The Long Journey Back

It was quite dark when it was time to get up. I had a nightmare that prevented me from sleeping right. It was maybe more of an unsettled dream. I dreamt that I missed my flight or was just about to because I couldn’t get to the airport. 

I was waiting for a cab to pick me up but where I was standing on the sidewalk there seemed to be many red busses blocking the cab from seeing me. I knew that time was close for me to be on my way but I couldn’t get to my ride because of all the traffic in my way. The seething anger and frustration woke me up. It was one of those dreams that just seems too much and the body somehow wakes from the ridiculousness of what is being perceived. It was also a way of being vigilant before the early wake up time. 

We drove to the airport in Kraków with the music on and just scattered words just the sound of the hardened windshield wipers trying to move the drizzle away. I had to say thanks again but it was also early so we had periods with nothing to say. It’ll be a long time maybe before I come back here again. Time moves quickly and who knows what constellation will be here when I come back again. I hugged my uncle and told him I’d see him again. 

There was just enough time to get a coffee and enjoy the cool air outside. It’s so early but the airport was already busy with activity. Making my way to the line up I was worried about getting my carry on into the cabin. They had warnings due to the high volume of passengers. People like to push the boundaries as I was today. The lady in front of me had her suitcase selected for under storage. It was because of her wheels. It seems like hard shelled and wheeled luggage was their top choice for this. Once loaded on the plane there seemed to be some space left in the overhead storage. 

The flight wasn’t anything special. It was hard to get a nap in even though I was tired. There was a couple with their two kids occupying two  rows. Each of them had a child and these kids were by the window while they sat in the middle. The kid by my window had a bad cough. As my eyes were closed I just hoped I didn’t catch what they had. Then I smelled poo… but that is not what that was. The kid was being sick into a bag. The mom was being very discrete with what was happening. She had a plastic bag and wipes ready to go. It looked like they have done this before. The dad in the seat in front was doing well with his charge. I just tried to sleep. 

Stanstead Airport is not my favorite airport to land in. It is quite far from London but the train kind of redeems it. The flight was cheap and that is what mattered. It seemed like a number of flights landed at the same time as everyone funneled to Passport Control at the same time. They were using new passport scanning technology. This is where you place your passport into a scanning device and walk through the gate like a racehorse. 

I was a bit miffed when it became obvious that the train into London was out of service due to engineering works. I would have to take the bus and then transit in London the rest of the way. The bus to Stratford wasn’t too bad it was the connection from there that felt terrible. The Overground service wasn’t running from that station due to more engineering works. By the time I figured out to take the Jubilee line to Canada Water and when I got there I missed the twice per hour train to Norwood Junction. I had to wait that half hour and eventually finally made it there. It took three hours for that trip. It can easily be done in two sometimes even an hour if lucky. 

It was good to see Joe. I told him about my trip and he kind of laughed. I noticed his GPS guide voice had an Australian accent. He said he did that on purpose. It was funny to listen to but it might get annoying. At least that accent giving me directions. What kind of accent would I have giving me directions? That answer is different today than it would have been ten years ago. 

There was every intention on my part to go out and buy some things for a special someone on my list. There was every intention to go into the city but after having a shower the energy drained out of me so I decided to just chill and pack. In the meantime I finally got my new phone that I’ve been waiting for for so long. There were some technical issues to sort out due to accidentally encrypting my backup and losing my password. The screen is much bigger than on my last phone and it takes good photos. 

I was happy that I managed to fit everything into two suitcases and two small carry ons. I took my time packing as periodically we would chat and also snack. I explained to Joe and Gulnara what my plans were for the next few months. I told them how I felt moving forward. After our late supper I went to sleep as I was tired from my long day and I know that I have a long one ahead of me. 

In the morning Joe and Gulnara got ready first and then I jumped into the shower after them. Joe takes the little one to nursery and today he had to take Gulnara to some station as the Southern Trains were once again on strike. This affects me too as the Gatwick Express is run by this company. We had anticipated this and the night before Joe reserved a car to get me to the airport. I have too much stuff to be faffin’ about with trains. I can’t miss the flight. 

The driver was a bit late but he said that he couldn’t find a good spot to park. He was from Algeria and he has been driving cars for a living for twenty-five years. He doesn’t use any navigation devices to find his way around the city. He told me he has a back route that will be less stressful to navigate. It doesn’t matter to me as the cost is fixed and I get there on time. That dream of missing my flight was still fresh in my mind. He was a chatty fellow this driver of mine. He kept repeating what he said to me before. Like the famous Canadian singer that lives over there or the back road running parallel to the one we would have been stuck in at this time in the morning. 

‘There are no signs you see, if you don’t know the way you’d get lost. That’s the best way to learn how to find your way.’

There was plenty of time before my flight. One less thing to worry about once I was at the airport. Might as well check in all of my luggage. I was in the North Terminal at Gatwick so I took the long escalator to the first floor and noticed that my airline has their check in counter on that floor. The check in procedure is all automated. I scanned my passport and paid the fee for two pieces of luggage. There was another line up for dropping off my bags and once at the counter I gave the printouts to the teller. I put the red suitcase into the scale and she looked at me with wide eyes and said:

“That’s forty-seven kilos. That’s illegal.”

I was so proud of myself for fitting all of my things into two pieces of luggage. Forty-seven kilograms is the weight of a fit bird. I will have to repack this suitcase. I understand why they have a suitcase shop right at the entrance of the terminal. The other suitcase was right at the limit of twenty-two kilograms. It was twenty-three but she said that it’s alright. With a bit of a dejected expression I walked over to the luggage shop and looked at my options. I bought a water resistant black duffel bag. I could easily stuff a whole bunch of stuff into it. As I prepared for the task the cops came by with a dog. That startled me a bit but I still managed to say hi and they quickly moved away to a new person. These were armed cops so their presence was a bit intimidating especially at this particular point besides you never know how the dog is going to react and what they will think up. 

Since I was visiting and traveling all last week a bit of dirty clothing has accumulated. There were people sitting in a waiting area watching me but I didn’t pay no mind. This task that I had to do eliminated my embarrassment. I left the heavy things in the large suitcase and stuffed everything else in the new duffel bag. All the clothes including the large backpack that was there as well. I could have used that to reduce the weight but it isn’t as big as this new duffel bag that I bought. The suitcase looked empty but the clippings and other paper reading material gave it a lot of weight. When I got back to the counter it was twenty-seven kilos so I had to pay a penalty for overweight as well as a fee for an additional piece. Even with all of that the cost for this journey including the plane ticket is very economical. 

After that was sorted it was time for breakfast. On the second floor there is a café that has decent food. It was packed with travelers waiting to go on their journey. It was something important to do while waiting to pass through security. I usually wait until I have to to pass through the those gates to go through that process. I was listening to the convo between a senior and junior employee. The older guy was giving the younger guy pointers and telling him that the airport is poorly managed by people that don’t know what they are doing. I felt that I was getting a bit of a headache so I got some ibuprofen and after some more fresh air I walked through security. I had a lot of stuff with me so I had to divide it between three trays. I breezed through this part of it. When I got to the main area I looked on the board to see which gate I would have to go to. The sign said that my flight was delayed by an hour. I cursed. There are no signs informing you of this outside the security gates. I would have waited to go in. Nevertheless I found an electronics shop and bought a new case for my new phone then went to the duty free to purchase a nice bottle of rum.

I found a seat with my back turned to the screen and fit the case into my phone. The case will keep the phone protected and the leather grip gives it a better feel inside my hands. What to do? I kept thinking trying to get over the frustration of having to kill an extra hour in here. There was a ton of people in here all waiting for their flight. After scrolling through various feeds but unable to focus on anything I looked again at the screen and it said that my flight was now boarding! What? Pleasant surprise though so I picked up my bags and walked gingerly to the gate. There were lots of people walking in that direction so they must have made some announcement. I didn’t hear anything though. At the gate the lineup was long already. People were commenting how they noticed the same thing I did. One guy just bought himself a pint and had to quickly down it. Brave thing to do this early in the day. 

Boarding was slow. First we made it past the ticket check and then into another waiting area in preparation for boarding. People had a lot of carry on stuff making me feel less bad about the amount that I had with me. I sat in my seat by the window relieved from the process. Who was gonna sit beside me in the aisle seat? I hoped it wasn’t anyone obese. It tired out to be a tall proportioned man. It was going to be a struggle for the middle arm rest. He had long legs and spread his legs a bit. I did a bit of my own spreading and we kind of had this mild stand off. How comfortable were we going to be sitting beside each other? We said hello to each other and soon introduced ourselves. 

Penny, as I’ll call him was in his fifties and was emigrating to Canada realizing some sort of dream that he had. He was a bit stressed as he has been working for two years towards this goal and the last few months have been intense. Getting permission to emigrate to Canada is a difficult process apparently. I remember ours and it seems like it still hasn’t gotten any easier. All his stuff is being shipped over and that process became complicated by the passing of both his grandfather and his father. All of a sudden he had more things to deal with. He is importing a lot of old furniture in hopes of opening up a bed and breakfast somewhere in Calgary. It will be one of those boutique places with a traditional English flavor. 

We talked quite a bit during our flight so instead of  writing and sleeping like I was planning to I was chatting with Penny. The whole thing about what he was doing and what I was doing kind of bonded us together. He was getting away from his country as he felt it was going downhill due to a multitude of reasons. His main gripe was the lack of freedom to pursue your dreams. His dream was that bed and breakfast and a chance to get out of the rat race that has consumed his life up until now. I never asked him about kids or a wife and he never mentioned anything about that. He had all his valuables with him including many gold chains, cash, and other metal objects that had some sentimental value to him. He said that along every step he has been stopped and searched thoroughly. He says that he has always attracted this kind of attention so he is always upfront with everything. He said that sitting beside me he felt like he had to feel me out as to what kind of person I am because he has a hard time fitting into these seats and he always takes the aisle for the legroom if he can’t get the front row. 

This budget flight required us to buy food. They are nickel and diming us at every step of the way. There wasn’t much of a selection and I bought a meal, a snack pack, and some liquor Penny did the same minus the liquor. He doesn’t drink and apparently he doesn’t like cigarette smoke. He was telling me about his dad and the smell he had that repulsed him but that he loved and respected him a lot. Penny was selling up as he was telling me about him. Penny was quite a genuine guy and the way he was personality wise differed from a typical Brit. 

The last hour before landing is the longest hour. I couldn’t manage to log into the onboard wifi. The only thing I had access to was the flight progress page. There was some error that wouldn’t display properly on the two browsers installed on my phone. I gave up so it was good that Penny was sitting beside me. There are no screens on the chairs and a pad could be rented for a fee but I gave up on that too. Outside looking at the horizon I watched the moon rise and then lower. Off in the distance you could see where it’s perpetual nighttime. It looks like a dark band over the horizon. We flew in daytime the whole way. Below us it was cloudy and when it wasn’t the land was frozen white. There is no sign of life for large stretches of the flight. As we got closer to Calgary where I’ll catch my connecting flight to Vancouver the ground was divided into large squares. These squares represented farms or fields that were now dormant and under some snow. As we landed we said our goodbyes and wished each other all the best. 

I passsed through customs easily and was directed to the exit where I would have to find the gate for my flight. There was no chance of me getting any kind of fresh air. By this point I was becoming a bit more tired from my journey. I did manage to get an hour of shut eye on the plane. I told Penny that I needed to get at least some before getting off. It was sunny outside and it was about two in the afternoon. The sun was descending and shining into the waiting area. Let’s just get on with this I kept thinking over and over again as I waited for this final leg of my journey to begin. Others that I recognized from my flight were feeling he same as we paced outside the ticket check before boarding. 

I got a good window seat at the front of the plane. There was no one sitting beside me and the flight wasn’t full. It was only going to be an hour and a half to get to Vancouver. We flew low and chased the setting sun that illuminated the mountains below us. I took many photos and stared outside the window trying to keep up with all the thoughts rushing through my mind. There is all the anticipation and all the things that still have to be done. What gave me peace is that I’m coming home. 

“Thank you for flying with <airline> we hope that you had a pleasant flight…. your luggage should be unloaded in about twenty minutes.”

I made it to the carousel and since I didn’t have to go through customs or security again I went outside for some fresh air. I got a giant head rush from all that air and staggered back to the carousel. I got myself a trolley and waited. There is a clock on one of the screens. As twenty minutes stretched into an hour everyone’s mood turned into unease and frustration. They apologized for the delay but the bags were still not coming. Once they started falling the rush to collect became intense. I got one and then the other and was waiting for the third one to come out. It never came. They announced that all the luggage from my flight was unloaded five minutes ago and if all of it didn’t make it to go to the counter. 

I was informed that I was supposed to pick up my luggage at the last airport. I said that it was quite the opposite. I was told that they said that it was going to be transferred. Regardless they said that it was going to be delivered to me. It might still be in Europe. This ain’t the first time that my luggage has been lost by an airline. I explained my situation got the delivery sorted and sat outside. During my wait for luggage I talked with my sister. She was stuck in traffic because one of the bridges was closed due to falling ice and snow from the supports. A lot of snow has fallen over the past few days. Traffic is atrocious and my sis has been sitting in traffic for three hours now unable to get anywhere. I told her to take her time what’s an extra hour at this point anyways?

I passed the time by getting a coffee and a snack. When she got to the airport she parked on the wrong level so I had to go up one floor to finally see her. We hugged and said our how are yous. She said that she was happy to see me as I was her. We were going to stop off at a dispensary in Vancouver before heading to my parents. That time gave us a chance to catch up. I told her about my adventure getting here. The dispensary was still open and it was a quick in and out. What a convenience! 

We decided to go and get some food before heading back to my folks. We went to a Chinese restaurant that I used to frequent with my friends quite a lot when we were younger. We had a chance to talk deeper about all the changes that have happened over the past year. It certainly has been a pivotal year in our family. It’s too much to get into here now. The drive was smooth as it was already nine at night way past any rush hour. The dual carriage way  was dry and clean. My parents were waiting for us and we hugged when we saw each other. My mom was very happy to see me as was my dad. I told them about my adventure getting here and the lost baggage. They laughed at my misfortune. I’m not really frustrated just a bit tired from all of the travel over the past few days. Soon I listened to my body and passed out. 

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