As the little shuttle minibus started to pick up speed, my iPod did a little skip and a jump and shuffled to a sparkly, ethereal song by a friend of mine - a female singer - about being stuck on hold. Very apt for how I was feeling - sparkly, ethereal... and waiting.
I've never understood Heathrow Airport. I have flown from there a few times - it's the easiest to get to, and the cheapest too, being as it is on the end of the Piccadilly Line. But I still have yet to understand its subtle intricacies; I don't know the difference between all five terminals, why three warrant one combined tube station and the other two get one each. I don't know why they are so far apart yet seem so close together. And I oppose a third runway on principle, although I have no idea at all why there are only two runways but five terminals.
I don't know anything about 'planes. But I do like airports. And, as I finally boarded the shuttle bus, I knew I was getting closer and closer to my destination.
I was going to have sex.
And so the sparkly, ethereal song about being on hold became my odd anthem as the heroic little minibus drove me towards the hotel that I'm sure one could have gotten to on foot - it served the airport, after all - and I switched the iPod off after that. I wanted that song in my head until I met the girl I'd been romancing online for all of a day and a half.
I'd done my research - exchanged a few e-mails and even 'phone numbers. I'd Googled her e-mail address and it seemed like a legit one, being used on a number of user accounts on Facebook and the like - not failing to notice that her first initial and surname were a bit like those of my sister, so it was good to check I wasn't being punk'd - and I even knew where she was going the following day. I was going there to be bon voyage sex. Nothing too serious, just a thorough seeing-to before she jet-setted off. I was even going to buy her dinner first so we could chat and get the chemistry right.
And, oh, the things I'd planned to do to her. I was going to eat her out until she came - preferably twice. I'd make sure she was wet, very wet - and then I'd make sure she was ready. I'd slip the condom on, and play with her body a bit. Lots of kissing, nibbling and rubbing. I'd adore her body like a worshipper at a shrine... and then, only then, I'd slide myself into her, and keep going until we were both spent, until she couldn't take any more. I'd spend the following day grinning to myself, imagining her still buzzing from the experience on the 'plane, slipping into fantasies about what we'd done throughout the rest of her holiday.
I'd planned all this. And, yet, until this moment, I'd been on hold. It takes a long time to get there, the Piccadilly Line. Surely I'd get a little something for my effort... I hadn't even taken a book with me.
The minibus pulled up to the hotel and I leapt off, surprisingly full of energy for such a late hour. I'd arrived a bit earlier than planned - I tend to do that - but, I reasoned, she might be here; I'd just give her a call and check.
Music greeted me on the other end of the line. For one wild moment, I thought I'd been put on hold... and then I heard her voice. She had one of those irritating answerphone messages with music in the background. I thought only teenage chavs had those... and, worse, I didn't even recognise the song.
Fine, I thought, she's not here yet. I'll go and ask the hotel staff. I didn't fancy being on hold for much longer.
I approached the hotel staff, giving them my name and her name, telling them I was meeting her for a drink (which was, of course, true) and that I'd be waiting in the bar for her (also true). I left out the part that I was expecting to go up to her room and spend the rest of the night making love to her, but they didn't need to know everything. To my surprise, the receptionist took my story without question, looked her up on the system and confirmed she was staying there that night, had booked but not checked in yet, and that she'd tell her about my presence when she arrived. I was free to wait in the bar if I wanted.
Back on hold, I bought myself a small drink, and sat graciously at the table, half-watching the political programme on BBC One, silent but subtitled, my 'phone on the table in front of me - I kept glancing at that, waiting for the call to come. Other guests - the usual cast of misfits waiting to fly on a 'plane - were chatting, but nobody noticed me: the boy sitting in the corner, watching the TV, waiting to get laid.
As the seconds trickled into minutes, and minutes turned into quarters of hours, the hold music - now a general babble from guests and the clinks of glasses - started to intensify. 15 minutes passed, then 30, then 45. One hour. One hour fifteen.
At this point I texted.
In the bar, waiting for you. Are you OK? I heard some trains were delayed. x
No response. One hour thirty.
At one hour forty-five I called. One hour fifty-five. Two hours. Five. Seven. Ten. Eleven. Maybe her 'phone's out of battery. And every time I called, the same music - the same message - the same beep inviting me to record a message. Every time I hung up. Was I being a creepy stalker? No, of course not, I rationalised. I'm just waiting for her. I'm on hold. She'll come and take me off hold. I've been waiting for ages - I can continue to do so, surely!
At two hours thirty my head was on the table in front of me, my arms crossed, forming a kind of pillow. I was aroused from my slumber eventually by the text message alert - at which I reacted like a startled gazelle. I snatched my 'phone like it was a precious gem fading from my grasp and blitzed through to the message screen.
Took a later train gotta be there at 2am anyway. Sorry. Was never definate.
I was aghast, mostly at the fact that she'd spelled "definite" incorrectly.
One hour later. Heathrow was silent. There were a few early-morning travellers sleeping on the floor, slumped against walls tapping aimlessly at smartphones or demanding coffee from lazy machines. Nobody was making a sound. And there I was, meandering through the halls, trying to find meaning in my day.
I'd texted her, offering the dinner I was going to buy even if we didn't end up going any further. There was still no reply. I wasn't going to get a reply. I was never going to.
I'd known for a while.
With nothing else to do, I returned to the Underground. Sat down as the train pulled away. Plugged my iPod back in. Tried not to feel like I'd been on hold music all the time.
As I left Heathrow, I saw a 'plane fly off into the distance. Maybe she was sitting on it, heading off to her destination. Perhaps she was excited, or sleepy, or full of anticipation or apprehension. I would be - probably all of those things. To me, airports mean the start of a great adventure - something new, and thrilling, and the feeling of travel - ending in another place entirely. Different language. Different culture. Different climate. I wondered, as I watched it fly off through the carriage window, if she was feeling the way I would, were I in her position.
Down on the ground, the tube train started to snake back to London, just as rain began to fall.