Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–73) was an Austrian poet, dramatist and novelist, and a leading voice in post-war German literature. Her novel Malina and the story collections The Thirtieth Year and Three Paths to the Lake are published by Holmes & Meier



In every airport you can hear dainty melodies coming from musical boxes, and cuckoo clocks, and the broken sounds of the mechanical carousels whose tiny figures go round in jerky circles, out of time with the music. In every airport you find a bazaar selling eccentric scarves, earrings with dangling elephants, and brooches carved in the shape of the Buddha; that's something you only notice when you have seen several airports and spent a lot of time in departure lounges. But the song of the musical box gets into a person's head immediately. It accompanies a passenger as he walks across the airfield to board his plane, and a similar melody meets him when he leaves the Clipper at the next airport, making him think he has kept the first one in his head the whole time.

The first time I was going to fly I left all my friends at home, although I would have liked to wave to them. It was a morning on the kind of day where you notice every little detail. I made my way to the terrace of the terminal building and picked out a snow-white aeroplane, with freshly laundered wings and red markings, and I wouldn't have wanted to swap it for any other plane. The air was the colour of champagne, and the sound of the night's cork popping still hung in the silence. I ran my hand through the sparkling mass and if only the plane hadn't been standing so far away I would have gladly sprinkled some on her and given her a name.

Airports are located outside of cities, where there is plenty of air, where the wind always blows and nobody gets in the way. They are the knots in a transport network that never comes into contact with the world. Of all the people who bring airports to life, a goodly number are the crew; you can find out everything there is to know about them in reference books. Because you will never come into contact with the gallant pilots, the dependable co-pilots, air traffic controllers and customs officers, while the pretty stewardesses are famed for their reserve. The majority of the passengers in the airport are for their part the quietest and most patient travellers there has ever been. Yet still they are addressed in numerous languages, and not one lets it be known that he has read the flight schedules and worked out the departure time.

I too was quiet in my own way, and my patience was no accident. I wasn't carrying any baggage by the time the loudspeaker informed me that the two ladies standing next to me at the bar, who had just ordered Martinis, were the Misses Carter and Herman. They were called to customs, and went immediately. No one drank the Martinis. The barman surreptitiously put them under the counter; later he poured the drink back into the bottle. I next came across the two ladies when I was sitting in the plane with my seatbelt on. They had found seats behind me, and buried their heads in glossy magazines, looking entirely incapable of any misdemeanour.

Continues in issue 19. Order now.

Translated by Lyn Marven



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