BY JOYCE HUANG
“This is the final [static] call for passenger [static] -ching Zang on flight AC407 to [static]. Please proceed to Gate [static] -ediately. Than- [static].”
You stand here at the entrance to the airport. Emotions, colours, voices – everything is slower, duller, blurred.
You watch your sister’s tears stream down her face, and yet your mask seems to press down not just physically, but also emotionally, a dampener on your perception of the world. Any uncontrollable swell of incomprehensible feelings in the back of your eyes is beaten down by the suffocating material.
“Good after- [static] -for flight [static] will be delayed for [static]. Thank [static] your patience.”
Your mother teases you for being stone-hearted, pillows cushioning the gap between you, yet just a few years ago – on the sofa in your Vancouver home, sinking into cushions that could not pillow her words – she was scolding you for your “glass heart.”
“Hello, passengers of flight [static]. Boarding begins in twenty minutes at Gate [static]. Please have your identifi-[static] pass ready. Thank you.”
The airport: synonymous with anticipation. At times dreadful – it clutches your empty stomach and twists with malicious intent. Sometimes hopeful – it brightens and softens the world at once. Anxiety. Delight. Sorrow. Uncertainty. All emotions burst forth the moment you step over the invisible threshold between autodoors and congregate in a stubborn cloud over you.
Night spills from storm clouds like ink. The absence of cold metal bites into your thighs as much as its presence. You sit alone. The chair beneath you is riddled with holes; you are riddled with homesickness. The distant melody of reunion-kindled laughter sparks an ugly flame in you.
Your sister's tears can douse any fires, you think. Her face scrunches up like a crumpled rose, watery blots staining cheap origami paper. You carefully keep your back to her, your gaze on the phantom-like car drifting away into the night. Streetlights cast a sore warmth on its path and between your eyes. The world descends into blurs of color.
You must have slipped sunshine into the color palette today. Golden (de)light tints your eye and embroiders the marble-clad hallway of the airport. Several sets of reassuring footsteps trail your path, the sound melodious to your ears as honey is to your tear-stained tongue.
The taste of nostalgia is bittersweet. You feel like a stranger each time you sit in this spot; yet habit takes over every flight, and you find yourself staring out the window again. Patchwork of harvest-bound fields, arctic cracked-ice clouds, a mist-eyed sunset. The double-paned glass traps just a little of that childish wonder left behind the first time you embarked on this journey.
A taxi is coming soon. You pretend to scroll through your phone sans-wifi, watching the arrow run in aimless circles and wonder if you aren’t the same.
“This is the pre-boarding announcement for [static]. Boarding begins in ten minutes. Please [static] -ank you.”
Look. The airport is home to so many travelers. Their life – your life – is but a flimsy strand so easily disappearing into the grand tapestry of the human experience.
You watch your sister cry on your mother’s shoulder and see the people hurrying about around you, caught in the tide of momentum and the promise of a destination, not even bothering to give a wide berth, not even caring to give you enough space to properly grieve for a childhood lost – a mother who will never be able to make up for the loss of her presence in your growing up, and you who will never be able to return to that childhood you so desperately want to defy time for, if only to give her the chance to reintegrate herself into your life.
“Boarding begins now for flight AC120 to [static]. Please proceed to Gate B13. Thank you.”
Look at them. You see the same thing over and over again in the airport. The numbing indifference of urban life, the cracked-up emotions wrung into forehead wrinkles and helpless hands, the harsh weight of money and responsibility whipping red lines against palms, (look at you – ) your frozen smile and your mother’s burning tears – the forever on-voyage and forever returning-home and forever new-beginnings that are never called by their other names: never-home and never-coming-back.
You step over the narrow slit between plane and ground, determined to escape from voyage to destination, yet wind slips in – an icy chain around your ankles. Through the oval frame, you track a tiny yellow car, trailing the baked leaves of autumn behind tire prints painted in snow. You turn and summer heat pulses through the ground as you clamber into the taxi; you haul your luggages out to meet spring-softened soil and spring-sweetened air.
Sunsets melt into sunrise; the songs of your mother tongue find traces in the dialects unfamiliar to your ears. One home is the same as another, each beginning an end.
Your voyages unroot you. Your voyages free you. Your voyages have long since entangled themselves in you, so that they cannot extract themselves without undoing you too.
Your voyages are the thread, tenuously stringing one side of yourself to another, straining to pull your identities together. Or pull them away, keep them at a careful balance, an arm’s length between the two so neither invades the other’s presence.
You must remember that you are both. Departures and arrivals, beginnings and endings, your parents’ efforts to mend, and yours, to blend.
You understand, don’t you? Because destinations – definitions – are never singular. You find and abandon one home after another, you discover and forget every sunset you ever encounter, you are a passerby to every person you love and will ever love. If your plane reaches a stop, then you must have another start waiting.
And so you set off again –
“Good evening, passengers. Welcome on board to Air Canada, flight AC021 to Shanghai, China.”
– onto your next round-trip voyage.
“Good morning, passengers. Welcome on board to Air China, flight CA120 to Vancouver, Canada.”