Fear of terrorism really needs its own term, doesn’t it? After all, the fear inspired by a bag left unattended on the tube isn’t that same sharp pang brought on by a stranger stepping out of a dark cobblestoned alley, or a sudden crash waking you from a deep sleep. There’s no keen-edged adrenaline ignition when the chirpy morning newscaster in London offer reports of the Pakistan-born woman detained at Heathrow yesterday. When a steward comes over the intercom during our flight to ask for the owner of the mobile phone found in the bathroom, the mind begins to dread, not panic. Though terrorist acts may occur suddenly, the fear of terrorism has little to do with abruptness. Terrorism seems more about waiting.When I was 20, I was forced to wait at Singapore’s Changi Airport for 14 hours. My connecting flight to Melbourne was delayed, then delayed again, and then again. I had no money, so I couldn’t pay the 15 bucks required to leave the airport itself, and obviously I couldn’t afford a book or anything to pass the time (food, too, was out of the question, so the slow gnaw of hunger kept me company most of the time). Anyone familiar with airports will know that they’re all about waiting, but you need to find something to keep you occupied. By the time I realised I was in it for the long haul, I had begun measuring out things like bathroom stops: taking a trip to the toilet became as exciting as a visit to Coney Island, and I would wait as long as I could to savour that thrill. A trip on one of the 100 ft long travelators was like a rollercoaster of fun, and the newsagent was a forbidden joy, since I could only spend a few minutes of browsing magazines before someone would ask if I was there to buy.This was a decade before 9/11. My waiting was contained, safe, and bound by the implicit knowledge that public spaces like airports or shopping centres were tightly controlled by security and surveillance. Wondering was limited. I knew my flight would eventually take me home. Waiting was about delay, but I never doubted that I’d make it back in the end.Waiting at Tullamarine for a flight to Sydney a few weeks ago was a different matter. I sat scanning the faces of the other travellers, business commuters mostly. The staring, sweaty face of a man fidgeting with the strap of his case, or the hard-eyed middle-aged woman with the carefully avoiding gaze; our waiting took on new dimensions of meaning. Nobody expected anything untoward to occur, but the possibility lingered, floated above us.Terrorism is all about waiting. We all know, or are told that something devastating will happen somewhere, at some time, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It probably won’t happen to us, but will happen to someone like us, like us in our insignificance, that is. And it’s out of our control. It strikes me that this dread is akin to more common, less dramatic situations. Love and affection, for instance. Not knowing whether this will last, whether it will all come crashing down or whether the detonation will be stayed another day. Waiting, of course; waiting to take action but knowing that the decision to flick the switch is not yours. Left plucking daisy petals, pretending assurance can be found in random signs, but knowing nonetheless that the waiting is bigger than you, is some way defines you.In this way, we are in a terrible, typical and unendurable life. All flights have been delayed indefinitely.
In the meantime, if you're already turned off by the lack of Jean Claude in the trip so far, this is pretty much a summary of the rest of my time overseas. Especially the guy at the start.