“Is Stone Age a thing?”
“Yes, the Stone Age was very much a thing. Gate 36. Chop-chop!”
“Was it when you were a kid?”
“No. Is this arrow pointing up or down? No, Mark, don’t slow down to decipher this badly drawn pictogram, it was a rhetoric question. Where the fuck is gate… oh, here.”
“So Stone Age was a long time ago?”
I love the way kids pick the most inconvenient time to ask meaningful questions. I mean, we’re going to board in a minute and—
Fuck. Air Transat flight 607 is delayed. What do I remember about the Stone Age?
“It was a long time ago.”
“Were people like us?”
“Yes. They just didn’t know all the things we know now. But at one point, humans realized they could use stones to… ahem, do stuff. Like, make tools. And… well, mostly make tools.”
A lady sitting next to me is eyeing me suspiciously. Lucky as I am, she’s probably a paleontologist and I’m going to say something really stupid in front of her.
“I wonder how my dog is doing,” she eventually mutters.
“My dog. The plane is being delayed and I’m afraid my dog is sitting under the sun…”
I’m not sure how to comfort her—I don’t know much about the Stone Age and dogs.
I wish people would stop asking me questions and let me go cry in the bathroom like a grownup.
“Remember the Fortnite magazine you wanted and that I just bought because I have some change left? Now would be the perfect time to read it.”
So far, it’s a typical trip back to Canada. We got up at 9:30 a.m., got dressed and left 15 minutes later. I believe in the “ripping the bandage off fast” technique—I suck at saying goodbye and I didn’t want my mom to get too emotional. I maxed out my crying quota this summer.
We rushed down the stairs—as much as you can rush when you have an 18-kilo bag on your back and a 5-kilo “front pack”—and crossed the street to go to the bus station.
Nantes was still sleeping. It’s not a morning city and it’s dead quiet until marché time on Sundays.
Yet, we stumbled upon my mamie (my mom’s mother) who just happened to be here.
“I’m going to buy croissants,” she said. “Funny, I was just thinking you would be going to the bus stop around this time…”
I went to say goodbye the night before and I was purposely vague on the airport bus schedule because I wanted to avoid another emotional goodbye. She must have done the math when I corrected papi last night. See, my grandparents always have great travel tips to share even though they’ve never been to an airport.
“Dress warm,” my papi advised. “Not because of… ahem, decency. Just because you might get cold.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not flying in shorts and cropped shirt,” I explained. “I wear jeans and I always take a blanket because it can get cold up there.”
“It must be tiring to keep Mark busy for seven or eight hours…”
“Meh, he mostly watches movies he’s not supposed to be watching.”
“Yes, each seat has its own entertainment system.”
“NO WAY! Okay, and make sure to be here 30 minutes before the flight.”
“Ha! More like three or four hours… but thanks for the tip.”
And that’s probably when mamie did the math and managed to bump into us. Go figure.
So we took the bus to the airport and I managed not to cry as we were leaving Nantes behind.
“Okay, let’s drop off my backpack, then we can hang out a bit in the airport before going through security.”
I love the six-year-old version of Mark. I don’t have to explain what airport security is, he knows what I’m walking about.
“Please, tell your child not to press on the red button.”
“The red button? But… he’s not doing anything!”
“I tell that to every parent,” the Air Transat check-in counter employee explains. “Kids tend to press on it.”
Yeah, obviously they do if you point out there’s a giant red button—purpose unknown—on the left side of the counter.
Mark eats his ham-and-cheese Monoprix sandwich and a Kinder Bueno while I have some vending-machine coffee. The chocolate bar was a bad idea.
“Use your tongue to clean your lips.”
“What? Oh… OH! There’s more yummy chocolate on my face!”
“Alright, let’s go through security.”
I was a bit nervous about flying alone with Mark but I’m actually impressed with him. He looks and sounds responsible and he doesn’t whine.
“What do you want to drink?”
“I love the mountain water.”
Between Coke, Évian and Kronenbourg, Mark made a wise choice.
The hallmark of Air Transat flights are families. So many families with one, two, three… holy shit, five kids, all flying back to Canada right before the beginning of the school year, August 26 for the French school board, a week later for the English one. Mark eyes babies crying and toddlers acting up with the wise look of a former party animal who decided to be sober.
We finally board the 1:40 p.m. flight at 2:10 p.m. I have a window seat, Mark is in the middle and the guy sitting next to him is a nervous first-time flyer.
“Have you ever taken the plane to go to Canada?”
Mark shrugs. “I live in Canada. And I’m six so… like… six times?”
There’s absolutely no good movie to watch. Mark picks Shazam! and I watch several trailers before opting for Friends, my reliable backup when the rest is all Marvel shit.
“Chicken or pasta?”
“Pasta. Do you have a kid’s meal for him?”
“Nope. We ran out. Too many children on board.”
“I’m stealing your bread, Mark.”
“Because I’m your mother and I’m hungry.”
“Oh, then sure.”
I offer Mark pasta and the weird quinoa-coconut truffles but he’s full. For some mysterious reason, he really wants to try the tabbouleh—“too spicy,” he assesses. I find it too oily. We both agree it’s not good.
“I’m going to sleep so if you want to watch Game of Throne or other movies you’re not supposed to watch, be my guest and wake me up if you need anything.”
“Good night, mommy! Don’t worry, I’m just going to watch kids’ stuff. Where did you see Game of Throne? In ‘drama’”?
Mark wakes me up once to announce he’s going to the bathroom. I’m actually amazed he’s able to go alone and come back to his seat. I mean, half of the time, I can’t find my own seat on the way back.
Around 1 p.m. we get some weird pizza we don’t like—a cross between a pizza pop and a calzone—and we land in Montreal at 2:27 p.m. local time.
“You know the drill, Mark. No need to get up now, it’s going to take a while for everyone to get off the plane.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s just that I really need to pee.”
We stop at the first bathroom we see inside the airport and we rush to customs and immigration. It’s only in the lineup that I realize I didn’t fill out the usual arrival custom declaration card. Apparently, the paper version has been phased out, we just directed to the Primary Inspection Kiosks.
I answer typical Canadian questions, like “are you travelling with marijuana today?”, then the machine spits out the filled form.
“One last step, Mark. We have to go through immigration. Be nice.”
The border officer raises his eyebrows when he sees all the entry and exist stamps in my passport.
“What’s your job?”
Mind you, if I were a spy, I probably would say something like “translator.”
Mark and I wait at carousel 6 where my backpack is supposed to show up. Problem is, carousel 6 also delivers luggage from five other flights—Barcelona, Frankfurt, Samana, Zurich and Paris. “Wait time is 30 minutes or more,” a sign says. You bet. I don’t know why both Montreal and Toronto suck at checked luggage delivery—other airports seem to handle the process much better.
We’re still waiting for my backpack an hour later. I’m not worried, I know it will show up eventually as soon as the last “FRK” tagged suitcase is picked up.
“Here it is! Let’s go, Mark!”
I’m shocked he’s not even complaining. It’s been a long day.
“Now we just have to hand out the custom card and we’re free! Help me look for daddy…”
“Are you waiting for someone?’”
“Oh, Feng! Get me a Coke and take us home, please!”
(We eventually arrived in Ottawa at 8 p.m. Phew!)