I had just purchased a new laptop, and was looking forward to watching several movies in the airport as I was waiting for my flight from London to Dubai. This was in the days before comfortable airport charging stations and I had to scan the walls looking for a place to plug in my computer. (Most people were using an antique device for entertainment called a book.) After twenty minutes, I finally found an outlet but it was not in a convenient place. I had to sit on a heating vent.
I am not an electrician, but I knew that England used 230V power and Canada only used 120V power. This meant that if I wanted to use electrical devices from Canada while on my travels, I needed to use a convertor. For more expensive devices, I only needed an adapter because more expensive devices have a built-in convertor. Unfortunately, traveling and jet lag made my head a little fuzzy. Rather than plugging my new laptop into an adapter, I instead plugged the expensive convertor into the wall, plugged my laptop into the convertor, and then turned on the power.
There soon followed a terrible crackling sound. It was the sound of bad things happening. I knew I was responsible, but I just froze. I didn’t want to give myself away. I was traveling through Heathrow soon after the transatlantic airline plot (to detonate liquid explosives) and I didn’t want to be accused of terrorism. I tried to ignore the sound but everyone around me was standing up, hushing their children, and trying to find the culprit. That’s when the smell of burning plastic filled the waiting area.
I knew I had to do something but I was panicking and sweating profusely. Finally, when everyone else was looking the other way, I quickly slipped my laptop back into my bag and pulled the hot convertor out of the wall. Leaning over, and attempting to hide my face from security cameras, I found the nearest garbage bin and ditched the evidence. I then crossed the airport four times – back and forth and back and forth – in case there were any security agents trying to find me. After a couple hours, I settled down in a molded plastic chair, took a few deep breaths, and decided I had successfully escaped the authorities.
If I had been traveling with my family I would have booked a hotel room, as the layover was twenty-three mind-numbing hours. But, since I was traveling on my own, I thought I could save money and find a bench to sleep on. It wouldn’t be a restful night, but I would be okay. I could sleep when I arrived. I figured that every terminal in Heathrow would be open all hours, and it wouldn’t be a problem. I was wrong.
At 2:00 a.m., as I was trying to get comfortable on a bench, airport employees were shutting down the restaurants, cafés and gift shops. A few minutes later, there were only a few people left in the terminal and it was eerily quiet. The terminal was closing. I hoped that airport security would take pity on me and allow me to stay if I lay quietly and closed my eyes. I was wrong.
I soon felt a hand on my shoulder. “Sir, you can’t stay here,” said a lady in uniform.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, really,” she said. “I’m afraid I have to accompany you through customs.”
“I can’t just sleep here until the terminal opens again?” I asked.
“No, you can’t,” she said.
“I’ll be quiet,” I pleaded while swinging my legs off the bench.
“Sorry. The terminal closed half an hour ago.”
She then led me through customs. Neither of us said anything further.
The man at customs was not amused. “Don’t you have a place to stay?”
“No,” I said. “I thought I could stay here for the night. My flight leaves tomorrow.”
“You can’t do that,” he said. “The terminal closed half an hour ago.”
He stamped my passport. I looked at the stamp.
“Nice stamp,” I said to lighten the mood. The man at customs just grunted in return.
The lady in uniform led me through the empty halls to the other side of security.
“You can stay here for the night, if you want,” she said, pointing me to the area between the main door and the security gates. “Security reopens at 6:00am.”
“Okay,” I said. “Thanks.”
I didn’t get any sleep that night.
Chris Brauer lives in British Columbia, Canada, where he splits his time between writing and teaching. He has recently completed a travel memoir about living in the Sultanate of Oman, and is currently working on a book about his travels in Ireland. He is also working on his first collection of poetry.