There are no plants in Terminal E of Sheremetyevo International Airport.
The sqeaky clean large-tiled grey and white floor mirrors the grey, white and luminescent squares on the ceiling. Everything is clean, cold and quiet. The travelers drip through passport control and somehow are silenced. Not that the official personnel checking your documents does anything to inspire relaxation and serenity: the queue ahead of you shortens as people are in seemingly equal measure let through or sent to a waiting area while they “checking something”. You start to worry. Is your passport good enough for them? Does it look real? Will it pass the test? They do not smile, they do not thank you, they do not wish you a nice day. If they understand or speak English, they are not in the mood to share that information with you. By some lucky chance you get through and, mumbling a tight-lipped and submissive “spasiba“, you pass through security then tiptoe down the corridor. Toward three small shops selling souvenirs with price tags in rubles and descriptions in Russian; toward two Burger Kings that uncharacteristically exude no smell; toward an imitation Starbucks and a heavily publicized Carlsberg bar. You stop underneath a screen that’s showing departures: the times is wrong (very, very wrong). You briefly consider letting someone know, but then quickly decide against it and move to the next screen, whose times are right but you notice that one third of the flights are late and one third cancelled. Starting to worry, you sit under the screen and look around nervously.
A small group of Asians is sitting, legs dangling over their handbags, talking quietly and laughing in whispers, are eating raw hotdogs directly from the package. A young girl, maybe Russian, is perched on one of the plastic seats near you: her black cropped hair is so perfect you wonder if it’s a wig; her blue eyes are shockingly serious as she tilts her head in different directions trying to obtain the perfect photo for who knows which social network. You briefly consider asking her if she wants you to take the photo, but then quickly decide against it. The music her device plays seeps through her eardrums – it’s a cacophony of thuds and squeaks that you are grateful for dying away as she gets up and leaves for no apparent reason in no apparent hurry.
Hearing something you turn your head and see a strange procession heading your way: two stocky females with swollen overcoats, skin-tight trousers and impossibly high heels are laden each with three bulging rucksacks. Their makeup is flawless, their black hair flapping in annoyance at their fast pace. A tiny, impish child is straddled over its mother’s hips and sits comfortably on one of the rucksacks looking back at three young children, quite a way back, who are advancing at a toddler’s pace, seemingly deaf to their mothers’ shrill shouting in their direction. Overly dressed, these three toddlers are ambling slowly, turning their full-moon faces to this side and that in an attempt to see everything they can with their spherical jet-black eyes half-covered by typical epicanthic folds. Their arms are held wide and their mouths are open – unlike their mothers they utter no sound and the tallest girl drops her gaze when she meets yours. Direct descendants of Genghis Khan, the caravan of Mongolians proceeds, passing you and continuing their journey toward Gate 36, destination Ulan Bator.
It’s time to go to your gate. You pick up your things are quietly as possible and start walking. On the way a short white-haired man stops you and emits a fountain of hushed Russian (I suspect Russian, but it could have been lots of other similar languages) sentences, pointing various times in a general direction to your left. You try to stop him then, not succeeding, wait until her reaches a question and say you don’t speak Russian, you’re sorry. In English. This however does not work for him as he insists in repeating (or adding?) the information and only when, after mumbling more or less the same thing various times, you physically walk away does he stop and look for some other unsuspecting traveler. Arriving at your gate five minutes after boarding should have started you see people sitting, standing and lying on the ground around the desk and go confidently up to the two hostesses behind it. You smile, say hello, are answered with a stare and ask if the flight is late. Not smiling on of them answers “on time” and goes back to stacking paper. You insist, asking again why you’re not boarding, and you only get an even less polite “on time”, this time without eye contact. You retreat, leaning on the handrail in front of the desk and a young girl beside you smiles and says “I tried that ten minutes ago. I don’t think they can say anything else in English”. You smile, and the two hours in Sheremetyevo International Airport come to an end.