‘How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’
- Winnie the Pooh
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
The ride to the airport is quiet and swift. The highway is blissfully empty; one of the rare benefits of a four a.m. flight out of Beirut on New Year’s Eve. In the driver’s seat, both his hands on the steering wheel. In the rear-view mirror, his eyes. I can see them obstinately blink themselves open wider, eyebrows shooting up.
Fifteen minutes ago he had been snoring; I could hear him all the way down the hall. The sound had kept me awake but its familiar, comforting crescendo had kept me calm. Even now, the freckles I know rather than see at the back of his neck, in the darkness, keep my anxiety in check and my heart in my chest. It will be all right. Calm down.
To his right, the silver in her black hair shimmers under the street lamps that whizz by. I try not to notice that it has grown brighter in the year that has gone by. Instead, I weigh anchor and my gaze on her pastel salmon coat that I love. I know its smell, its colour, its feel on my cheek; I used to hide in its folds.
Meanwhile, in the back, the dog and I are manoeuvring for control of the space. The furry black ball, of course, wins, stretched across two seats and a half. I find myself hugging the car door but more amused than irritated, frankly. Uncomfortable but grateful for his head on my knee, I gently scratch his ear.
The distraction is short lived; the airport appears. Motion sickness and stomach ache return. The psychosomatic aversion to departure never does get easier, it seems. We reach the Terminal. It smells of goodbyes and cheap taxi driver cigarettes. The heartless, metallic voice trickles through the loudspeakers with her gate change announcements.
The car is parked. We all step out. I confirm I left my courage at home. Too late to make a run for it now, however; the suitcase is out of the trunk. I look at it, dirty and frayed at the edges. The wheels will soon give away, I note, and I must remove the old luggage tag. But the green bow on the handle is intact.
It had been an ordeal to pack, as always, and is, as always too, overweight. A few hours earlier I had had to sit on it, even bounce on it to zip it closed. Perplexed by a few mystery bulges I am sure were not there this afternoon, I suspect parental foul play, but both he and she shake their heads.
No, there is nothing in there,
he says innocently.
Nothing worth mentioning,
A pinch at my heart, and a smile; I now know what was slipped into my suitcase.
Elementary: zaatar, ma zahr, snoubar, kishk, all from our village in the mountains. My father’s way of reminding me that I have roots and a history.
Saffron, sumac, dried parsley and thyme, to season my mother’s recipes. Those, handwritten, all end the same way: And if you get confused, call me!
Dried jasmine, yansoun, lemongrass for infusions that cure homesickness and the common cold. A few extra sweaters and mittens, just in case they do not sell those abroad.
He hugs me, she hugs me. Our hands do the talking for our hearts and our mouths. I try to freeze the moment, but they both let go first. Perhaps it is for the best.
Taps on the back, smiles, and refuge in logistics:
Do you have everything? Check again.
Passport, wallet, phone, plane reading. Check.
Call us when you get there.
There is Paris, Boston, London, Geneva, Munich. Toronto, Tokyo, Colombo, Istanbul. Whatever is written on my ticket this time and on the Departures Screen. Once upon a time, there was the school gate on a brisk Monday morning. Most often, though, there is not a place, but the other side of change or fear.
There is usually far, and much colder and more lonely than here. But that is never an excuse not to go.
I love you.
We love you. Be safe.
I was not raised to seek destinations, but to embark on journeys. My parents do not have easy, perfect lives, but they have incredible stories. They taught me, by example, to try, triumph, fail. Never shirk from departure screens. Now they wave me off on my next adventure, holding hands and the dog’s leash.
Their muted promise: when I return, they and home will be waiting for me. I wave with my own: I will be back, with presents, photos, and stories.
For you, Mamy and Papi.