We always dreaded the journey to the airport before the flight, all of us: everyone is on edge. The traveller-to-be in the back, clutching at the last comforts of terra firma, excited at the prospect of flying yet secretly terrified and uneasy about the thought of taking off. The driver (usually my father) driving, not going on the trip, envious of the traveller, sad to see him go, and all at the same time trying to force a conversation to make light of all the nervousness in the car.
“It’s going to be wonderful, your trip.”
“Yes, I’ll give you a call when I get there.”
“You haven’t forgotten anything?”
“No, and if I have I’ll buy it there.”
“Don’t forget to write to .., and .., and ..”
“I’m not going to be away that long!”
“Still, they’ll enjoy it. Tell me again, which day are you coming back?”
Silence, always that silence with the search ongoing to find the next opening and fill the void.
Psychologically, the car was the first point at which it could be said that the departee was already well away, even if the physical truth didn’t set in until much later: either out of fear of leaving or out of an itching desire to go away, my mind was already airborne, while it would have been possible for an observer to sense how the ones left behind oozed sadness and relief in equal measure. Relief, it should be said, in many flavours: not because they wanted to see the back of me, but because that final departure, the slamming of the door, the last look at the gate, all meant that the worry and sadness could be switched off for a moment, or at least toned down, while distance could then be left to work its magic of making the heart grow fonder. The normal day resurfaced, a little bitter, perhaps, but nevertheless a certain comfort of the known.
All that I learnt, I learnt from my family: how to avoid a subject, how to push people, how to play the guilt card, and how to put myself down under pressure. Always testing, always finding new ways to define the line between the acceptable and the unacceptable, a sandpit in which every child could play, knowing that the boundaries were constantly shifting, and the wisdom of asking for forgiveness rather than permission was one that was fully accepted.
Of course I’m wiser now, but as a young man the seed of doubt had at some point been sown, and by the time I was ready to leave home it had reached the tremendous proportions of a venerable oak. It had not strangled all else, or even dominated all the other foliage, but rather like a weed it had inserted itself into all sorts of nooks and crannies and resisted all attempts at elimination. Sometimes it had grown, towering over many ideas and dreams, starving them of light and air, but then again never enough to cut off all the essential nutrients. After all, I had many ideas and dreams, and like a parasite the monster of doubt needed these like a flower needs a bee, to feed off and disseminate. The more complex the thoughts, the more elaborate the hopes and aspirations, the better for doubt to sink in its talons to ensure its survival.
One moment in particular defined this period, once again at the airport.
Now I’m looking back, past the passport booths, at her receding back. We had said we wouldn’t turn around, but of course I secretly longed for her to disobey our pact, or at least to find it difficult to maintain, perhaps the head wavering at the last moment before leaving the terminal building.
And I see her glance at the waiting man, I see her slow imperceptibly to gauge him, look him briefly up and down, before moving on, oblivious to my stare burning a hole in her back. I’m looking at her, looking at him, and my heart sinks.