I am sitting in Bratislava Airport, around the beginning of January. It is incredibly warm here, which is quite ironic given how freezing cold it is outside. I used the last of my euros to order a cheap coffee and, like pretty much all of the coffee I have drunk here, it really isn’t great. All the coffee I have ordered has come with a little glass of water which is nice, I guess, although the coffee never seems to be hot enough and tastes far from the artisanal joy of Brew or The Missing Bean to which my tastebuds have become accustomed.
But I deviate—where was I? I’m sitting in this weird little cafe thing off the side of the airport departure lounge. There is no complex shopping structure, bendy corridors and sections or hoards of holidaymakers, there is simply this one large hangar, a few shops hanging off the ends, and that is it. There are hardly any people here at all, no queue at security, and only a handful of flights leaving today. Five, as I count them. An airport in the capital city of a major (ish, but certainly getting there) European country on a standard working day evening and there are only five flights for the rest of the day. Maybe everybody flies from Vienna around here. I don’t know, but it’s definitely a tad bizarre.
The more I contemplate it, the emptiness of this place really is rather lovely. There’s the element of emptiness in a place one expects to be busy which is, on the face of it, a little bit suspicious. I was reminded a little of a short story by Stephen King called The Langoliers in which a plane lands into an empty airport, which turns out to be in an alternative reality where monster things are coming to get you. Or the universe is collapsing in or something. I can’t really remember. Would recommend it though. At the same time, the emptiness is quite beautiful. The quiet allows me to hear my own thoughts, find inner peace (whatever that means) and be genuinely relaxed in a sort of place never usually associated with such a thing. It’s surprising, but certainly welcome. The more I think about it, throughout my trip here I have experienced a strange form of refreshing happiness.
This feeling certainly stems from the anonymity I have here and the ability to genuinely be away from everything, but it goes further than that. The potential of who I could be has not been at all been limited by anyone. I cannot think of a single person I know in this city, I do not speak a word of Slovak: to the people here I could be almost anything and them to me. I could have whatever name I choose, be from any country, do any job. An infinite number of possibilities exists about me and about my story, I am not confined by the bog standard routines and practises of home. It is the art of introducing myself that makes this potential go away. It doesn’t matter whether I tell the truth or if I lie: simply saying something makes that something the image of who I am and crystallises potential into something real.
I know that, deep down, I am just me. That person I spend all of my days and all of my nights with, the person with whom I share my most intimate thoughts, happiness and depression with, just me. The person to whose soul I talk and confide in, the person who’s senses show me the world, the person who will be there through love and heartbreak, the person who feels my hopes and dreams and the person who comforts my failures. It is just me. I can’t escape me when I am with people that know me, when I am in familiar settings and ticking through ordinary life. But sitting here, right now, I can. I could be anybody. Up until the point here I start talking and bring into existence a model of my character I feel as if I have escaped. The trap laid down by the most basic elements of conversation is evaded, for a temporary amount of time I am much closer to true freedom than at most other points of life.
So is freedom about money, power, or prestige? Is it contingent upon our friendships and loved ones, does it rely on safety and security, or is it about not tapping into potential? Bratislava freedom is clearly not a sustainable strategy—clearly nobody would want to live without meaningful relationships with others and clearly humankind needs them to prosper. Maybe, though, escaping them from time to time is a refreshing, healthy and necessary way to remind ourselves what truer freedom feels like.