I know that at one point, I’m going to break down and cry. I just don’t know when.
Years of airport goodbyes allowed me to master the art of holding back tears. I never let anyone, especially not my family, take me to the airport. I made the mistake once—never again. It’s just too hard. Everyone is in tears and you still have to board the goddamn plane.
I usually manage to hold back tears until I’m out of sight. I have tricks. For instance, I pretend it’s not happening. Complete denial works well, I just do things in autopilot move—getting dressed, packing my backpack, etc. I also never look back because I know that if I do, I’ll start sobbing uncontrollably.
This time, not a single tear was shed in Nantes. I saved the weeping for the flight.
After five weeks in France, it was time to go. We packed, ran to the pharmacy to buy cough syrup because Feng had caught a cold (at least, this time he didn’t fly half blind!), had a civilized breakfast and jumped into a taxi. The driver was the chatty kind and it provided a welcome distraction. We talked about his upcoming trip to Iran, his home. I had to concentrate to understand his heavily-accented French.
Once at Nantes’ airport, I turn into the “efficient traveler” mode.
We joined the huge lineup zigzagging in front of the check-in counter. Our Montreal-bound flight was the only long-haul scheduled and it seemed that the airport couldn’t handle 365 passengers and their mountain of suitcases piled up in carts.
I started to feel tearful after we got the boarding pass, so I chose to be French, one last time and I started to bitch about everything. I complained about the lack of seats (the waiting room was ridiculously small for over 300 passengers), the lack of amenities (only vending machines available) and the lack of accessibility (there were stairs and no elevators).
Right before boarding, I met a new immigrant to Canada. He had sent me an email a few weeks earlier after finding this blog. He was from Nantes as well and about to move to Ottawa with his family. We quickly discovered we were on the same Montreal-bound flight—what were the chances! He spotted me at the gate and came to say hi. He looked as nervous as I was but probably for different reasons.
Once everyone was on board, we were told the flight would be much longer than expected because of a technical problem. We weren’t going to take the scheduled route—straight through the Atlantic Ocean—we will take a detour though Greenland. Bottom line was, the six-hour flight would be a 8:30 hour-long flight. I sighed, not the least worried by the technical issue but bummed about the detour. On the positive side, the plane was a newer and better version than the one we had on the way there. We had more legroom and a personal entertainment system—not that Mark would let me watch movies in peace, but still.
We took off late. For the first hour or so, it looked like it was going to be a peaceful trip. I started watching a movie and Mark fell asleep on me.
He woke up less than an hour later. I handed him to Feng and walked to the bathroom. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror—I wasn’t about to win a beauty contest with the dark circles around my eyes.
I walked back in my seat, took a deep breath and started sobbing. There was nothing else to do. Good thing we were seating at the back by the engine—it muffled the sound.
Like smoking in the lavatory, crying on board should be banned. I mean, you are trapped. You can’t exactly excuse yourself, grab a smoke or a coffee or get some fresh air.
I tried to focus on the movie—a silly French comedy—but Mark kept on pulling the headphones out and touching the screen.
The meal was a welcome distraction. Feng and I took turn eating our fried rice (and selfishly didn’t share with Mark—eh, he had his milk bottle!).
I turned my screen off but I could see the sky map on Feng’s. Six hours to go. Five hours and fifty minutes. Five hours and forty minutes.
I was tired of wrestling with Mark and I had ran out of distraction techniques so I cried some more. Kept my skin hydrated.
Time seems to stand still when you are in a plane. You think you’re wide awake but you doze on and off. You think it’s never going to end but it does, somehow. At one point, we were given the worst-looking pizza ever and the flight attendant announced we would be landing shortly. “Shortly” still meant an hour but still, it was something to look forward to. I turned the screen back on and counted the minutes on the sky map.
We landed, some people clapped (I guess you kind of appreciate when your plane isn’t missing or shot down these days) and we rushed to the shuttle that took us to the gate. We used the self-service kiosk to complete the new Automated Border Clearance, thus skipping the long lineup and the interview with a CBSA agent.
We let Mark run around a bit—at this point, he hadn’t slept in over 14 hours! — and boarded the 6:25 p.m. Greyhound bus to Ottawa. It was full and Feng and I couldn’t sit together. I took Mark on my laps, once again.
Just as I was about to turn my Kindle on, I heard someone calling my name. “Franck?” Two rows in front of me, an old friend was sitting by the window. Franck is French as well, we met in Ottawa when I was teaching French in 2005. He has since moved to Mexico to open his own language school but we are still in touch.
Turned out that we were in the same Nantes-Montreal flight—he had been visiting his parents his France as well, and he was stopping by in Ottawa before flying back to Mexico. We caught up during the two-hour trip—an unexpected surprise, but a very good one.
Finally, we made it to Ottawa. Now, there are bills to open, work to do and laundry to wash.
It should keep me busy.