In Darkest Night

Dearest Rachel –

It’s almost funny. I finished my dinner in darkness, returned to the hotel in darkness, settled my bill and went to bed in that same darkness. All fairly normal.

But in that self same darkness, I’m waking up, taking a taxi, flying to Amsterdam, and will land there in that same darkness.

Such, I suppose, is winter. And to think, the solstice is still two weeks away.

It seems almost unfortunate, after all this time, to slip away from Basel under cover of darkness. But that seems to be the way of it; so much of the day is darkness, that it’s almost impossible to avoid. It’s a wonder I had enough light to enjoy it for the last couple of days, even.

My antigen test came back negative, which I am assured by Lars is a good thing. Evidently, I’m confusing antigens with antibodies; the latter is what you build up over the course of the illness in order to fight off the virus, whereas the former are pieces of the disease you shed during the course of your illness. So I am officially recovered, and cleared for takeoff.

It’s weird to think I might miss this room:

But in all seriousness, I have never spent so many consecutive hours in a single room in my life – and I hope I never will again. I’ve never been hospitalized for this kind of time, and even when I had the chickenpox, I left my room from time to time. Nearly seven whole days of never leaving. I almost can’t believe it.

But it’s just about time to go, and I have everything packed, and the cab will be here in barely fifteen minutes. I think I’ve said my goodbyes, so it’s time.

As to be expected, the lobby is deserted and the bistro is dark. Only the night clerk is at the front desk, and he confirms that my bill is paid. I’m not certain if he is asking or telling me about my expected transport, but at least, he does not seem particularly surprised.

And why should he? He’s the one who rang me up less than an hour ago, after all.

I find myself agreeing with Inigo Montoya: I hate waiting. Would that the cab would get here a little earlier, and take me away from here. Get it over with. Of course, then I’d just be sitting around waiting at the airport, so what difference would it make?

There is a phone call to the front desk, and after a brief discussion in German, the night clerk hangs up, and calls out to me. It seems my driver is running a few minutes late. Well, at least he’s called to let me know. And I suppose five minutes isn’t going to make all that much difference, either.

My driver turns out to be the same one that took me off the ship last week. He works for Viking, but also subcontract out to three or four other travel firms. He tells me he’s going to have a busy day: he’ll be working from three this morning until almost eleven at night.

He walks into the airport, across the national dividing line, and deposits me by the KLM/Air France check in desks. No one is there except passengers, and even they are few and far between.

“It’s a small airport,” he shrugs. Well, that’s certainly true enough.

Passengers do start to trickle in after he leaves, but there’s still no one to take our bags. I strike up a conversation with several folks who had taken the Hlin from Amsterdam to Basel, and were flying back today after getting their antigen tests. They offer condolences to my missing my ship, and we both wish each other luck en route home.

Finally, at about five o’clock, staff starts appearing at the bag check desks, and we slowly make our way through. I hand over my passport and the results of my antigen test, but when he asks for the Swiss vaccination certificate, I panic. I thought I’d put that away, since it had been superseded by the antigen test results. I set my suitcase on its side, and rummage through it, but I just can’t find that paperwork. Finally, I look at the documents I had set aside at his desk, the ones that I’m supposed to present at Amsterdam and Chicago respectively, and the Covid certificate page falls out.

It’s just like like you always used to do, honey; every time you couldn’t find some thing, you stopped and said a quick prayer about it, and more often than not, that worked. It still does, it would seem. Oh, me of little faith.

I would say something along the lines that security is security worldwide, but that’s just not true. At O’Hare, on my way out, I took my laptops out of my backpack, only to have the staff tell me that wasn’t necessary once they had already gone through. Here at Basel, it’s just the opposite. Taking the laptops out also meant extracting a package of cookies from the top of the backpack, which I set with my jacket in another bin. I empty my pockets, but forget about my belt, which I end up having to remove after my first pass through the metal detector.

Oh, and I did I mention that I didn’t need to take my shoes off? That was so nice.

I collect my things, and repack the laptops into my backpack, when I realize something’s missing: those cookies have disappeared. Is it possible they were confiscated, since I couldn’t take them with me through the airport security? I don’t want to make a scene by asking, because it’s just a packet of cookies, but still…

After a moment or two, I see a couple laughing at something on the roller conveyor belt. My packet of cookies had fallen out of the bin, and it was rolling along between two cylinders like a taquito under the heat lamps at a 7-Eleven. That mystery solved, I collect them, and myself, and head to the gate.

I barely have time to settle in and update this letter before they begin boarding. I’ll have to get back to you once we’re in Amsterdam.

I almost don’t get on the plane. As I’m about to hand over my passport and boarding pass, the attendant indicates her mask, saying “is verboten.” It turns out, I need to be wearing a paper mask, or I can’t board – and, needless to say, the airline doesn’t have any. Well now, this is something to spring on one at literally the last minute.

Thankfully, there is one other passenger boarding at that moment, and she hands me one of hers, which I gratefully accept.

The flight itself is uneventful, and sure enough, it’s still dark as we land in Schiphol, although the barest tendrils of morning light are trying to creep across the horizon. It’s time to begin the day, and I’ve already traveled what? Three hundred miles?

And there’s so many more to go.

But it looks like I’ll have to wait before I know where I need to be. Even as it goes around to eight o’clock, the farthest departures posted are only between eleven and noon, while my flight to Chicago isn’t scheduled to take off until nearly one. Guess I might as well sit and wait here for a while.

As always, honey, wish me luck. I’m still going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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