Peering outside upon awakening I saw large flakes of snow blowing against my window pane. It must have started late last night - snow faintly falling on the naked branches, on all the cars, roofs, and filling in the holes of old footsteps.
‘Another wonderful day to write,’ I thought, as I sat down at my desk. Throughout the day I often looked out the window, wondering when the last flake would fall.
Later in the day the snow was still falling. The thick white carpet covered the soft ground. It seemed like the first real day of winter. It was mid January. The daylight was much shorter this time of the year. Darkness descended by late afternoon. I made a simple meal and ate at the dining room table. A flickering candle illuminated the room.
My dried out winter boots cracked as I slipped my feet into them. My warm jacket would keep out the north wind. My old woolen hat had lost that itchy feeling a long time ago. Peering out my front door, I saw my neighbour’s kids; they had already started clearing snow away from the end of my driveway. They were piling it up in the middle of the road. Each time a car would turn onto the street, they would hide behind a bush to see what would happen when the car approached their snow barricade.
The garage door creaked as I opened it. The shovel, hanging from a long rusty nail, hadn’t been used since last March. The car had over six inches of snow on it. After cleaning off the driver’s door, I got in. It was like sitting in a cold cave. I had to turn the key a few times. The car idled for a few moments.
My uncle was flying in from San Francisco that night. His flight was to arrive at 11:00pm. I left myself extra time to get to the airport. It was 8:30 by the time I pulled out of my driveway. As I drove along the highway, I thought, ‘I always have enjoyed going to the airport ~ there is always that sense of adventure, mystery, and the unknown.’
The bar and most of the stores in the departure area wouldn’t be open until the next day. I felt like a security guard walking down the empty halls of a department store after the last shopper had left. There was a sign by the elevator saying ‘closed’, referring to the posh lounge overlooking the tarmac. I remembered sharing a meal there before flying away on a holiday once. I thought that I might have to sit on one of those stiff, plastic waiting chairs. Near the end of the corridor, there was a lounge with glass-topped tables and a U-shaped counter where the bartender stood behind. I walked in and sat at a barstool. I could see all the tables from where I sat. There were no windows to the outside but I imagined that the snow was still falling.
I placed my jacket on the stool beside me. On top of the bar I laid down my wallet, journal, Strunk’s English book, and a pen..
“What would you like, sir?” the bartender inquired.
“A Sleemans please.” I reached over to the rack and pulled off a package of regular potato chips.
I glanced at the people in the bar and wondered where their journeys were leading them. And then, I thought about my Visa Card in my wallet and the six thousand dollar limit that was available. I thought, ‘I could leave right now - leave this life, just cut out without a word to anyone. After all, I am free. I can go wherever I desire and stay there for as long as I want. What would I leave behind? Turmoil, mystery, and perhaps a headline: Young man disappears at airport.’
It all just unfolded…
I put some money down on the counter and walked over to the information booth.
“What can I do for you tonight?” the lady behind the counter softly asked.
“I was wondering what airline flies to the most remote island in the South Pacific?”
She looked at me with slightly squinted eyes. “Just one moment,” she said as she turned towards her computer. She began tapping some buttons on the keyboard. Her thin eyebrows lifted and then fell as the computer screen flashed at her. Her head nodded up and down and sideways a few times. She glanced back at me and said, “It looks as though Canadian Airlines is your best option. They will have more information concerning flights that link up to the smaller islands. I can only tell you about the flights leaving tonight.”
“When is the next flight?” I asked.
After turning back to her computer she said, “There is a flight to Tahiti tonight. It leaves at 10:45, terminal 3.”
I glanced down at my watch - it was 9:44.
“You can take the shuttle bus just outside the sliding doors,” she added.
I thanked her and turned towards the exit. As I walked, I sensed that the lady was staring at me. Perhaps she was thinking, ‘He cannot just leave like that - surely there are people he needs to tell, a home to take care of, a job, a family, responsibilities, and bills to pay - He must have bills to pay.’
As the shuttle bus pulled away from the terminal, I thought about my uncle. He would be scanning the crowd at the arrival gate. He’d probably have his one bag hanging off his shoulder. After ten minutes or so he’d phone his mother to find out where I was. Her face would begin to turn pale and she would feel hot. My uncle would walk through the thinning crowd for a few more moments and then call his mother again to say that he would be taking a taxi. By the time he got to her house her face would be flushed and her eyes would have a hollow, empty look. During this time, my dad’s car would be ticketed. A tow truck would be hauling it to some dark parking lot. My grandmother would call my house. All she would hear would be my recorded voice, and at the end of the message, the words, “Have a wonderful day.” When her other son returned from the Symphony he would hear about my disappearance. Someone would call the highway department and the police. My grandmother would not be able to sleep.
At terminal three, I walked to the Canadian Airlines counter. A middle-aged man greeted me with a heavy Mexican accent, “Good evening sir, what can I do for you?”
“I would like a one way ticket to Tahiti. I understand that the next flight departs at 10:45.”
“He looked at my books that I was holding in my hand, glanced into my eyes and as he slowly sat down said, “Let me check and see what the availability is like sir.” A moment later he said, “There are a few seats on the next flight. Will you be traveling alone?”
He asked me more questions and I kept looking at my watch. It was 10:10 by the time he finally asked, “How will you be paying for that?”
“Put it on my Visa,” I replied as I placed it on top of the counter. I wonder who would pay the bill when it arrived at my house.
Without looking up he asked, “How many bags will you be checking?”
“No bags,” I replied.
He then looked up from the screen and said, “Did you say, ‘no bags’ sir?”
“Yes, that is right,” I replied.
He paused for a moment and then turned back to the computer. I heard the ticket being printed below his desk. He folded it and stuffed it into the envelope. As he handed me the ticket he said, “You clear customs through gate 23. I hope you have a pleasant flight sir.”
“Buenos Noches,” I said as I tucked the ticket between my two books.
I had not thought about customs. ‘Yes, that might be a bit challenging.’ I thought.
I arrived at customs. I was wearing my snow boots, blue jeans, and a woolen winter jacket. Before the customs officer could say anything, I blurted out, “My father was badly injured and is in a hospital. I had no time to get a new passport but I have all my other ID.” In that same breath I said, “The man at the ticket counter said that if I was not worried about expenses, it would be best to buy a one-way ticket and once I was there, I could go on stand-by for my return.”
The customs guard, wearing a blue shirt and badge, peered into my eyes and then glanced down at my books. In a deep, confident voice he asked, “where exactly are you going? Do you have a phone number?”
I said, “All I know is that he is at the general hospital, intensive care, in the capital city.”
He looked at my ticket and identification and mumbled, “No bags.”
I sensed that he knew I was lying, but perhaps my story touched a long forgotten dream of his own, a dream that lay buried beneath all his years of life. After all, there was something believable about what I was doing. I was living that long forgotten dream. If he could have spoken about how he was really feeling, he may have said, ‘Go live your dream young man, most people never dream and those that do, well, so few actually follow them.’
He looked at me for what seemed an eternity and finally his serious expression relaxed as he said, “Have a good trip. I hope your father is alright.”
The stewardess glanced at my ticket. She pointed to the back right of the plane. The wing was in front of me. Snow was falling against the tiny window. The plane lights flicked on and off. We rolled backwards slowly. After winding through the maze of concrete between fields of snow, we stopped. The seat-belt sign flashed and made a ringing noise. The engines roared and then I felt my head being pushed back against the seat. My two hands gripped each armrest. The snow on the ground, whirled beneath the wing. A few moments later the plane lifted above the runway. The stream of cars on the expressway looked like toys. The city lights glimmered. I could still see snow falling. I thought about all the people in my life, the turmoil and distress that this act would create, the headlines of the next day’s paper: Young man disappears. I thought mostly of my grandmother.
Soon, we were immersed in thick clouds. It reminded me of one of those cool August mornings when I paddled my canoe through the thick morning fog. A few moments later, we broke through the clouds. Looking up, all I saw were millions of stars. The moon was rising out of the cloud horizon. I thought about those times when I floated in a canoe on a clear, cool night and watched the moon rise over the trees. As the plane continued to climb, the thoughts of the turmoil that I would leave behind vanished. I stared out into the blackness and then heard a voice echoing through the plane, “Welcome aboard, this is your captain speaking, we will be traveling at…” His voice began to fade. I closed my eyes and felt a tear. I thought about the journey ahead, all the new people, a new life.
“Would you like another Sleemans,” the bartender inquired.
He slowly came back into focus. “Uh, uh, no thanks,” I mentioned.
I looked out across the bar, there were a few more people who had come in. My beer bottle was empty. I stood up and put on my jacket. “Thank-you, have a good night,” I said to the bartender.
Over at arrivals, I saw people hugging, laughing, and smiling. Two little kids waited by the window to look for their mother who would be coming up the escalator. I caught flashes of my uncle as the electric doors opened and closed. His arm bag hung off his left shoulder. I put my arm around him and said, “It’s great to see you Uncle Larry. How was your flight?” As we stepped outside, the chill I felt in the cold wind surprised me. “Your mother sure is looking forward to seeing you,” I said.
We pulled out of the parking lot. Soon, we were on the highway. The snow had stopped. I saw the moon shining through a break in the clouds.
“Have you ever been to Tahiti, Uncle Larry?”
16 January 1998