Night pressed against the windows of the small bus as it pursued its scheduled path south-east of London towards the coast. It had been a long and eventful day – if waiting in expectation at various locations can be considered “events”, that is. Then, there was the flight half way across the globe to consider, of course.
As with family, the assembled passengers had not chosen their compatriots, but had been cast together by a higher power: their collective employer, before being scattered again amongst a trio of vehicles dispatched to deposit their alien cargoes in various locales of Bournemouth, UK.
Home had been left in another universe, far beyond Moscow -where the group had met and assembled as strangers only hours before. Their individual origins lay in disparate corners of Russia, with each traveler’s tale starting hours or even days before the main event: the flight from Russia’s capital to Heathrow.
That too was now a memory in tiring minds, all sinking into a collective apathy of silence and just holding-out for the prospect of welcome rest that lay ahead.
I consider myself a traveler
‘A’s familiar landscape is the Taiga of Petrozavodsk, roughly 7 hours north east of St.Petersburg by train. There the conifers grow tall and straight, unlike the ones in the UK, which he considers “wavy” by comparison. Just one of the small details that sets home apart from “here”.
“My brain, my soul were expecting something comfortable, nice, beautiful,” he says of his arrival point, London’s premier airport, where the mechanisms (usually) run smoothly and the baggage retrieval doesn’t take an hour and a half, as it did in Moscow.
Sure enough, the system ran cleanly enough to impress, -although ‘A’ is no wide-eyed country-boy. “I consider myself a traveler,” he says, before revealing the list of European and middle-eastern destinations under his belt, by way of proof.
In fact, airports are part of his daily life as a Russia air-traffic controller, which is also the reason for his arrival.
The language of the skies
You’ve probably never had cause to think about it, but the language of (international) air traffic is English. As if following the adage that the best way to learn a language is to live within its native culture; ‘A’ is here to do just that: at least for 3 weeks -within a formalised learning structure, subject to daily classes and a final assessment (which he will later stroll through).
Does he feel confident, here, heading into the dark? I didn’t ask, but he’s set to, “Confirm his ‘4th level common English,” out of 6, and improve his “aviation English” during the course of his stay. That’s whilst picking up a few language tips and tricks along the way.
“Nobody has level 6,” he reveals -of this semi-mythic status -akin, perhaps, to finally achieving Zen, “Although one man in the group has level ‘5’ “. Was there a note of awe behind that Russian accent?
Regardless, it helps to keep on top of things mentally (and physically) if you wish to continue your employment within Russian air traffic control -the margin for deviation is slight to say the least.
Finally the bus -and the day- drew to a close -way into overtime as the vehicle’s doors opened onto a darkened Bournemouth street to abandon ‘A’ without ceremony, before receding, disinterested, into the night.
No gleaming Moscow nightlife here, pumping electricity into the dark with the ever present bustle of sodium-yellow crowds. The back-end of nowhere in an English town lies asleep under stars rendered visible by the sparse street lighting.
Torchless, ‘A’ padded around the silent street, straining for a house number until the required digits were found -on an equally silent, darkened door- as a prop in a forgotten ghost town. Anyone home?