I feel pleasantly numb and it makes me smile. My evil plan worked—a four-hour night’s sleep to disconnect from reality for most of the following day. Take that, stupid brain!
The Nantes to Montreal trip is straightforward, I can do it in my sleep.
Actually, I’m hoping to sleep for most of the flight. It’s part of the plan, you see.
Emotionally, it’s not that easy to leave.
“Is that yours?”
“No, it’s mom’s charger.”
“Tweezers. Mom’s as well. And before you ask, this is an epilator and it stays here because I bought it in France and this kind of appliance doesn’t run on 110 volts unless you want each hair to be plucked out very slowly—and yes, I tried.”
My mom left for work at 7 a.m. My dad is supervising our final packing efforts. He’s allowed around us because 1) he’s not a morning person and he is as sleepy as us 2) he doesn’t cry 3) he thinks he masters packing because like most men his age, he did the one-year compulsory French military service in his twenties.
“Cool, you left a few cans of Coke!”
Mark and Feng rush downstairs. I follow them without looking back and I make sure to stay focused on a book I’m not actually reading during the thirty-minute bus ride to the airport.
I have practice, you see.
There’s a long queue to go through security. It’s everything I hate—slow and full of people saying goodbye. The couple in front of me and their two kids can’t let go of the grandparents. “Au revoir papi au revoir mamie!” The goodbyes are never final because every few metres, as the queue moves, the grandparents wave goodbye again. “Au revoir papi au revoir mamie!” The little girl, who is maybe three years old, manages to wrap the loose strap of her dad’s backpack of around her neck. “Non non non,” I say. “C’est dangereux!” The mom thanks me. “My parents are banned from the airport,” I joke. She nods. She looks stoic enough until she no longer is and I look away because I know she is about to cry and I will too.
Passengers are a weird mix of French retirees with their Guide du routard and big winter jackets (apparently, the guidebook forgot to mention it’s unlikely to snow yet), binational families (the French half is the one crying) and students. I think about Isa who is coming back to Canada this fall, I think about all the immigrants who moved across the ocean for better opportunities, for love or just because and I feel completely overwhelmed by the thought of so many souls away from home or looking for a new one.
I briefly remember how excited I used to be when I was flying to Canada, back when I was travelling to France alone and leaving Nantes meant going to see Feng.
There’s an even longer queue to go through passport control and by the time we make it to the gate, boarding is well underway.
Retirees sitting too close to young kids are sighing loudly, kids are complaining because the entertainment system isn’t on yet and parents are trying to fit booze and cigarettes—French souvenirs or personal stash for the months to come—in the overhead bins.
I close my eyes and I listen to the flight attendant giving the safety briefing to each family with a baby. Child must be held in arms, bottles can be warmed up at the back, there’s a change table in this bathroom… Parents look either freaked out either blasé depending on the number of trips they have under their belt.
We haven’t taken off by the time we were supposed to and the flight will be longer than planned because of a storm.
I close my eyes and fall asleep.
When I wake up, food is being served and Air Transat ran out of the only acceptable option—pasta—by the time the flight attendants get to us. Mark isn’t very happy with chicken curry, neither is Feng. I butter a tiny piece of bread for Mark.
Fuck. I wanted pasta too.
Kids are insensitive little bastards. Well, maybe not yours, but mine definitely is. “I can’t wait to fly to Canada,” he’s been saying for the past few days, as if he was held hostage. “I’m going to Canada!” he tells my parents who stoically listen to him listing the perks of the Great White North—mostly specific toys he has and the fact people conveniently speak English.
With his red “Canada” hoodie, he looks like a tourism ad.
I tell myself he had a good time in France, he just doesn’t understand that we can’t pop over for the weekend when he will eventually miss something or someone. After all, Mark is more Canadian than Feng or I, Canada is his home. And he’s mostly happy to go back to Canada because it means watching movies in the plane.
“And I can’t wait to see Yéye and năinai!”
Never mind the rationale I’ve just developed, most of the time, I just want to slap him.
Yeah, I can’t wait to see my in-laws as well. You bet. Oh, they will be here, waiting for us at the Greyhound station, exactly where they reluctantly dropped us off six weeks ago. I wonder what the blame du jour will be—mark is too tan, mark isn’t fluent in French, mark isn’t appropriately dressed, mark looks tired… take your pick.
The Montreal airport-Ottawa Greyhound bus is thirty minutes late. Feng is leaning on the cart and falling asleep, Mark is goofing around because he’s overtired—obviously, watching movies was more important than sleeping…—and I’m smoking the cigarettes I couldn’t smoke for the past ten hours. I don’t get bad looks because this is Quebec, the smoking section of Canada.
The bus fills up fast and the last few passengers are told to take the next one. We have seats. We have experience securing seats in a packed bus.
It’s cold inside. I do the motherly thing and put a blanket on Mark, then I do the sensible thing and ask him to put his head on my lap to sleep. It’s not just love, he also keeps me warm.
Although he weighs a ton now. Ouch, my bladder.
The sun is setting by the time we finally exit Montreal after being stuck in the traffic for an hour.
I mentally reframe the evening. It’s going to be late. Shower for Mark, then bedtime… fuck, what are we going to eat? I heard Feng begging his parents not to fill the fridge, they always buy weird stuff we don’t eat. What time does the supermarket close? Right, 11 p.m. Can I make it on time? Probably. Do I want to go grocery shopping? Probably not.
The bus is speeding up on the highway. The scenery feels familiar. It should. I’m going home, don’t I?
Why doesn’t it feel like home?
Can I have several homes?