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Time on a plate

She always flew economy: the firm was strict about expenses. She didn’t mind. Truth to tell, she liked flying: she even liked the queueing, the hanging around, the delays. Madness, people would have said, if she’d admitted it, but she never did.

It was time to herself she savoured. Anonymous time away from colleagues, children, even her poor husband, desperate as the rest for a share of her attention. Useless time she could defensibly not spend working, even in these days of laptops and wifi and Blackberries. Empty time, not stolen but handed to her on a plate: time when she wasn’t supposed to be anywhere else, when she could just be.

It reminded her of being a teenager, killing whole afternoons hanging out in shopping malls. She remembered the indolent feeling of having hours stretching out ahead of her: being neither bored nor fulfilled, happy nor sad. That was what airports gave her, now. She’d let her mind wander, watch the wretched mothers trailing their gaggles of children through the terminal, scour the duty-free shops for things she knew she’d never buy.

She loved the food outlets, too, open round the clock because it was always time to eat in one time zone or another. And it wasn’t just plastic burgers and dried-up pizzas any more. New places kept appearing: satay bars, tapas bars, sushi bars, oyster bars. She liked the thrill of buying things and eating them right there and then, with no planning or deliberation or anticipation.

One day, in the main terminal of an unfamiliar European city, she saw a stall selling little parcels of food she didn’t recognise. The smell was intoxicating: seafood, she guessed – some exotic aromatic herbs – and a fruity edge; perhaps wine? It was only an hour since lunch but suddenly she’d never felt so hungry.

She smiled, pointed, paid, began to devour. God, it was good. Like manna: manna for the weary traveller. She mustered her few words of the language to enquire. Today’s special, she understood. Very rare. Probably you never taste again. Well, she couldn’t risk that. She counted her Euros: enough to keep eating until her flight was called, certainly. And after that, who knew? She was living in the moment.

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