“Casablanca? No, it couldn’t be?” I thought excitedly. “Were they speaking of THE Casablanca? Was this a real plane or a fake, like in the movie?”
I fervently scanned the Departing Schedule monitor to make sure I hadn’t been mistaken. There it was, in black and white or more accurately, in dimming gray and fluorescent green.
FLIGHT 389. CASABLANCA. GATE 12. DEPARTING – 4:55 PM
I’d been waiting for over three hours, in-between flights, at Heathrow International Airport, when the first call for Casablanca registered in my mushy, travel-weary brain. I had been silently watching the un-choreographed dance of humanity crawling along. People walked, sat, ran, talked, ate, looked, shook hands or read. Some wore coats of self-confidence; others were lost, nervous, sad, happy, depressed, scared, flamboyant or lonely.
There was a couple sleeping nearby; apparently oblivious to the fact they were in one of the busiest international air terminals in the world. They were sprawled length-wise, on a beige, plastic bench, their heads barely touching, mutually matted brown hair covering their cheeks and their eyes shut tight as a rolled up armadillo. The woman’s left hand held the strap to her patched, faded backpack, while her right covered her vacant, pale face. Her young partner was snoring slightly, air whistling in and out of his thin-lipped mouth, while his arm hung loosely, swaying back and forth with his breath, like laundry blowing in a breeze.
Nearby, a gawky, wide-eyed, pimply-faced boy was glued to an electric video machine with its flashing lights and bombarding sounds wailing away. He was cradling it, fondling it, embracing it; unable to pry himself away from its powerful promise of momentary oblivion from adolescent angst and self-centered isolation.
I’d just grown weary of the surrounding drama and taken pen and paper from my bag, to write a love letter, when the proper English voice distinctly called for all passengers to Tangiers/Casablanca.
After having contradicted my initial disbelief, by checking the glowing, flickering screen for departures, I collapsed back onto the bench and was carried away to Arabs, French, Nazis, freedom-fighters, Rick’s, gambling, humidity, “the usual suspects”, Peter Laurie, Claude Reins and the fearsomely gorgeous, sophisticated, enchanting, Ingrid Bergman; who is gazing longingly and tenderly at Humphrey Bogart, then Paul Henreid and back to Bogey. Her eyes are wet with emotion, not knowing whom to choose or what to do. My heart is pumping loudly, as I silently dream, “Me! Me! Take me!” Her sensuous hand reaches towards mine with vulnerability and determination. I knowingly pull her to me, feel her softness upon my chest and . . . “ Last call for Algiers and Casablanca on British Air at Gate Twelve.”
My eyes opened to the sterile, modern scenery of Terminal One. I saw the back of someone in a three-piece suit running down the hallway towards Gate Twelve. His black, hard-soled shoes echoed loudly as they hit the floor. I held my breath, watched him turn the corner and disappear from sight. My body shivered with regret, knowing I would never take that flight. Even if I had the time, money and inclination, my heart wouldn’t allow it. The real Casablanca would destroy my passionate Hollywood affair with Ingrid and our knowing glances of a love worth dying for.
The time for my flight back to the States was finally announced. I slowly came too, wearing my melancholy like a crumpled coat. Picking up my well-traveled suitcase, I proceeded slowly towards the designated holding pen to await further instructions. When our row of seats was called, I obediently handed over my ticket and slumbered down the corridor towards the familiar passageway that led to the known world I called home.
As I was about to step on the plane I suddenly froze, looked blankly at the welcoming flight attendant, glanced out across the tarmac and wondered, “Why not?”