Though the weather is cold and the surroundings utilitarian and barren, the air is full of the joy of anticipation. Harsh wind cuts through thin clothing and whips hair into the wide eyes of those who wait. People stand barely contained, constantly pushing and pulsing against the last barrier between them and their beloveds: a thin rope, a meager symbol of the distance that has kept them apart for the past seven months.
As they wait, comfortable in each other’s presence, studiously ignoring the comparative warmth and relief of the base building behind them, they talk. Sometimes they talk to those they have brought with them, including their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children, but more often than not, it is with the surrounding strangers. Conversations are spoken with the ease and familiarity that come with years of acquaintance, for these people have the unifying connection of the longing for loved ones.
A mother and daughter stand in the center of it all, but neither of them is speaking. While the people around them are clothed in the colors of their country, astounding shades of blue, of striking scarlet and pure white, the women wear dark colors. The girl, at the age of maybe seventeen or eighteen, wears black, and her mother, a dark shade of navy. It is clear they feel isolated, or maybe it is only that they feel a strain between them.
The girl occasionally looks at her phone, typing with sharp fingers that could puncture the device with the force put behind them.
“Is he coming?” her mother speaks in a quiet tone, but it does not disguise the hope that is evident in her words.
“No,” the girl speaks with the coldness of the climate around her, though it is clear that it is not directed at her mother.
“He claims he went to the wrong airport. But I don’t see why he doesn’t just tell the truth. We both know he wouldn’t have come.”
As they speak, the crowd around them listens to the grumbling roar of approaching bus engines. They begin to clap their hands, cheering, and lifting signs of welcome into the air. Tears adorn many eyes and frame many smiles, as the emotion becomes too much for them.
The girl cries with them, her tears composed of disappointment and regret, instead of the anticipatory excitement of her companions.
“I’m sure he wanted to be here. Come on, calm down, sweetie. Evan will be here soon,” the mother tries to soothe her distraught daughter, but the tears only fall faster.
She whispers, “I’m glad he didn’t come. He doesn’t deserve to be here.”
Three buses park in front of the euphoric crowd and men start to descend the stairs, all with raised heads and eager eyes searching through the swarms of those they fought for. A shouted order is given, and they fall into the perfectly formed ranks of a unit.
A man walks to the small podium, and begins to speak. This is obvious torture for the civilians. Their eyes never leave the lines of men in front of them, almost as if they fear that if they look away, their men will suddenly disappear again.
The girl is trying to rid herself of the tears, wiping carefully under her eyes, desperately it seems. The man at the podium talks of the accomplishments of the men before them. Volunteers walk quickly back and forth before the crowd, cutting away the binding rope separating them from their loved ones.
In the perfect spontaneity and uniformity that only a crowd such as this could have, the mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, rush forward, and reunite themselves at last with their long awaited heroes.
A little away from the swarming families, three people stand clasped together. A mother and daughter, tears of joy in their eyes, cling to the stern-faced man before them: the girl’s hand on the back of her brother’s neck, the woman’s arms around her children’s waists. At first, they do not speak, because happiness does not always require words, but finally, the man poses a question.
“Where’s Dad?” The lines that once adorned his face are gone, a sense of calmness seems to radiate from him, and contented bliss is apparent in every contour of his body.
The girl steps back, looks her brother in the eye, and responds in a tone of genuine regret, “He went to the wrong airport. I’m so sorry. I know he wanted to be here.”
People tell lies. Often, they are given with the intent of saving one’s self from blame or the disdain of others. Sometimes, though, they are spoken in order to protect a loved one, to reassure them or save them from the pain of disappointment. But does that make a lie right? And how is it that people can decide someone needs to be protected? Perhaps, when a person has already experienced great hardship, or felt great pain, those who love them feel it is necessary to guard them from further harm. However, with the most difficult and trying circumstances, come a better understanding of life, and the people in it. So shouldn’t someone who has suffered and survived, someone who is inherently protected, be the most able to handle further adversity?