The bus pulled into the Louis Armstrong Airport as the sun was just beginning to fall from the sky. We were exhausted from the sun by this time, and we filed into the airport with the blinders of exhaustion hanging from our eyes.
Scanning the airport, I noticed piles of trash everywhere. Empty wrappers and bottles and papers piled high against the walls. People were all over the place, lying on the floor with blankets around them, sprawled out in chairs, and just milling around with the same blank faces I saw all around me.
I realized hundreds of people had travelled through here in the past days. I wondered how many of my friends had already passed through here, and I wondered how many of them still stayed behind like Johnny and Linda. I thought again of Sophia, as I imagined her here…and I wondered if she could have faired this. Especially when she was in the throes of sickness.
Liam and I found a comfortable spot on the floor of Louis Armstrong Airport as we settled into the comfort of our buzz. Insulated from all this sadness and despair by the steady supply of opiates and booze, I hardly noticed the hours pass. We drifted in and out of sleep, each time waking up to the same scenery with different characters milling around.
People were sprawled out all over the airport. Lying in chairs and on floors, on blankets or the bare ground. Garbage was piled up, high on the walls in some parts, and the smell of human waste permeated the air. I was amazed at all the garbage in parts, like people just left it everywhere until it is swept up in big piles. Wrappers and bottles and junk food, nothing of any nutritious value. Paper and plastic, just piled up.
We still were not sure how this process worked. We told military and disaster volunteers we needed to get to North Carolina or Virginia, where our families were. We thought they would be sending us all home. We thought they would be transporting people to where they said they could go. I didn’t think about the people who had nowhere to go. In a way, none of the tired and dirty people milling around the airport had anywhere to go, especially in the eyes of authority. Otherwise, why would we have stayed?
We were not given any instructions. There was no order, like sit here or sit there, or wait here and then go there. The answers to any question were vague. All we knew was that we were to wait. Just wait and see what happens, which did not bother us with all the medicated insulation pulsing through our veins.
I felt the Sickness creeping back in from time to time. I simply reached into one of the duffel bags and took some more pills. Staving it off allowed us to sleep. Staving it off allowed us to lie around in a slump of nothing on the floor of the airport.
“Hey, you two…I have two seats left on this plane,” a lady motions to us.
“Where is it going?” I ask. “We need to get to either Virginia or North Carolina.”
“Honey, just get on a plane, and we will sort it all out later. We will get you where you need to go.” She replied.
Liam and I needed no discussion. We mustered enough strength to lift our bodies off the floor. We struggled to gather our bags with random things spilling out onto the floor. We were too exhausted to worry about getting caught with a million looted pills, until we saw a security guard just before the “hallway” leading to the plane. I caught Liam’s eye, and without saying a word my look reassured him it was too late to panic now. The guard opened the duffel bags.
“I have a prescription for all those,” Liam said quickly. The guard did not even seem to notice the fifty or so pill bottles, and it became obvious to us he was merely looking for weapons. With our liquor filled bottles in hand, we climbed onto the plane. Destination unknown.
The plane was full, and we made our way to the last two seats. Weary and tired, we sat down without a word to each other. It was hot on the plane, and the odor of hundreds of unshowered was all too prevalent. There was a hum of conversation was tinted with trepidation and fear.
“Where the hell are we going? Will they serve us any food? When will we come back to New Orleans? Have you ever been on a plane before? What if it crashes? How soon can I take a shower? Do you think I will be able to get some clean clothes? Are we going far? What day is it anyway? Do you think we will be able to stay together?”
It was dark by the time we got on that plane, although I had no idea what time it was. We left the apartment in the Treme just after daybreak, and we boarded a plane sometime after dark. Liam and I sat silently slumped in our seats, sinking farther into the oblivion. The air on the plane felt panicked and fearful, but thank god for the insulation of the pills. I had learned to stop asking questions.
As the plane began to taxi down the runway, I realized from the conversation around that many of these people had never been on an airplane. Many of the people around me had never even left the city. Many of these people had no knowledge of the world beyond New Orleans. Fear was mounting, as the airplane picked up speed on the runway. An audible gasp echoed throughout the cabin as the plane first lifted into the air, that moment when your stomach drops just a little as the wheels lift off the runway. It was virtually silent, and then the hum of voices began to rise once more.