How airports are the saddest and happiest places on earth

Ace Tamayo

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'This is my door of opportunity, my way out of this mess.' He hugged his mother one last time and said his goodbyes


MANILA, Philippines – A number of cars lined up the ramp of the rusty Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Many were leaving that night. The airport was busy again. 

A naïve sixteen-year-old boy stepped outside his dad’s car and went straight to the compartment to grab his luggage. The boy’s mother was next to him carrying his passport and his one-way ticket to Australia.  

It was his first time to travel alone yet he asked his father not to drop him off. He did not want his father to see him weak and vulnerable because it was his decision to leave after all. 

HAPPY AND SAD. Airports evoke a range of emotions for those who live in two countriesHis face looked confused but he was trying to keep calm. On one hand he had his bag, the other, his mother’s hand. 

They walked together to the airport’s entrance as if they won’t see each other again. His mother was already crying since she really did not want his only son to leave.  

Yet the boy was too numb to feel. Airport noises were extremely loud that night but all he could hear was his sniffing mother mumbling the words “stay strong.” 

He wasn’t sure whether those words were for him or for his mother.

The entrance

The boy suddenly felt the air-conditioning coming out from the airport’s entrance. He knew it was time to say goodbye.

Mixed emotions suddenly filled him yet sadness was definitely prevailing. Everything he saw then was gloomy.  

The boy kept re-assuring himself, “This is my door of opportunity, my way out of this mess.” Yet his heart was telling him otherwise. He was lying to himself because he thought he was leaving the only life he knew. 

He hugged his mother one last time and said his goodbyes. 

The boy grabbed his luggage, ticket, and passport, waited in line and never looked back. He did not want his mother to see him like that. He broke down and started to cry. 

Waiting in line

He never knew that kind of sadness before. It is as if leaving never felt so wrong. 

But he wasn’t the saddest one that night. He looked around and saw himself in men and women who were also leaving. 

The boy found it easy to tell their stories yet it was hard when he asked himself, “Why?” 

While still in line at the entrance, the boy saw a man in his jean jacket closely carrying his two-year-old girl. The man was leaving for a two-year contract in Dubai. Next to him was a young woman, leaving her family behind, just weeks after her graduation. She was petitioned by her aunt to be a caregiver in Canada.

Then there was the couple behind them, both inseparable in matching red shirts, crying on each other’s shoulders. They were saying their goodbyes over and over again. The girlfriend was leaving for Hong Kong for the nth and final time. It was her only console for leaving him again. 

Sadness inside 

But emotions were not left outside. For the naïve boy, sadness had never consumed him more than that moment when he was finally alone inside the airport. 

Flashbacks of every little thing, done and undone, began to be remembered.  

The boy recalled how he wanted to stop time on his way to the airport that afternoon. He remembered how he wished that the road in EDSA would never end. He remembered his father and wished he could see him again.

But a pinch brought him back to his check-in counter with his feelings staying the same.  

The boy again looked around and saw blank faces around him. But this time, he did not bother making stories of what they were thinking. He knew what they were thinking. The boy knew then that he was in the saddest place on earth. 

Coming back 

The boy left for Australia dreading to be back at that airport again. Yet a year later, it was time to fly back home.

At that time, he had a fixed mindset of what airports were for him. His past experience made him worry that coming back would haunt him with all those feelings again. 

But it was inevitable and his flight date arrived. It wasn’t a direct flight to Manila and he had to stop over in Hong Kong. 

There, he met more Filipinos, mostly men, just like that guy in that jean jacket he saw at the airport when he left. They were speaking in Tagalog, telling stories, as if they knew each other for so long. 

It was hard to explain the mood of that boarding area. He felt like he was in a strange set-up, surrounded by strangers in a foreign place, yet he never felt so at home for the longest time.

Back where it all started

The announcement came and it was time to board the plane. Anticipation among the group grew stronger. The hour flight felt like eternity. 

Silence greeted the plane after landing in Manila. It was calm. 

But as soon as the captain announced the opening of the plane’s doors, the mood changed in a snap. Everyone stood up, grabbed their stuff, and left the aircraft as fast as they could.  

Heart beating as emotions rushed all over him. Here he was again, back where it all started. 

Older, dustier, and torn, the arrival area was no better than the departure area. The cracked floors and broken ceiling didn’t bother him though. 

Lit up faces greeted the passengers. Everyone was glad to be home.

He passed by the immigration counter where men lined up carrying bags of “imported” chocolates bought from the duty free store just across. He then got his luggage and finally stepped outside. 

He felt a cold rush in his chest despite being slapped by the Manila heat. He stood fidgeting at the assigned arrival area. 

A familiar voice was shouting his name. 

It was his father’s. He came smiling and running towards him. The boy felt numb and then his father hugged him.

It was a priceless moment. Something both of them longed for so long. He then grabbed his bag, smiled back, and walked together with his father. 

The boy was in his happiest place on earth. –

Ace Tamayo is a journalist and an Australian Clarion awardee. He is currently pursuing his law studies at the TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Ace left the Philippines when he was sixteen but he still visits the country regularly. Follow him on Twitter @AceATamayo 

Airport image from Shutterstock

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