At Kiev-Boryspil International Airport, four long lines separate the street from the gates. For all four, I stay closely behind a family of indeterminate nationality for the sole reason that each carries a pretty magenta passport with a lot of words on the front I cannot read. Naturally, I take it upon myself to stave off boredom by trying to deduce the family’s nationality. They are speaking a Slavic language I don’t recognize, and I gather they have the last name Constantino when the father flips open his passport at the first checkpoint. Aside from the passport color, these are the only pieces of evidence I manage to collect before four pushy older Ukrainian women start to cut me in line, one by one, eyes avoiding mine as if they have no clue what they are doing.
For over forty minutes, I had shuffled behind this family of four trying to gather clues as to where they are from, and just as immigration is about to call “game over,” a new game begins. After the Constantino clan, two of the Ukrainiennes are able to dash ahead of me in front of the “please wait here” line while the other two plant themselves next to me, trying to make it look like they were ahead of me all along. One person can occasionally slip under the radar in a long, crowded line. Four loud Slavic women, each trying to pull off their own line-cutting operation and hoping all will pass through is a tactless move. If it were me, I would pretend I was about to miss my plane. Or at least separate from my four friends and work separately. In any heist movie, the robbers have their specific skills and work separately so as not to be detected. Rookie move.
As I see the first woman pass through immigration, waiting on the other side of the glass for her friends, I think about how nothing is stopping me from walking right in the middle of their group, as if I were merely accompanying my Aunt Svetlana to The Big Apple. If the others protest, I can just plead ignorance as they certainly would have done if I complained. But why seek justice from elsewhere when you can take it for yourself?
The air grows tense as the two remaining women eye me from there peripheries, subtly calculating if I’d be too passive not to let them go with their friends. My bespectacled bookishness leads many to believe I am a pushover, the impression I appear to making with these B-list babushkas. As I pretend to flip through my passport, looking for a visa I do not have--and do not need--I catch a glimpse in the mirror behind the immigration agent. I can clearly see his stamping arm (his right), and so I am able to see the exact moment he reaches for the ink pad, like a cowboy reaching into his holster three paces into a duel. His quick draw signifies the end of lady #2's immigration procedure, and the earliest moment that the next traveler can reasonably step forward. Before the woman next to me even knows what is happening, I am already behind her friend, about to slip my passport to the agent with a sly grin. Here, as with the cab drivers out front of the airport, a malicious grin, a shifty grin, and an innocent, jovial grin are indistinguishable. Or just immaterial. From behind, the woman yells at me in Ukrainian, and I lock eyes with her, exuding poise and confidence. I toss her a cool “izvyny,” meaning both “I’m sorry,” and “excuse me.” In this way, I am both admitting guilt and saying “eat my dust,” all in one word. And with that word, she falls silent.
Cutting in line, especially at airports, is not something that bothers me. Travel is a stressful process for a lot of people, and everyone waiting in that immigration line has a deadline, a place to be, a plane to catch. Do not allow the prior anecdote to dissuade you, I am capable of being nice. In fact, whenever someone asks me if they can go ahead, whether to be with their family or because they are in a rush, I am always happy to oblige. Small kindnesses in situations where recompense is incredibly unlikely, I believe, separates us from lesser animals. But when I detect someone trying to get away with something at my expense, for the sole reason that they feel they are entitled to it, I relish the chance to subtly strike back. Turning the other cheek, that is to say the ‘other’ other cheek, sometimes feels embedded in my DNA like some sort of involuntary twitch. The immigration officer has nothing to say, except safe travels. When my passport is stamped, I walk slowly to to departures board, find my gate, and sit down for a half hour studying my languages before my flight begins boarding.
The Belavia plane from Kiev to Minsk is tearing apart at the seams. Literally. Each seat has foam sticking out of it, and my seat has two separate tray tables installed—one in the arm and one in the seat-back facing me. Presumably, this is because each row contains different seats from other planes, screwed into the floor to replace even older, more broken seats.
To make up for what would most certainly scare anyone’s mother, especially my own, the one-hour flight offers coffee, tea, chocolate bars, and mints, all during the fifteen walkable minutes when we are not rapidly ascending or descending. When the plane experiences turbulence, the stoic stewardesses clutch every coffee cup in reach while the mostly soviet-era passengers resume shoving past to get to the bathroom and stretching in the aisles. Wild.
The pilot acts even more blase than the passengers, as he never puts on the ‘no seatbelt’ sign despite the obviously rough skies. Even when the fuselage begins shaking vigorously somewhere over Chernobyl, people are still wandering about the cabin for their few minutes of in-flight freedom. At least a couple of times the plane shifts downward, sending my stomach into a drop-tower lurch, and I struggle to believe this flight was only 75 bucks. The excitement! The catering options! The adventure! In truth, if every flight could be this way, I would enjoy flying much more. What I hate most about flying is the boredom. Why would I want to watch The Revenant for the ninth time, just to kill a few hours? Give me a rogue pilot with limited English skills and a deathwish over a built-in TV screen any day of the week. We land safely.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.