MEXICO CITY – Hiroshi Nohara is on a layover at the Mexico City airport. It has lasted almost three months, and he has no plans to leave.
For reasons he can't explain, the Japanese man has been in Terminal 1 of the Benito Juarez International Airport since Sept. 2, surviving off donations from fast-food restaurants and passengers and sleeping in a chair.
At first, he frightened passengers, and airport authorities asked the Japanese Embassy to investigate why the foul-smelling man refused to leave. Now, he's somewhat of a celebrity, capturing Mexico's collective imagination with nearly daily television news reports on his life at the food court.
Tourists stop to pose with him for photographs or get an autograph.
The Tokyo native flew into Mexico with a tourist visa and a return ticket home, but he never left the airport. In an interview Thursday alongside the airport McDonald's, he said he had no motive for his extended stay and doesn't know how much longer he'll remain.
"I don't understand why I'm here," he said through a visiting interpreter originally hired by a television station. "I don't have a reason."
The embassy can't force him to leave, and since Nohara's visa is valid all Mexican officials can do it wait for it to expire in early March.
During his stay, Nohara's wiry goatee has grown into a scraggly mass. His red-tinted hair is speckled with dust and dandruff, and his cream-colored jacket and fleece blanket are dingy with overuse. He smells like he hasn't had a shower in months.
"He's a calm person, a nice man," said Silvia Navarrete del Toro, an airport janitor. "He just sits here and eats all day."
Various stalls in the food court give Nohara free snacks and drinks, sometimes even throwing in hats or coffee mugs with store logos to get free publicity during his frequent television appearances.
Strangers often buy him pastries or hamburgers; he prefers the latter.
He sits with the interpreter, talking and laughing for hours, at a small table covered with cups of cold coffee, packets of ketchup and sandwiches wrapped in foil.
Stroking his facial hair, Nohara said the 2004 film "The Terminal," starring Tom Hanks as an Eastern European man stuck in a New York City airport, was not his inspiration. But he acknowledged the similarities.
"My life," he joked, "is 'The Terminal 2."'