Edinburgh Airport without a pen

I had no pen.

I scratched my head and looked around the stark, strip-light glow of the departure lounge. The fluorescent bulbs hummed in the background. My rucksack bit a bit into my shoulder. My clothes had that awkward discomfort that you get in anticipation of flying. I don't know what it is, but if you've flown - ever - you know what I mean.

Duty Free offered a whisky tasting and I accepted. A new range from an old distillery - shiny new packaging, aged in all manner of oak - genuine differences wrapped in layer upon layer of marketing bullshit. The modern booze trade to a 'T' as it were. To be fair, the whiskies tasted nice - better than their predecessors. My cheeks felt a quick flush.

I had no pencil.

I handed back the miniscule plastic tasting beaker and wandered past the rest of the shopping area. I couldn't afford anything but asked to see one of the cameras anyway. Eventually there will be money in my account - eventually I will be able to afford it. I handed it back with a smile to a bored sales assistant who didn't deserve it.

My notebooks sat in my rucksack, but no pen, no pencil, not even a stubby one, sharpened to the eraser.

The mutter of footsteps and quiet chatter, BBC News 24 on the widescreens scattered throughout the terminal, everything sat subdued in the boredom of waiting. It was a perfect time and place to scribble.

I didn't have a pen. I had my notebooks, but no pen. My laptop was in the shop. I couldn't write.

It was an odd feeling. It started as a slight discomfort. I flexed my fingers and thought of all the things I wasn't writing down. Ideas arrived from nowhere and I tried to etch them into my brain. It didn't work, so I popped into the newsagents to buy a book and some pens. I needed to write. I wanted to read, too.

Nothing moves at pace in airports. Everyone's flight is delayed, and so they wander. They shuffle along the linoleum tiles, bored, uninterested that they're going somewhere. The queue in the newsagents shuffled, uninterested. Their eyes wandered, their hands clutching bottled water, sweets, vapid magazines.

I found a book, but no pens. That couldn't be right. An entire shelf of puzzle books, crosswords, sudoku and mad-libs, but no pens? I looked again. Fat Crayola magic markers? Yes. A simple biro? No. My turn at the register.

'Just the book, sir?'

'Do you have any pens?'

'Hey, Kenny, do we have any pens?'

'Uh... dinnae ken... no. Nae pens.'

'Just the book, please.'

No pens.

My new book and I walked by our gate and to the coffee shop. The smallness of Scotland struck me as I recognised at least 4 of the people sitting at the gate. Not friends, or even acquaintances, but faces seen in passing, either on the street or in the paper or some such. An MSP, a Lord - the disturbing familiarity of strangers lingered as I ordered a mocha and a sandwich.

Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux, took me elsewhere as I munched and sipped. This was not the bored, lackadaisical traveler with a muffled shuffle through the airport, staring at a magazine or texting wantonly. His next flight wasn't just another aluminium tube to shuttle him to another bored and antiseptic terminal. He was going somewhere to fall off the face of the world, to leave the texts, the magazines, the email, the New York Times, the world where travel was just another commute, where stepping on a plane was as mundane as stepping on a bus. There may be anguish, discomfort, fear, disease, triumph and all manner of surprise in store, but there wouldn't be boredom, nothing would be same-old.

Notebooks, no pen.

Ten pages in, my sandwich and mocha finished, I looked around the airport. I needed to write, to do, to go somewhere, and not to Heathrow. Where else? Nineteen departure gates to choose from - surely one of them would have some preferable destination, somewhere far from the comfort zone and familiarity of Britain or even Europe? A glance at the departure board would quickly answer my question, so I didn't look at it. It was time to explore, even somewhere as boring Edinburgh airport warranted a bit of exploration.

I went to the far gates: 17-20. Southampton & Exeter, the other gates closed. Both lovely in their own way, but well within the comfort zone. Still, there was another newsagent. And they sold pens. I bought a couple and headed back towards the main terminal. The connecting walk had a skywalk (or whatever they call what are just flat escalators) and gorgeous panoramic photos of Edinburgh punctuated by grand quotes by the great and good, extolling the city's virtues. I ignored the flat escalator and strolled along, still inspired.

I had pens.

The international departure gates lay in darkness, all closed. Only then did I look at the boards, seeking some flight elsewhere. There were none. The remaining flights were all shuttles, commuter flights to the main hubs around the island. Even the last Belfast flight had gone. The flights for the next morning were posted - several to the continent, Paris, Munich, Madrid... the only one that interested me was Stornaway. Still Scotland, but remote, isolated, surrounded by sea and wilderness.

I shrugged and walked back to my departure gate. I couldn't have changed flights anyway, not these days, not checked in and through security. Even if I could have, like the camera, I couldn't afford it. But it was nice, for twenty minutes or so, to look. To question where I would go, and what I'd do when I got there. To not mundanely text, to not play solitaire on my iPod, to not stare at the other bored passengers-to-be, but search instead for something else, something different.

Back in the departure gate I saw an old friend and his new girlfriend. Familiar reintroduction and pleasant, staid chat commenced. It was nice, comfortable.

But throughout my thoughts drifted, turning back to my pocket, to my new book, my new pens, and where I could go.