Now that increased security at airports has changed the nature of airport life, it follows as night follows day that it will also change the nature of airport novels. I am proud to bring you today the first piece of post-11 August fiction, hastily entitled New Fiction for Today's Airports, though I hope to think of a snappier title before I finish.
The scene was one of London's major airports, though for security reasons I cannot tell you which one. The crowds had been milling around for days, first patient and resigned. Then angry and resentful. Then patient and resigned again. Finally, totally knackered. Rumours went around the airport. That all reading glasses would be confiscated. That you could not get on a plane wearing a wristwatch. That all buttons would have to be removed from clothing... There were two men sitting side by side on a bench. You might think they were lucky to have a bench. Not so, they had brought it with them. Experienced travellers.
"Seen anything?" muttered one.
"Nothing," said the other.
They looked around the concourse. Not far away there was a bunch of Sikhs huddling close together. One of them was carrying a big placard aloft. It said: "WE ARE NOT MUSLIMS - WE ARE SIKHS". Not far from them there was a group of Muslims looking at them very indignantly indeed. One of them had just improvised a placard saying: "DON'T BE FOOLED - IT WAS A SIKH THAT MURDERED MRS GANDHI!"
"What are we looking for?" said one.
"Something suspicious," said the other. "Like, someone carrying duty-free who hasn't got to the duty-free yet."
"I'm not with you."
"They told us. Beware people carrying fluid. People who have duty-free who haven't been to the duty-free must have brought it with them. That's suspicious."
Both men had met for the first time at a top-secret meeting two days before, where they had been addressed by a man so top secret even I don't know his real name.
"Gentlemen, and ladies, if there are any," he had said. "We have unveiled a huge plot to blow up lots of planes over the Atlantic. I won't go into detail, in case any of you are undercover terrorist spies. But it is no secret that the level of security has reached the top level, the critical level. Do you know what that means?"
"Yes," said one of the men on the bench. "It means the airports are going to be full of angry, distressed and tired people who have missed their flights."
"Exactly," said the top secret man. "And that means the terrorists, who have been thwarted and foiled, and are also angry, distressed and tired, are going to look for another target. Any idea what that target will be?"
"Yes," said the other man who was soon to be on that bench together with the other man, "they will target all those cross, distressed hordes of people milling around our airports."
"Precisely," said the top secret man. "There is every reason to suppose that even now the terrorists are planning an atrocity by bombing the crowds we have created with our extra security. Ironic, isn't it, that our attempts to protect our citizenry may have actually endangered them?"
"Ah," said the first man on the bench, "but was it not Dr Johnson who said that every plan to protect the citizen contained the seed of the next threat to him?"
"No," said the top secret man, "it was J Stuart Mill."
"Fair enough," said the man who we first saw sitting on the bench, a scene to which we now return. The Sikhs and Muslims were now happily mingling, holding placards saying: "AT LEAST WE ARE NOT HINDUS". Isn't multiculturalism a wonderful thing?
Then the man on the bench saw it.
"Look," he murmured urgently. "Look over there. Talk about suspicious! Just take a look at that woman with the..."
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