Sunday February 20th - International Arrivals, Belfast International Airport: A small crowd is gathered, waiting for passengers to appear from the Newark flight. At the front, ahead of everyone, a woman stands in complete stillness, staring fixedly at the door, holding a ‘Welcome Home’ balloon that spins slowly in the air conditioning.
She holds one end of a small ‘Welcome Home’ banner, the rest of which extends three feet to her right, vanishing under the arm of an older man (her father? an older brother?) who leans against the wall. The rest of us check our watches and shift from foot to foot, watching her from behind as she remains motionless, with her eyes on the door.
In ones and twos, passengers emerge, bearing their trolleys of luggage or their small, well-packed cases. In turn, they look harried by the long flight, or well rested. Or they appear neutral and expressionless, jet lag already starting to seep into their bones as the time adjustment starts to reveal itself.
In the middle, here comes a family unit, an ordinary-looking bundle of man, woman, small child in a pram. Our lady goes to pieces. From behind, you can see it as an involuntary gasp, a barely-perceptible lean forward as the knees buckle slightly and she begins to shake and weep. Approaching the pram, she picks up the child, a small exhausted boy, and bundles him tightly in her arms, her face streaming. Then she and the rest of the family group, smiling weakly, move towards us, with the pram and the luggage trolley.
Released to the floor, the little boy waddles off between the strangers, clutching the ‘Welcome Home’ balloon, which gently bumps against our shoulders as we continue to wait.
The woman – thin, pale, groomed – continues to weep and shake, wiping tears from her eyes to either side, as they gather up the little boy. They all make their way towards the exit, like an emotional hurricane crackling with energy, the oblivious child at its centre. And in a matter of seconds, they are gone.