I arrived home in Melbourne yesterday afternoon. The heading is my itinerary, but a list of pit stops can only tell so much. It doesn’t say the 25-hour commute from Canada to Australia was better and worse than the trip there. Worse because I was aware, with still-fresh clarity, of what was about to hit me – and to the body it is an assault. Better because I was coming home to my family, and the trip had been perfect. Flawless, I say when my parents phone, as if I’d anticipated flaws. It does surprise me that, aside from the flying part, nothing went wrong in over a fortnight. Not one thing. The mountains won my undying adoration afresh every day, as did the staff, the other writers, the river, the deer. All things of wonder.
Coming home, I travelled by bus from Banff to Calgary Airport with two women from my writing course. I sat beside a window that squeaked like a rodent. I asked if they could hear the noise from their seats. The sun hit my eyes. Somehow they both knew to sit on the other side of the aisle. I moved, rearranged my bag, laptop, puffy jacket, then moved again. I worried their last impression of me would be that I am a fidget.
At Calgary airport, my suitcase was over the weight limit.
‘Take something out that weighs five kilograms,’ the check-in woman told me, looking past my head at the queue. ‘Something small and heavy. Put it in your carry-on bag.’
I tried to think about what might be small and heavy. ‘My pillow?’
She stared at me. ‘Pillows aren’t heavy.’
‘Small and heavy,’ she said.
I was terrified to open my suitcase for fear I wouldn’t be able to close it again, no matter what I removed. It was so full the seams were in danger of ripping. I put my latex pillow, a bag of makeup, my manuscript and a book on the scale.
‘Liquids,’ she said.
I put the makeup bag back in the suitcase then sat on it to close it, struggling with the zip and making certain not to look at the people waiting in the queue. I thought about the insanity of moving things from one bag to another while still bringing the same amount of weight onto the plane. I didn’t tell the check-in woman I was thinking this.
My two writing friends waited patiently for me on the other side, watching. I apologised repeatedly. We said goodbye. They headed to the other side of Canada. I headed to the lounge. I had eight and a half hours of sitting and fussing and flying ahead of me before I even left the country.
Which brings me to airports. I understand why people dislike the design term ‘way finding’ but in airports it makes sense. I tried to find my way. In Vancouver the signs were helpful, expressive and clear. The staff who guided travellers through the labyrinth were chatty and upbeat. In Sydney the few signs on offer were short, arrogant and knowing. The staff, cool.
Or snappy. The first words I heard when I disembarked in Australia were from a flight attendant admonishing a passenger as I walked past them. ‘You were called to the desk. Everyone’s been waiting for you.’ I didn’t stop, but hoped the elderly woman who’d sat across the aisle from me Vancouver to Sydney explained to the snippy hostess that our plane had circled above the airport for an hour, waiting for permission to land. She couldn’t possibly have heard her name called down below. They shouldn’t have been calling her name at all.
As I walked from one Sydney terminal to another, I noticed there were no clocks. There were clocks in Canada. Surely telling people the time in an airport, when time is so relevant, wouldn’t be giving in too much?
I was irrationally annoyed at leaving a beautiful place for a series of loud, crowded, harshly lit buildings where I knew no-one. I was cross that I’d packed my watch, that my carry-on bag weighed a tonne, that this was how people are moved across the world. I thought about cattle being shipped in crowded crates from Australia to Indonesia. I thought about crowded refugee boats crossing the paths of those ships on their way to rejection in Australia. I watched people starving in Somalia on an airport television as loudspeakers announced our flight would be slightly delayed. I thought about the fact my dog is getting fat because we feed him too much. The large and small of the world swam around my sleep-deprived brain.
My time in Banff was flawless. I wrote. I listened. I walked by a wide, crystal-clear, gurgling river that lived the words poetry in motion. I saw mountains that changed colour and mood daily. I breathed cold alpine air. I met lovely, smart, warm people. I came home to lovely, smart, warm people.
Every time I travel, no matter how long the journey, I say three words repeatedly, and I know them to be the truth: happy and lucky and blessed.
Happy. Lucky. Blessed.