Jono and I travel a lot, and we spend a lot of time in the KLM lounge at Schiphol airport. In August of ’22, I spotted a mouse and ever since I have been watching him scurry around the lounge. I’ve named him Oliver and this is his story.
The story of Oliver
Once upon a time, in the bustling heart of the Schiphol International Airport, lived a small, curious mouse named Oliver. Unlike his brethren who were content with scavenging for crumbs, Oliver had a thirst for knowledge and a fascination with the human world. He set about making the KLM airport lounge, a place teeming with diverse people from all corners of the globe, his new home.
Oliver had a unique routine within the KLM lounge. He would wait until the lounge was quiet, usually in the wee hours of the morning, and then he would scurry out from his tiny hole in the wall. Approaching a lone traveler, often someone waiting for a late night flight, and would sit quietly by their side.
Oliver had a knack for choosing those who needed company, and they would often start talking to him, perhaps out of loneliness or the surrealism of the moment. Oliver would squeak in response, a sound that, to the weary traveler, seemed almost like a question. And so, they would answer.
Oliver had many questions that he would ‘ask’, each one based on the destination written on the traveler’s boarding pass. He would squeak once for “Why are you going there?” and twice for “What are you looking forward to?”
The rhythm and pattern of his squeaks would change for each question, and the travelers, caught up in the magic of the moment, would respond earnestly.
He would squeak thrice for “What will you miss about home?” and four times for “What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get there?” His fifth question, signaled by a series of rapid squeaks, was “Who will you meet there?”
Richard the businessman
One evening, Oliver found a businessman traveling to Tokyo. He was a middle-aged man named Richard. When Oliver squeaked his questions, Richard chuckled and began to speak. “I’m going for a business meeting, little buddy,” he said, his voice carrying a hint of pride and apprehension. “I’m meeting our company’s CEO for the first time. It’s a big deal, you know.”
Richard was always impeccably dressed, even for a late night flight. That night, he wore a crisp white shirt, a navy-blue blazer, and matching trousers. A silk tie with a subtle geometric pattern that added a touch of elegance. His shoes were polished to a shine, reflecting the lounge’s dim lights.
In his hand, he held a well-worn leather wallet, from which he had pulled out his boarding pass. As he spoke to Oliver, he absentmindedly flipped to a small photo attached inside the wallet. It was a picture of a woman and two young kids, all smiling brightly. And in the corner of the photo, a golden retriever was trying to wriggle into the frame. This was the family Richard was going to miss while he was away in Tokyo.
He paused, his gaze drifting to the photo in his wallet. “But what I’m really looking forward to is trying authentic sushi. I’ve heard it’s nothing like what we get back home.” Richard’s eyes twinkled with a mix of amusement and longing at the thought.
Adventures in Tokyo
“The first thing I’ll do when I get there?” He pondered for a moment before breaking into a grin. “Probably sleep off the jet lag! But once I’m rested, I plan to explore the city a bit. Maybe visit the Tsukiji Outer Market for that sushi. I’ve heard it’s a must-visit.”
As he spoke about the people he would meet, his expression turned serious. “I’ll also be meeting some of our key clients and partners. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, to be honest. But it’s also an opportunity to build relationships and understand their culture better.”
Richard’s answers painted a picture of a man who was not just a businessman, but also a family man and a food enthusiast. His journey was not just about work, but also about exploring a new culture, trying new experiences, and making the most of his time away from home.
And so, Oliver squeaked his thanks to Richard for sharing his answers and letting him know a bit more about his travels. Oliver jumped off the bench and scurried off to find the next interesting looking person.
Lily the long-distance lover
Oliver found a young woman on her way to Paris was named Lily. She was in her late twenties, with a nervous smile and sparkling eyes. “I’m going to propose to my boyfriend,” she confessed to Oliver, her voice barely above a whisper. “He moved to Paris for work last year, and I’ve decided to join him. Permanently, I hope.” She laughed nervously, her green eyes sparkling with a mix of joy and anxiety. “I’m looking forward to seeing his face when I ask. I’ve been planning this for months, you know.”
In her hands, she held her boarding pass tightly, as if it were the key to a new chapter in her life. Tucked into a hidden cutout of the pages of a book she carried was a small velvet box, holding the ring she planned to propose with. Occasionally, she would open the book and steal a glance at the box, her face lighting up with a mix of joy and nervous anticipation.
“I’m looking forward to seeing his face when I ask. But I’m also scared about meeting his family. They’re very traditional, you see.” She sighed, “And they don’t speak much English. I’ve been learning French, but I’m worried it won’t be enough.”
Her face softened as she continued, “I’ll miss my friends back home. And my mom’s cooking. She makes the best lasagna. I’ve tried to replicate it, but it’s never quite the same.” She chuckled, a hint of homesickness in her voice.
Adventures in Paris
“The first thing I’ll do when I get there?” She pondered for a moment, her fingers tracing the edges of her boarding pass. “Find the perfect spot near the Eiffel Tower to propose, I guess. And maybe try a real French croissant. I’ve heard they’re spectacular.”
As she spoke to Oliver, her hands would animate her stories, moving with a rhythm that matched her words. And every so often, she would reach out to gently stroke Oliver’s head, a gesture that spoke volumes about her kind and gentle nature. Oliver enjoyed talking to Lily and squeaked some words of encouragement and good luck.
As it was getting late, Oliver knew he needed to talk to one more traveler. But whom to pick? He had never spoken to a family before, and maybe tonight was the night!
The Johnson family
Oliver chanced upon a family headed to Orlando, the Johnsons – Tom and Eric, and their two adopted children, Billy and Sarah. They were brimming with eagerness.
“We’re going to Disney World!” Billy cried out, his eyes as big as saucers with anticipation. “I can’t wait to meet Mickey Mouse! I’ve heard he’s really friendly. Do you think he’ll sign my autograph book, Oliver?” The sound of hope and delight in his voice was infectious.
Sarah joined in the conversation, her voice a gentle, thrilled whisper, “And I want to see the princesses! I would like to see Cinderella and Ariel and Belle! I’ve packed my princess dress. Daddy Tom said I can wear it when we visit the castle. I hope they like it.”
Eric, one of their dads, offered Oliver a smile, his eyes twinkling with the joy of his children. “We’re excited about spending time together as a family. It’s been a tough year, and we need this vacation. The kids have been talking about nothing else for months. I think Billy has planned out every single minute of our time at the park.”
Homesick but exhilarated
Tom, their other dad, chimed in, “But we’ll miss our dog, Buster. He’s too old to travel now. Billy and Sarah have prepared a schedule for him, so he won’t miss us too much. They’ve even included their grandma’s phone number, so he can call us if he gets lonely.” His jest caused a ripple of giggles from Billy and Sarah.
Eric chuckled, “The first thing we’ll do when we get there? Likely collapse in our hotel room! But I suspect the kids will drag us to the park as soon as we’re settled in.”
Billy and Sarah nodded their heads vigorously, their eyes alight with the promise of adventure. “We’ve got to make the most of every minute!” Billy declared, while Sarah chimed in, “We can sleep when we’re back home!”
Their laughter filled the lounge, a testament to their shared anticipation and happiness. And Oliver, with his wide-eyed observation and attentive demeanor, was there to share in their joy, a small but significant part of their journey.
Engaging in conversation with a large group of humans was not as intimidating as Oliver had thought. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he might just do it again!
Fame and fortune
The ‘Interviewer Mouse’ of Schiphol Airport, as Oliver came to be known, was more than just a small creature scurrying around the KLM lounge. He was a listener, a companion, and a tiny beacon of comfort in the often stressful and impersonal environment of an international airport.
Oliver’s interviews were not just about asking questions. They were about providing a space for travelers to share their stories, their hopes, their fears, and their excitement. His squeaks, his attentive gaze, and his gentle demeanor made people feel seen and heard, often at times when they felt most alone.
Word about Oliver spread through the airport and beyond. Travelers began to look forward to meeting him, hoping to share their stories and hear his squeaky questions. Some even started bringing him tiny gifts – a piece of cheese from their sandwich, a small toy from their child’s collection, a tiny blanket to keep him warm. Each gift was a token of appreciation, a thank you for the comfort and companionship Oliver provided.
Airport staff, too, grew fond of Oliver. They would often leave out small bits of food for him, and some even went out of their way to ensure his safety, steering cleaning crews and luggage carts away from his corner of the lounge.
News of the ‘Interviewer Mouse’ reached the media, and soon Oliver’s story was being shared on social media, in newspapers, and on TV. People were touched by the tale of the little mouse who brought a touch of warmth and humanity to the hustle and bustle of the airport.
Despite his newfound fame, Oliver remained the same – a small, curious mouse with a big heart. He continued his interviews, squeaking his questions and listening to the answers with rapt attention. And in doing so, he reminded everyone he met of the joy of shared stories, the comfort of being heard, and the magic of unexpected friendships.