He was really late and it rankled him, aside from the time he entered the world a month later than his mom’s due date, he was literally early for everything. Today was not an ideal time to break that pattern. Emerging from the parking lot he adjusted his over-stuffed backpack, donned his mask, folded the parking permit into the back pocket of his jeans and sprinted over to the international gate entrance of the airport.
The din enveloped him as soon as he strode through the door, the blend of languages and P.A. announcements struck his ears. Green eyes scanned the overhead signs for his destination and once he had it memorized he took a quick left for the washroom. He knew it was fool hardy to push his timing but there was no choice. The drive from his home in the valley to the airport took longer than he had allowed for. The fates had thrown a senior citizen in a land yacht in front of him and he ground his teeth as she drove at a leisurely crawl. If it had been on the freeway he could have passed her, but it was a single lane road and there was no way around, he’d had to bide his time until they reached the main route.
If this trip weren’t so important he wouldn’t have minded, but he’d never had such a weighty purpose in flying before. He’d travelled a lot over the last thirty years, some were pleasure trips, others for work meetings, that was ‘Before’ though, prior to the virus striking the planet and forcing everyone to meet online. He was in his mid-fifties now and tired. His job wasn’t bringing the satisfaction it once did and he was seriously considering packing it in. As he quick stepped through the foot traffic towards the counter he mused how many changes there’d been since he started the company.
The internet meetings were too detached to him, knowing that someone had a suit jacket or blouse on the top and pajama bottoms below threw him off. Of course, there was no proof that everyone was doing it but enough of his colleagues had joked about the concept so he unwittingly visualized it every time. He was also disquieted by the current generation of employees. It would be a gross generalization to say that they were all ‘work ethic deprived’ but their demands for flexible schedules and not showing up to work when they were ‘too stressed’ was a mystery to business folks in his age group.
He passed a bar at some speed realizing the time to check in was closing soon. He noted the suitcases heaped up at the entrance, the interior was too small for everyone to bring their gear inside so in the thirst for a post flight IPA people were willing to ditch their cases and trust that no one would steal them. He shook his head and pushed on.
He saw the near endless row of airline counters up ahead; some were closed but he knew if he shut his eyes he could see the spirits or energy of all the people who’d stood there before. Tired and cranky children, women trying to keep it all together, men watching the hockey game on tiny cell screens while they pulled their carry-on totes behind them. Airports were a wonder to him, always had been.
He’d been shunted from one parent to another when he was a child and teen. His mother had moved herself and three kids from Victoria to Winnipeg back in the seventies once the divorce was finalized. So as the only boy he was allowed to fly out to the coast to visit his dad in the summers and every second Christmas. He never got lost at YVR but he’d hidden a few times until he could see his father’s face slowly redden with rage. He didn’t appreciate waiting for a son he didn’t really want for a visit in the first place.
He stood with several others in the line for the check in, looking at his watch and feeling his gut twisting, he just couldn’t miss this flight. There was no way of knowing how much time he had to work with. Shuffling forward a few feet at a time, winding his way through the roped off cattle grid. He knew that’s not what it was called but she had thought it funny as they’d waited once for a trip to the Bahamas. That was about fifteen years ago now, but he just couldn’t drop it. When it was his turn he presented his paper ticket and passport, the counter agent looked up at him and speaking through her cloth mask told him he’d have to sprint for his plane. He nodded and apologized, relating the story of the journey in. She graced him with barely smiling eyes and handed him his boarding pass and passport.
Once he passed through into the passenger area he sprinted over the red patterned carpet, past the overpriced gift shops and around people just standing and talking. Reaching the customs hall he slowed, noting with frustration the line of grouchy looking people. Well, not all of them were cranky looking he amended, one group seemed genuinely joyful and based on their attire of shorts and bad shirts he deduced they were heading somewhere warm for Christmas. ‘Bastards’ was the phrase that came to mind. He did remember being in their shoes, or sandals in this case, but the last couple of years had been about emergency flights, hours in the air fraught with worry unable to sleep. He sighed and moved forward slowly in yet another line.
He reached his gate with seconds to spare.
“You just made it sir, too long in the wine bar?”
“I wasn’t drinking son, just stuck in traffic,” seizing his passport back with a flick of his fingers, tucking it into his shirt pocket. He was starting to get pissed off by the personal judgements of strangers but decided to let it ride. He had a long day ahead of him and being edgy now wasn’t going to help.
He found his seat and threw his backpack in the overhead bin ensuring he had his novel and iPad handy. He had a feeling there was going to be a few emails flying once he was cleared to do so. He hoped that none of them gave him the information that he feared most of all. When the overhead indicator clicked off he opened his laptop and signed in. He nodded at the woman sitting in the window seat and turned back to his life, finding it immediately.
To: Shane Carson
From: Emily Carson-Trueblood
Hey bro, just a quick note to say she’s hanging on but I don’t know for how long. Can you let us know when you’re landing? Marie and Sherry are here too helping out but she’s waiting for you before…
He dropped his head; it was going to be at least three hours before he could touch down in Winnipeg. His mother was sick with a rare type of cancer and had decided to stop the chemo the month before. She’d had cancer three times before and he’d always managed to make it back east for awhile. He put the company in his vice-president’s hands more time than he could count to be there for her. He didn’t know if it ever made a difference to her, she never said much either way.
He knew she blamed him in some strange way for eventually having a good relationship with his dad. He didn’t understand why she was so angry until Em had explained about the reason for the divorce in the first place. That was decades ago though and he felt sorry for her that she couldn’t move past it. When his dad had passed away five years ago he thought she’d let it go. He sighed and typed a response.
To: Emily Carson-Trueblood
From: Shane Carson
Hey Em, on the plane now, should be in town by five, I’ll catch a cab. Just hang on and tell mom to do the same, her green-eyed boy is coming to see her. Love to my sis-sibs.
He snapped shut the lid on the iPad, causing his seatmate to look up from her crossword book.
“You okay?” She asked with an eyebrow lifted in question, the book closed, her pen used to save her page.
“Yeah, my mom is really sick and I’m on my way to see her, just a frustrating day in all. Sorry to disturb you.”
“No problem, I’m here if you need to vent to a stranger, this puzzle is mind-numbingly easy, but I don’t want to intrude.” They introduced themselves, first names only and ultimate destinations. He to Winnipeg, her to Toronto.
She waited a few seconds to see if he’d continue the conversation then opened the book again and wrote in a few more answers. He thought about engaging then realized he didn’t have the mental strength and brought his novel out of the seat back pocket.
When they were about to land at Richardson International in Winnipeg he gathered up his stuff and put his lunch trash in the garbage bag the air hostess brought around. He felt his cell buzzing in his coat pocket and pulled it out to view the message. As he feared he’d been too late, he read the text with his eyes brimming.
“I’m so sorry Shane, she’s gone. She tried to wait for you. Sherry is coming to the airport, find her at the arrivals gate. See you soon. xxoo
He sat back and took a deep breath, his left hand clutching the black rectangle. He could feel the hot tears escaping down his cheeks and a soft hand just resting on his right forearm.
“I’m sorry, Shane. You know there was no way you could have sped up your day, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Your mom was ready to go.” He just nodded, he couldn’t see anything through the welling in his eyes and couldn’t get words past the lump in his throat. When they de-planed he waved goodbye at Julie and headed toward the arrivals gate unhurried and measured, there was no need to run now.