Bon Voyage, Mum

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Hurry!”

“The gate’s closing soon.”

“I’m going as fast as I can, my dear boy.”

I held my tongue. My mum is always late for everything. For as long as I can remember, she would keep people waiting until she was ready for them. Should you have the audacity to want to be somewhere early or on time, my mum would turn that into a fantasy – if she was along for the ride.

“I’ve checked your bags through.”

“Here’s your boarding ticket.”

“You are a good son!”

Not knowing whether that was sarcasm or sincerity, I just replied with an emotionally detached, “humph!”

“Take the free buggy ride over there,” I pointed to the stationary, courtesy golf cart that assists the elderly and the less agile amongst us. Her Rheumatoid Arthritis qualified her for a free ride.

“Have you cash? You’ll need it on board for refreshments.”

It was the 1980s and you had to purchase extras on long haul flights. 

My mum and I spent most of my adulthood in distant relationship. Her in Kentucky, me in California, her in Ireland, me in California, her in California, me in England, her in England, me in Australia. Most of our conversations were conducted on the telephone – and mostly one sided with her complaining about the world and me distractedly listening on the other end. My mum had a very strong opinion of people and was not shy about airing those views – especially to me, resulting in an element of listening apathy practiced so well by me.

“I didn’t think of it,” she replied.

I momentarily stood still as if time was no longer a factor in my day, then let slip an exasperated response to my mother’s unpreparedness.

“Great!”

When the clock is ticking, it is so very difficult to remain calm and lucid as frustration seeps in. It takes a great deal of inner strength to not get caught up in the emotional moment. In my head I was cursing and maddeningly stamping my feet loudly.

“Aargh!” was my inner cry.

The outer me however, slowed its breathing, sucked in some air and with the angelic pretentiousness of one of the many Irish saints my mother prayed to, I replied slowly and tersely, “I will go to the cash machine and get you some, then catch you up at the gate. Just in case I miss you, we’ll say our quick goodbyes here.”

Either my mum glossed over my life’s constant frustration at her misled beliefs and idiosyncrasies, or she just put it down to the accepted lifelong petulance of her son towards her, I’ll never know. Conflict resolution in my family was never a strong point. Moving on to the next conflict was easier than solving the old one.

I gave her a warm hug.

“See ya, Ma!” I exclaimed in a 1930s style voice, reminiscent of a scene from The Grapes of Wrath movie.

“Call me when you land,” I demanded.

“Bob will be at the other end, waiting for you.”

My stepdad was a living saint.

Three tours of Korea and three tours of Vietnam could not alter his passive temperament. However, my mum managed to challenge his natural resolve with every passing day.

He seemed to enjoy the challenge. Deeply in love with “Joy,” he remained at her beck and call, waited for her with extreme patience, and was her taxi driver… sorry.. chauffeur to wherever she wanted to go. Being a retired US Navy officer, he had no other focus except for his Louis L’Amour Western novels or tinkering with car engines, so acting as my mum’s minder was a welcome change to his daily routine of binge reading while constantly smoking his pipe – cherry blend tobacco variety.

Indeed, he was a living deity, and a welcome companion for Joy. We got along very well and not having the experience of a father around when I was growing up, he became the Dad I never had but more importantly, a welcome distraction to my mum’s unconditional love for her only child – the reluctant recipient of the centre of her world’s attention. No matter what, she was always there for me, and I sadly confess that I was not always grateful.

“You only have one mother,” she would often say.

“If I don’t look out for you, who will?”

My eyes panned the airport terminal as I suddenly realised there were no cash machines in sight.

“There will be one on the other side,” I convinced myself.

 Quickly, I headed towards the departure lounge. International flights still allowed goodbyes at the gates, so stripping myself of belt, shoes, coins, keys, credit cards, cash cards, and watch, I dropped them into the tray provided and walked through the metal detector.

“BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP,” sounded the archway.

“Step over here, please,” commanded the young, female security guard.

Complying, I innocently mentioned the alarm was probably due to the metal fly button on my jeans. Uninterested, she motioned me to raise my arms and stretch them outwards, crucifixion-style as she ran her hand-held metal detector up, down, and around my body. It bleeped as it passed my fly button.

With a wry smile, I shrugged and wondered if she was going to order me to take off my jeans. That would have been an interesting scene – me, shyly standing in my briefs, watching my jeans get passed through the x-ray machine. What would the growing queue of travellers – now worryingly stripping themselves bare of any concealed metal objects – think as they stared open mouthed at one of their own being strip-searched in plain view. My mind shamelessly wandered and started to paint more embarrassing thoughts onto my brain’s surprisingly blank canvas. I needed to get my mum some cash before she departed Los Angeles and time was quickly running out. I was just starting to feel the growing pangs of anxiety when..

“You’re good to go.”

I stared blankly at the security guard.

“You can collect your things over there.”

Swiftly, I gathered my possessions and continued my quest while awkwardly looping my belt back onto my jeans.

Picking up the pace, I began to jog then run towards gate number 2 sprinting like an Olympic God, easily passing others late for their flights.

“It is gate 2, right?” I queried myself.

I was so focused on my mission, that I passed up a cash machine nestled discreetly in a nook opposite the toilets. It took several moments for this to register in my head. Then, as if out of cartoon chase scene, I skidded to a halt with the realisation that I was still in my socks and had been carrying my shoes in my hands since the security check. While looping my belt into my jeans, I tucked the shoes under my arms and upon buckling my belt, had subconsciously transferred them to my hands to allow me to run.

I found a nearby seat and proceeded to put my shoes back on my feet. Grabbing a bank card from my wallet, I stood up and while checking out my shoes were fitted correctly, I approached the ATM.

BUMP!

I looked up as I collided with a person standing with their back to me, facing the ATM. 

“Sorry,” I blurted out apologetically.

The heavy-set man just nodded his acceptance.

In a space of 30 seconds, a queue of two people had formed in front of the ATM, where only a few moments ago, no-one was using it.

I scanned the corridor for any sign of another cash machine.

Bingo! Approximately fifty paces ahead, I spotted a sign revealing the position of another machine. From my viewpoint, there was not a soul using it, so I bounded with long sprinted steps to tag it as mine and mine first.

Short of breath from my world record sprint, euphoria quickly turned to disappointment as I captured my prey, clutching the machine like a long-lost friend. Flickering on the screen were the words, “This ATM cannot dispense any cash, please use the next closest ATM.”

I looked back towards my previous location. There were now three people in line for the ATM. I looked down the corridor again to assess my options.

A large, illuminated sign jutting out from the wall alerted everyone heading in its direction. GATE 2.

         “Great!”

This was the last chance saloon before the departure gate. 

“Can’t see my mum yet. Maybe she’s in the departure lounge,” I wondered.

Without a second thought, I hurried back to the queue at the previous ATM. It was now down to one person – the heavy-set man I bumped into earlier. The others must have been on short notice for their flights and quickly rushed past me in a shuffled trot. Seizing the moment, I rushed back to wait for my turn at the dispenser of cash.

“That can’t be right,” the heavy-set man muttered.

Taking his card out of the machine, he promptly put it back in and typed in his pin number.

“Oh, come on!” I said to myself.

“Problems?” I asked out loud.

“Damn machine says I don’t have enough funds.”

“That can’t be right,” he repeated – this time out loud.

“I’m gonna check my balance again.”

“Please hurry,” I pleaded.

“I need to get some money out for my mum.”

“Can’t hurry the tech,” he recited, as if I knew what he was referring to.

“The 1’s and O’s are travelling at light speed, determining what final numbers will be displayed on this screen.”

I clicked.

He’s a computer geek. A new breed in the 1980s. Speak in their own language and delight in making their computers print out naked women using numbers, symbols, and letters on rolls of perforated, dot-matrix printer paper.

The airport announcement alert chimed followed by a clear, female voice broadcasting through the airport’s speaker system.

“This is the final call for the 20:30, Aer Lingus, Flight 317 to Shannon, Ireland. All remaining passengers, please report to the departure desk at gate 2 as the gate will be closing in five minutes. Final call for…”

Her words faded quickly in my ears as panic stations set in.  

“How much do you need?”

“Whassat, buddy?”

I was now his ATM buddy, kindred spirit of the binary system.

“How much are you short?”

“Twenty Dollars.”

Obviously, this geek did not have a computer job. Probably spent his time locked in his bedroom, playing Space Invaders while his browbeaten mother brought him his meals and did his laundry.

“Here’s the deal,” I commanded.

“You let me get forty dollars out now and I’ll give you half.”

I mean, that’s probably more than he got in a month of Sundays from his poor mother.

A short beep followed by the removal of his bank card indicated his acceptance. Quickly brushing past him, I slotted in my card, typed in my pin number, selected the cash out option, entered $40 and hit the enter button. To my delight and the obviously pleased expression on my new friend’s face, two crisp, twenty dollar notes appeared from the dispenser.

“Here!” 

“Wow! Thanks buddy.”

“My pleasure,” I threw back at him over my shoulder as I swiftly headed for gate 2.

“Excuse me,” I said trying to get the desk attendant’s attention – presumptively explaining,

“My mum’s on that flight. She has no cash, so I brought her twenty dollars to use in flight. Is there any chance you could get it to her, please?”

“Sure!”

That was easy.

“What seat is she in?”

“65C,” I blurted from memory as my outstretched hand transferred the cash to her hand.

“Wait here,” she asked pleasantly.

“Hey, buddy!”

I turned around to see my sponsored ATM companion checking in late to my mum’s flight.

“Appreciate the money. It will come in handy on the plane.”

“Humph!”

Without further interaction, he disappeared down the gangplank towards the aircraft.

A few minutes passed before the desk attendant reappeared.

“Sir, I checked seat 65C and there’s no-one sitting in it. The toilets are unoccupied, so are you sure about the seat number?”

“Positive.”

“Well, she’s not in it.”

I thought for a moment, then remembered her displeasure of having an aisle seat. My fault. I booked it presuming she’d need to use the toilet a lot – something that was a fact as she drank an awful lot of tea during the day. Logically, it was a good choice, but my mum had a way of defying logic. You just could not second-guess her.

“She’s probably changed seats for a window seat. She wasn’t happy about sitting on the aisle.”

The desk attendant paused, slightly irritated.

“There’s no-one sitting in that row, at all.”

“She’s probably decided to make her own seating arrangement. Could you please give the twenty to a stewardess on board and have them page her after take-off?”

“Sure!”

Her tone of voice reflected a sense of urgency as she headed through the gate, closing the gangway door, before proceeding towards the aircraft.

“Ah, she’s working the flight,” I realised.

“Thank you!” I shouted, causing her to respond with a wave of her money arm.

A few more minutes passed as I stared out of the concourse window, trying to see if my mum was miraculously sitting in a window seat that faced me. Suddenly, the bellowed gangplank retracted from the aircraft, followed a few moments later by the aircraft being directed backwards, away from the gate, by the pushback tug.

I energetically waved goodbye at an unidentifiable figure waving back in my direction. Relief cascaded through every essence of my being. She’s Bob’s responsibility now. Bon Voyage, Mum!

The aircraft, now detached from its tug shackles, throttled up and jerked forward, slowly moving out of the reach of my gaze. Tired of waving, my left arm flopped to my side; however, I remained in place to glimpse the last of the tail wing as it disappeared out of view of the concourse. 

A sense of quiet and calmness pervaded the lounge. Ten minutes ago, passengers were milling around, babies crying, people chatting for no reason at all except to be heard and mask their apprehensions of the upcoming long-haul flight. Now, it was deathly quiet. 

With eyes closed, I absorbed its reclaimed serenity.

“Nice place to sleep, if you needed to,” I thought.

“The acoustics are great in here.”

My heightened sense of hearing in the quietness, detected the approaching pitter-patter of shuffled footsteps, now closing in on my location. Thinking it was probably security about to tell me that the lounge was now closed to the public, I turned to greet them.

“Oh, Christopher!”

I stared in disbelief, my mouth aghast in silent scream.

“What the?!”

“F-f-f-ff…”

“What are you doing here?”

I once did a study on the affliction of Tourette Syndrome for a comedy screenplay I wrote. In one conclusion, it stated that Tourette sufferers should not try to suppress their tics as the more they suppressed them, the more aggressive they came back to the surface. 

In that moment of disbelief at my mother standing in front of me when I thought she was on the flight now departing the airport, I was suddenly possessed with the most vocal of a Tourette’s moment in the form of Coprolalia and quite frankly, I lost control.

“YOU’VE MISSED YOUR FUCKING FLIGHT!!!”

My strong reaction took both of us by surprise. Me exclaiming profanity at my mum had evolved over the years. She could be the most frustrating person to deal with. It was like the whole world had to stop for her and wait until she was ready. It was an infuriating trait to deal with and sometimes I just could not hold in my displeasure. I immediately regretted my outburst.

“Oh, Saint Anthony, please help us,” she pleaded.

“Where were you?”

“I had to wee.”

“The effing tea,” I muttered, turning my head away so she wouldn’t hear.

“Has it gone?”

“YES!”

“Can’t they bring it back?”

“…NO!”

I quickly adjusted my tone and pointed at an aircraft in ascent towards the sky. It was too soon for her missed flight to be in the air; however, I wanted to dramatically point out her effect on this moment.

“Oh, why does this only happen to me?”

I silently looked back at her thinking, “I know… I know exactly why.”

The madness of the moment took hold and I started to laugh embarrassingly, followed by more physical fits of laughter so overwhelming that tears streamed down my face. I was bent over almost choking on my emotion. Once again, the woman that brought me into this world, nurtured me, raised me, and eventually accepted that I had my own path in life to follow, had managed to throw a huge spanner in the cogwheel of progress.

My mum thought it hilarious that I was laughing uncontrollably at the situation and began to burst out laughing herself, reminiscent of the late, great Stan Laurel .

There the both of us were, laughing at the fact that my mum had missed her flight home because she had too pee. A ticket I had purchased. Fueled further by the flashback of me paying a stranger to cut ahead of him at the cash machine, and the twenty dollars richer, a young Stewardess now was on her flight to Ireland – all at my expense – was all too much. As quickly as it started, my spontaneous outburst extinguished itself and left me spent of energy.

Exhausted, I sat down to calmly assess the situation. 

Spotting a departures monitor mounted to a wall just outside the lounge, I immediately jumped up and headed towards it.

“Stay here, I’ll be right back,” I strictly commanded.

“You’ll be flying home tonight- one way or another…”

“…Just hope I have enough money to cover it.”

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