The airport, at night

I stand on the balcony of the hotel gazing across the suburbs towards the airport and its city backdrop. The refreshingly cool sea breeze whips my hair and chills my exposed limbs. In a neighbouring apartment somebody is watching their TV with the curtains open and it looks a lot like an advertising hoarding.

The airport is lit brightly with a slightly yellowed cast, runway and taxiways marked by spots of blue, red and green. They jut out into the inky blackness of the bay.

An aircraft, a large jet, backs away from its international terminal gate, leaving behind shops and cafes that are closing for the day, carrying passengers who wish they were heading to bed and sleep. It trundles out to the furthest reaches of the runway. Then the aircraft turns and the engines spool up, the roar carrying across the bay, as it races back along the runway. The sound is so familiar that I feel like I am aboard it myself.

Lifting its nose off the runway, the aircraft leaps into the sky. It passes across the colourful lights of the skyscrapers, dips its wings, turning slightly, as it rises into the murky black-grey-brown sky, high clouds reflecting the amber light below.

I remember being on such a flight, waiting to pass through that cloud, hoping that it will not be rough, eventually falling into an agonised semi-somnambulant state, peering out into the dark or, if I am lucky, watching a movie on the seatback screens.

I have caught a few of those flights, the last out of Sydney Airport, flying off to Narita or Hong Kong. More often, they have been the returning flights back from a foreign land.

Once I hated them, sat bored, frustrated by an inability to find a comfortable position to sleep in. Until I learned to give up on sleeping, to be glad for a ten minute nap. To know that I could fall into that most pleasurable state once I arrived at my destination. Still exhausted.

But back to the airport. It is a city in itself, more brightly lit than the towers of the CBD. It saddens me to know that it will be closing soon until the next morning. I think of those transit stops that never sleep, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand or Dubai.

I have done very few night transits, preferring to enjoy at least a day in whatever country I pass through along the way. There is always the wish to stop and use the airport facilities rather than racing between the flights.

In many ways that airport excites me more than the journey. The idea of the airport and its twenty-four hour life. As a night owl, I imagine arriving late after most of the crowds have departed, of midnight snacks, movie screens and shopping. Of a transit hotel in the terminal so I may rest but still be part of the airport hive.

I wish I could stay there for a few days. Watching the activity, then having the time to not watch it, to make other discoveries, to just relax.

But the airport draws me in. All those aircraft tails promising adventure and travel to new places or old favourites. So I stand up here staring, waiting for the next roar, the next combination of lights to pass by, to watching them blink until they are finally eaten up by the night sky.

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