Abandoning her luggage, Sayara broke away from a group of Afghan women visiting the United States under the auspices of the United Nations. She got lost running in circles between the terminals in the Atlanta airport, trying to find the exit, while being cautious of all the guards. Finally, she made her great escape and settled in a safe place: Toronto. Three years later, she still can’t find anything as good and comfortable as the beloved shoes she left at the airport.
I am waiting in terminal C at the Atlanta Airport. By contract, all 15 members of our group must leave the USA. There are twenty minutes left before the plane is to take off. I must choose to stay or leave; I won’t ever get this chance again. I spot an exit sign by an escalator. I politely ask to go window shopping in the terminal. I am surprised when the guard allows me, although she says I must take a group member along, and I must leave all my luggage behind. My precious and most comfy shoes are in my suitcase.
My mind is set. I leave my companion when she isn’t looking. I sprint my way toward the exit sign. The escalator leads down to a narrow hallway that takes a sharp right. When I reach the bottom, I have to pull the brakes on my legs because I spot a guard around the turn. I cautiously pass him, and thankfully he does not bother to question my suspicious behaviour.
At the next turn in this hallway, a sign shows that the escalator leads to the shuttle that travels between terminals. I make my way onto it, not daring to look back, as I suspect I am being chased. When I take my seat, I feel as if everyone on the train is eyeing me. I think security guards on the shuttle might come and question me. This does not happen, though as the minutes go by while I am on this train, I panic more and more at what I might find at the next stop. Maybe a few officers will handcuff me and be done with it all!
Fortunately, this is not the case either, and as I get off at terminal D, then A, B, and again C, my fortune seems very bright. So far, no guards seem to be alert to my escape. Still, I am very eager to find the main exit and put as much distance between myself and this airport as possible.
When I leave terminal D for the second time after failing to find the way out, I overhear a conversation between two passengers. They say their family is waiting for them at a luggage carousel in terminal A. In the interval of 20 minutes that I spent searching for my destination among the terminals, I finally find it: apparently, it is exactly where I started. I must’ve been in such a hurry that I missed it. So I sit on this train, going all the way around in a circle until I arrive back at Terminal A. I take the same hallway and escalator back up. This time I notice the huge doors leading out. I speed out like an escaping prisoner and take my leave on a random bus.
Freed from the grasp of the group and the security, I did not think about where fate would lead me next in this strange world. Giving away my identity, fearing being rejected, and living an uncertain and paranoid life: none of this mattered: I was mourning over my shoes I left behind.
It has been three years since I made my way to Canada. I have tried various types of shoes, from low heels to high heels, various colours, shapes and designs. Though some might be more beautiful, I have yet to find any as fair and comfortable as my dear beloved airport shoes.
SAYARA SADRI was born in Afghanistan and lived in neighbouring Tajikistan as a refugee. Since arriving in Canada in 2008, she has worked at Toronto’s Afghan Women’s Centre and earned a paralegal license.