after their entrance, my son embarked on a whispered litany of ill-fated fantasies about the man: What if he is a terrorist? What if he blows up our van? What if he is going to Istanbul on the same flight and hijacks the plane? And on it went. Outwardly, I stayed calm, but inside, I was getting a bit alarmed. Or more alarmed.
Things didn’t improve when Passenger One kept repeating the word ‘bomba’ while mentioning ‘Istanbul,’ punctuated by expansive hand gestures that one would use when indicating a large explosion. (Later at the airport, my son asked me to look the word ‘bomba’ up in the Turkish dictionary app I have on my iPhone; I did, fervently hoping that the Turkish word was nothing like the English word, but it was there in black and white: bomb. I lied and told my son the dictionary didn’t have the word.).
We arrived at the airport in a highly agitated state. I was envisioning terrifying scenarios where the plane was hijacked or bombed, situations where I was not able to protect my child. My son was vividly describing such scenarios out loud as if he could read my mind. It was in this mental condition that we passed through the first security check at the airport’s entrance, my son swearing that Passenger One – who followed us inside – was nervously wiping his face when he went through security.
We made our way to the gate, and I excused myself to the ladies’ room. When I came back, guess who was sitting right next to my son? You’ve got it: Passenger One. I no more sat down next to Ethan when Passenger One stood up and walked away (I guess to the men’s room). Leaving his suitcase behind.
After all the wild talk and imagined scenarios, there was no way I was going to stay like a sitting duck next to that bag that could, for all we know, have a bomb in it.
I grabbed my son and proceeded to move us to the opposite end of the gate terminal near the window (thinking that if there was a bomb, maybe we would have a chance to survive if we are by the window…probably not…all that glass…but you know when you are in a fearful state but just short of fearful enough to risk doing something to change the situation – like getting the hell out of the airport and renting a car instead or taking the next flight in the morning – and you’re not thinking very clearly?).
In desperation, I texted my husband urgently, giving him a synopsis of the situation and asking him to please send me a calming text and be the voice of reason! No response.
In the meantime, our flight was delayed. First 20 minutes. Then an hour and twenty minutes. It’s good because it gave me some time to calm down. So I thought.
About a half hour into our wait, a voice boomed over the intercom that ‘all passengers on flight XXXX are kindly invited to the security area.’ What? Security area? Did they find out something? Were they going to cancel the flight due to security reasons or have passengers go thru an additional security check because they were suspicious?
As it turned out, the call was nothing untoward, just the normal security procedure before getting to the final gate (I had thought we were at it already but, no, we were not). I was happy we were to go through another check, though, as it would give the scanners one more chance to carefully examine Passenger One’s rather bulky-looking carry-on.
Until, that is, until I saw Passenger One running out of the security check with his suitcase and a worried look. He looked seriously upset! He disappeared with his suitcase (I assumed to the bathroom as he headed in that direction) and, a few minutes later, returned to the line empty-handed!
After that, I was completely overcome with panic, not helped by my son who was egging on my alarm by saying out loud all the things that were careening through my brain. I took a deep breath and made a decision: I was going to report Passenger One to security.
I spied a security officer just before the check-in and tried to explain to him about Passenger One. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak enough English to understand me (he thought I was upset about not being able to take my newly-purchased bottle of water in through security).
I then tried to tell another security person about Passenger One and his ominous intentions. Again, no luck. But the security guards were very nice, inquisitive, and wanted to hear what I had to say. They called in someone who spoke great English, and I explained the situation to him. Including the part about ‘bomba’ in the van and the missing suitcase that I suspected was hidden in the bathroom.
Obviously I apologized and tried to put in a disclaimer to cover myself, saying that it may be nothing, but… The security guards thanked me with serious expressions and quickly consulted with one another.
Some of the guards took off running in the direction of the bathroom. The others approached me. They, of course, had to be 100% certain they were casing the right person, so I had to go through the security check with the guards and point out Passenger One to them. Thankfully (!), Passenger One was so engrossed in something (I presumed he was overcome with worry and paranoia over the chance of getting caught) that between his concentration and the subtlety of the guards, I was able to point out Passenger One without revealing myself as his ‘rat.’
I watched the security guards walk toward the man, observing him. Of course, by now the people around us in the security line are looking very concerned, picking up that something wasn’t quite right. I inched Ethan toward the gate in front of me, hoping that if there was an explosion, my body would absorb some of the impact (after all, to my knowledge, the suitcase was still at large).
By this time, tensions are running high. Then, just as we get through the security check, the group of security guards approach me with…
… big smiles (and was that laughter?)!
Turns out that (a) the guy isn’t a terrorist and (b) the suitcase was actually in the safe care of the airline, it being checked in due to some security concern over its contents (see, we were partially right…except the concerns were not of explosives but something much tamer…that was the reason why the guy had run out of the line with the suitcase, looking upset). The guards, to their great credit, sincerely thanked me, however, for my concern (paranoia).
(In hindsight, it’s a wonder they didn’t take us off the plane for being certifiably insane.)
In my defense, I may have been a bit off kilter due to lack of sleep caused by getting up 3 mornings in a row at 4AM since, as a rule, I don’t do well with sleep deprivation.
And, anyway, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?
In any case, I am sure that someday, one day in the very distant future, this little story will cause me to bend over with gut-busting laughter.
Now, however, I am still in the how-nutso-paranoid-could-you-be-head-shaking stage.