The airport was crowded with people – some going to Turkey, some to Greece and others, like me, were heading back to Canada. I slipped uneasily back and forth, and in and out of the line not sure where I was supposed to que for my trip home. My tired, aching body cried out for a warm place to rest and read the books I had bought in the airport Relay store. I clutched the Bruce Springsteen auto biography in one hand, anxious to delve into it, while balancing my two suitcases, carry on bag and purse in the other. Hungry, angry, lonely and tired – HALT, they call it in 12-step circles. I was kind of feeling the need to do just that. Another hour and a half and I would board the plane taking me from London to Montreal, then Toronto and finally to Winnipeg.
Being in this seemingly never ending line up of travellers, I found myself reflecting back on the trip that started with the ear worm of a tune - “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which was now morphing into “The Long and Winding Road” six weeks later. From anticipation of leaving home to anticipation of the return.
And a long and winding road it had certainly been. It started on the rainy vistas of Vancouver Island, to the quaint and contemporary landscapes of both urban and rural Quebec, which then carried me to the green fields and bustling metropolises of the UK and France. And, now, winding me back to the flat lands of Manitoba.
I remembered all of the walking, the cab rides – the “planes trains and automobiles” that carried me me from one locale to another. I thought about the people that so kindly showed me the ways whenever I turned up helpless and with silly questions about where I was and how to get where I was going. The many Quebecers who tolerated my mantra, ‘Je suis désolé mais je ne parle pas français’ and helped me circle back to my intended destination. There was the cop in central London who didn’t know where the London Bridge was but who looked it up for me on his google maps. We laughed because unbeknownst to either of us we could see it clearly about a block away from where we were standing. I thanked the officer – a youngish man in his 30’s – and told how much the English and Londoners especially were miscast as reserved or unfriendly. “This is not at all what I’ve experienced”. I said. “Oh – I don’t know – I can count at least ten who are not so nice”, as he replied, smiling back at me.
I shifted from one foot to the other, uncomfortable with the long wait in this line. My shoulder was beginning to sting from the weight of the loaded bag slung over it. My feet were aching. As I stood there, I drifted to thoughts about Paris – the city of light. I remembered the woman in the Paris Guard Station who approached my niece and I when she saw our confused attempts at navigation. She, with her scooter in hand, offered to take us to the train to get to Colombes where we would be staying. We followed behind her finding out along the way that she had a soft spot for English speakers. It turned out that she had gone to boarding school in England and had fond memories of her three years there. She was sympathetic to us English speaking folk but only to a point.
“All we ask is that people try to speak a little bit in French. Too many barge up demanding we speak English – that is kind of upsetting”, she smiled also acknowledging that Parisians could get a little uptight, “We’re getting better though” she grinned this time. I nodded remembering my last visit to Paris. This time I promised myself to speak the best I could in French, even if turned out fumbling or incoherent. The kind woman got us to our train and wished us well. An angel of mercy to confused English speaking tourists, I thought
My mind traveled forward to the present, momentarily, as the line of people inched slowly ahead. The young couple in front of me struggled with bags and a babe in arms as they checked their bag for passports and tickets. I sympathized briefly and but quickly found myself drifting back to the day I fell down on busy Kilburn St in London. I had left my nieces apartment early that day rushing to get a train that would eventually connect me to an Airbnb in Manchester. As I rushed out the door that morning with a suitcase on wheels and an extra carry bag, I didn’t think about how speeding down the street in heels could be my undoing. When the fall came, it was a hard one. My glasses and suitcase went flying as did my dignity when unceremoniously I hit the pavement. There was a mind rush of disbelief and then the voices: “Are you okay ma’am?” “Let me help you up”. I stood up with a person, one woman and a man, on each side of me helping me to my feet. “Thank you so very much”, I said as I dusted myself off, checked quickly for blood or bruises and reset myself in the direction of the train station. Unsteady but determined, I made my way with a little more caution, mentally grateful for my rescuers.
Oh and then there there was the cab driver, later that afternoon, who could not find the address that I needed to get to. It was Aylesbury and I had to get to a resource centre six miles outside of town. I decided to take a cab because buses didn’t run often and I was hauling luggage to my appointment at the UK Embroidery Guild where I was scheduled to see some Indigenous Canadian embroidery. The driver, originally from Bulgaria was a larger set man with dark hair, bushy mustache, a big hearted laugh and a love of talking. He told me how he was adjusting to England raising his children and how following his religious faith was his core guide in life. “I believe in love and God – not politics”, he said emphatically on the topic of Trump and as we made our way down the curving streets on the way out of Aylesbury.
Our first stop was at a long one story building situated off the road along a winding driveway. I smiled getting ready to pay but as I looked up saw a sign for a personal care home. Are you sure this is the place, I asked curiously. “Hmmmm”, I think so”, he replied. However, after a minute or two of double checking the address and this location we both concluded that this was not my destination. Off we went, now as it turned out, to an air force base. This didn’t seem right either, we both agreed. Neither did the security guard at the gate as he re-directed us back to the main road.
An hour of driving, searching, winding, asking and double checking finally took us to the right place – smack dab next door to our original stop at the nursing home. As I left the cab, in a flurry to get to my appointment, I left without a receipt. This made me more than a little anxious when I realized that I had no idea about the final tab. I had given the driver my credit card information at the beginning of the ride and I could end up with a big price to pay for this misadventure. It was more than a small relief, but a bigger surprise, when days later I found out that this driver didn’t charge me at all for the trip. Oh the kindness of strangers – much more generous than I could have imagined.
I lifted my head once more to see where I was in the line and was pleased to see that I was almost at the air line check-in desk. I would go through security and then hurry to the gate for departure. Suddenly, but not entirely unexpectedly, my mood shifted from impatience at waiting to melancholy at leaving. My journey was entering the final phase - the last chapter – and now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to leave – not just yet anyway. Strangers had rescued and be-friended me more times than I could have predicted on the outset.
A woman tapped me on the shoulder – a cue to move along. I picked up my bags, dragged my suitcases behind me and clutched the book that would give me a reprieve from mulling on my thoughts for too long. I looked down at my feet to get my bearings and then took a deep breath. I walked past the lines and onward to the gate.