“Juliette… Il est cinq heures moins cinq, chérie.”
It’s the first time in months that I don’t wake up to the sound of Mark’s voice—whining, playing, talking to himself or calling us. I jerk awake, slightly disoriented.
Oh, right. The moment has come.
We are leaving.
I must have fallen asleep around 3 a.m.—definitely not enough shut-eye time. Whatever. There is no way to ease these early-morning departures; I didn’t even try to get a full night’s sleep. What do I need to be rested and alert for, anyway? Feng and I have been through these before-sunrise departures a hundred of times before. When did it happen last… let me see… oh yeah, that early flight from Santiago, Chile, to Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, last winter. Again, we hadn’t slept much. But we made it, right? It’s the result that matters, I’m telling you. Not remembering how you made it? Meh. Irrelevant. Yes, even with a child in tow.
We aren’t new to the game.
We packed the night before so we just have to put clothes on and get Mark ready. Socks, jeans, t-shirt. I brush my teeth, clean my face, run my fingers through my hair. Good enough. I’m aiming for “not a bum/kind of look like her passport picture”, not entering a beauty contest.
Which reminds me to double check for passports and wallet—these are the most important items.
Mark sounds alert, which doesn’t mean he is. Kids are weird.
5:10 a.m. I’m standing by the door. “Come on guys, go, go!”
My dad is getting dressed.
“Non, non, papa. We’re good.”
He protests but I don’t want him to walk us to the tramway station.
I have my reasons. First, it’s early and he doesn’t need to go through all the trouble. Feng and I are backpackers and we carry just that—backpacks. We don’t need help, really.
Second, and most importantly, I want to avoid saying goodbye. I can’t stand it. It’s painful, too painful, and if I stop moving and snap out of “action” mode, I’m going to start crying.
And I won’t be able to stop.
There is only one way to leave—quick.
I don’t hug, I don’t say much. Let’s pretend we are all asleep, let’s reinforce the “shit, we need to hurry up” feeling.
“Bye!” I say, closing the door behind us.
We run downstairs, put Mark in the stroller, open the door and step into the empty street.
I know my mum is behind the window, upstairs, on the second floor, watching us leave. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry. I’m pretty sure she is crying.
I can’t cry now. I need to focus.
Crying won’t help, anyway.
I walk as fast as I can, pushing the stroller to the tramway station.
There is no right way to say goodbye. It’s like taking a bandage off, you have to rip it off fast and hope for the best.
It heals eventually.
I’ve been leaving people and places for a long time now. I should know.
5:25 a.m. The 5:30 a.m. tramway should arrive soon. I hope so, anyway, because Plan B would be to walk to the station.
The tramway arrives. Phew. Three stops. Mark insists to sit by the window. I’d rather him to stay in the stroller but I won’t win the fight.
Nantes’ train station is busier than you’d think on a Tuesday at 6:00 a.m. We are on the Nantes – Lilles train, with stops in Angers Saint-Lô (no, it’s not pronounced “Anger”), Le Mans and Roissy – Charles-de-Gaulle. A three-hour long trip and only the first leg of the journey for us.
I see the sunrise, I hear other passengers, I cringe every time the train manager makes announcements in French and in bad English, and finally we arrive. I think I was deep asleep between Le Mans and Roissy and I’m sore—I rested my head on my bag, not exactly an ergonomic position to finish the night (or start the day).
The TGV station is packed and we slowly make our way to Terminal 2A, tripping over people’s suitcases. The Air Canada check-in counter has just opened and the lineup is long. In front of us, an argument starts between a passenger (country unknown, but he spoke French and held an olive green passport) and an airport employee checking travel documents.
“You’re skipping the line!”
“I did not. My friend queued while I was buying a ticket!”
“I’ve been standing here since 9:30 a.m. I didn’t see you.”
“How can you prove it?”
“Passport and tickets. How long will you be in Canada for?”
“This is none of your business.”
“That’s it! I’m calling a supervisor. Sir, we have to ask these questions.”
“You’re not the police.”
“You have to answer my questions.”
“If you make me miss my flight, I’ll sue.”
People on the edge at the airport. It’s packed, soldiers with machine guns patrol the terminals and between luggage, carts and people you can’t move without bumping into something or someone.
I see the passenger’s point, I understand the airline employee. I just hope he won’t be in front of us for passport control in Toronto because this kind of attitude won’t fly in North America. Plus, I can’t help wondering what kind of person buys a plane ticket at the airport, especially when he already has a visa for Canada.
None of my business. The lineup is finally moving and we get the boarding passes.
We take a breather outside and we go through security, managing to sneak in a bottle of juice for Mark.
The terrorists have won.
Oh, and I had lighters in my bag as well.
I thought we would be stuck at the gate for a while but it’s almost time to board. We buy Mark a last overpriced ham-and-cheese sandwich, bribe him with Sprite like any other good parent would have done and we step into the aircraft just to realize that 1) it’s a fairly small plane for a transatlantic flight 2) we aren’t seated together.
We aren’t the only parents traveling with kids who have different seats. As tempting as it is to leave perfect strangers to deal with the brats, we team up to figure out how to make it work.
“The flight is oversold,” the stewardess complains. “I’m tired of dealing with ticketing issue. There is no guarantee that members of a same family can sit together.”
Oh yeah? How about figuring out a way to sit families of three in the row of three seats, and couples in the row of two seats?
We finally all take seats that weren’t the ones assigned and sigh loudly.
The movie selection sucks, it’s an old aircraft and my entertainment system lags. First-world problem, I know. Mark has the tablet and watches Despicable Me (his new favourite movie since we took him to see Minions in France) but he falls asleep just when his meal is brought. Feng and I eye it. Chicken and potatoes, salad (just lettuce, I really can’t see why this is part of a kid’s meal), three packs of ketchup and a cookie.
Feng steals the cookie.
Food with Air Canada is invariably “pasta” or “chicken”. I made the mistake of choosing “pasta” on the way to France and I ended up with soggy macaroni covered half in white sauce half in tomato sauce. This time, I pick “chicken” and promptly hand my two-inch big piece of meat over to Feng, therefore eating carrots and broccoli. I also give him my cookie but I eat the bread.
We finally land in Toronto eight hours later. I know that most people dislike their national airline company but I can’t help thinking Air Canada is barely average. Old aircraft, flights that are often delayed or oversold, unhelpful employees… oh, and on a Paris-Toronto flight, apparently, no employee spoke French. Go figure.
3 p.m. local time. Our flight to Ottawa is at 4:10 p.m. Can we make it or should we add it to the long list of “Canadian domestic flights we missed”?
We rush and we make it, only to realize that, once again, we aren’t seated together.
Air Canada really doesn’t want parents to parent.
I give up on moving people around for our convenience and Mark sits with Feng. I need to get ready for Ottawa, whatever that means.
A six-week long break.