We are arriving. Just started to cross the Vasco da Gama bridge. From the car seat where I was carefully left, I see her focusing on the foggy window, counting the airplanes, planting fingerprints. Their roars and expanding fumes are leaving behind the nostalgic sense of departure. On the glass, a few rain drops wait to dry while I count the minutes until the airport. ‘In five hours’, she always wonders, not allowing herself to finish the thought.
She starts gathering everything, including me as soon as we park. The yellow coat, curiously the first of us visiting London years ago, is now the only one left behind. There are now two hours to burn. The green chairs have been broken for years, but always occupied with one particularity: no one talks. Everyone is eating, sleeping or on their phones and laptops. Trying to keep a conversation running, she mentions her annoyance every time she has to take her shoes off. That’s when her hands start trembling, the silence breaks and she ponders if what London gives is better than what it stole. One last selfie, then it’s time to say good-bye.
Memories flood her eyes. Once she was the one seeing her father crossing those gates. The papers are inverted now. Husbands, parents, grandparents, siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends. There are tears and smiles, promises not to cry. To call at the plane, after security or only after landing. When her palm holds me tighter, sobs are coming, so is the security. A guard asks her: ‘is this place that ugly? Do you need a hug?’, she shakes her head and cleans her wet eyes, as if she had just woke up. And then, he tells her to take off her shoes. I’m left on a grey box with her phones, listening the teasing of another guard due to the football scarf tied to her backpack. A laugh bubbles out of her.
I’m quickly put into her bag. It’s full of books, lipstick and electronic devices. Not forgetting the transparent bag with the liquids. Usually while she walks I fall into a dark corner, hard to find on a woman’s bag. Not this time. Part of my red cover stays out, staring to what I usually hear. I sense her hesitation when it comes to choose the passport machines or the European queue. There is rarely someone waiting here. A gentleman takes me. Glares at me. Compares me to the person I travel with. And we are wished a nice journey.
The sound of dragged wheels, business conversations, chocolates’ paper being ripped open and considerably cheaper perfumes break my state of trance until gate 47. From this moment on, life appears to her as screenshots. Even following all the indications, we always find a way to get lost. A couple ask us if we are going to Africa. ‘They are lost as well’, I think and she smiles. Every window displays a plane. All from the same air company. It is very sunny today. And the hot air slows everyone down. Unfortunately, this time the football coach Mourinho won’t fly with us. Her hands confess me an uncanny feeling, when she listens someone speaking English. I tell them to relax, this also happens in London when she realizes that Portuguese surrounds her. But she is already distracted. Eyes running up and down the queue. Trying to understand who is alone as well. A girl, whose black jacket is forgotten on the floor, is doing a FaceTime call with her mother. Other with his best friend. A baby boy, perhaps two years old, keeps running from his parents. A bag falls, revealing its heaviness. The white-moustache owner blushes. She remembers then what she forgot, what should have said. The red gloves would be useful, one last hug too. Thoughts become louder, she tries to focus on every sound around her. When she believes she is successful, I am certain that she failed.
Entering the plane is a step closer to finally rest. More than ten years ago the flight assistants would scare the little girl who arrived with two baby dolls and a stuffed cat. ‘Where are their tickets?’. Today they welcomed her with the formal ‘hello, good-afternoon’. A grown woman.
Her steps are calculated by heart. The chosen line being always the same, 19. To the left if we take the flight in London. To the right, since it is our destiny. When she accommodates herself her mother calls. She wants her to look through the window right before reaching the sky.
Locking belts, I fall from her lap, landing beside two bare feet. I know she notices when she fetches me. Everyone has certain rules about what to do or not to do during the flight. Taking off shoes is not acceptable for her. The lovely lady from the other seat smiles to her, silently sharing the same opinion. A baby cries behind her, while the couple in front has an argument, a good excuse to put her earphones on. The security procedures are explained, but she never listens to them. I do not have a choice. Her mother used to place me immediately on the bag as soon as they started the demonstrations, taking two candies from the bag, and obligating her to rest her head on the lap. To help with the ear pressure. We are leaving later than expected, as usual. She does not recall this at the time, the plane started to move and she pays attention to the window. She knows what awaits her, but for two long minutes she believes she is in the wrong side of the plane. Tears reach her eyes right after catching a glimpse of her family. Right there. Automatically, she puts her hand on the window and a gasp surprises her. They see it and wave. She picks up her phone to text them, only to realize that her body is being pushed against the leather. The wheels are already on the air.
On her ears Home by Gabrielle Aplin follows a short sequence of places from her favourite city. Once, on a flight doing the contrary route, a Chinese lady from Detroit praised Lisbon for being ‘the most colourful city’ she had ever seen. Including the football stadium. One week ago she was down there. Thinking about this moment. In a matter of minutes our country disappears in the clouds. Her hot shaking blow hitting me. Seconds later the pilot interrupts the moment to give us information about the weather and the temperature by the time we land. She relaxes a little. Since she had promised her eight-year-old sister that there were more car accidents than plane crashes, she could never completely rest until getting out of the plane. And every time there were news on the contrary, her promise was broken. With this in mind, she closes her eyes.
The first smell of coffee and the brioches’ bag opening wakes her up. Against what every website tells her, she keeps drinking her paper-cup-coffee. The clouds are carefully shaped. Big castles or calm seas can be compared to these sun lighted constructions. The point of her fingers lazily follow my golden coat of arms, tickling me over and over. While she tries to get lost on the book she brought. There is a thought she tries to hide, but this is her Fado.
It was during the 60s and the 70s that the Portuguese community started to emigrate. Back then, France was the first choice. Almost six hundred thousand made their lives there. Switzerland, Germany, Belgic and Luxemburg quickly followed. Most didn’t come back. However, they all shared the same dream: coming back to their country. Since then, sending money to who they left in Portugal, as saving to build their own house became the general goal. August is known for the Migrants’ Month, their arriving fills the smallest and oldest villages, and all the Summer News. Parties are thrown in their honour; Saints are taken from the altar to bless them. Families are not divided anymore. Nowadays, more than two million Portuguese have a country in their blood and another in their heart. England and Norway are the newest destinies. But these people’s story does not start in the twentieth-century. These are the responsible for the beginning of the maritime expansion of our world. These are the creators of ‘saudade’, the nostalgic feeling of missing something or someone. In every old corner of Lisbon there is a cultural house, where old and new sing together to the sound of a whining guitar. It is Fado they sing. It is ‘the sadness that every person from our country offers’. It is the destiny, the Fado of half of this plane.
These are her roots. Slowly, she is following the steps of her grandfather. And her father as well. Distance was part of her education. She was eight months the first time she flied. And at three, even with fever she caught a flight to the Canary Isle. Once she and her mother decided to surprise her father. In the very same day, he decided to do the same. Those who believe in fairy tales might believe their planes’ path crossed in the sky. She did.
And for awhile, the only time of the year she enjoyed was Christmas, the only time her family stayed more than a single weekend. Twelve years later, in her bag still travels a small plane, the one her father brought one day, the one he used to fly in, the one she is using now. Without her permission I dare to admit that the story of this girl, it’s the story of a whole nation. The nation that does not wish upon a star. The nation that believes: behind every falling star is a simple plane, that every wish is a plane away.
When there is only a half on hour left, she starts getting anxious. The former unique odour can now be recognised as sweat and an enormous wave of masculine perfume. A few seconds of turbulence annoy her, causing her to flip through my delicate pages. Anxious to arrive. Only the last minutes of sunset bring enough light to cheer. She is aware it is her last chance, London will be darker even on its sunny days. The belt light turns up again. Right after the bip, the pilot says ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re now ready to start our approach to London Heathrow Airport. We hope you had enjoyed our flight. Thank you for flying with TAP Portugal’ but she only knows we’re close when she sees car’s lights. That’s the moment she puts the music on, again. Playing the very same song when departing and arriving, she is positive that in the very same moment that the wheels touch the ground the drum will be playing behind the chorus. Home is not just where you make your bed, it’s not just where you lay your head, but when the plane turns, she rests the head on the window having the city as a pillow, that holds all the fears, and all her dreams. And there’s an illuminated galaxy of O2 Arenas and Big (that look smaller) Bens and football stadiums and London Eyes that makes her believe Paris does not deserve the title ‘City of Light’. In that moment she also knows why she can’t see stars in the city, they’ve fallen to be seen from the sky. And it doesn’t matter what time we’re suppose to land, she always does it on the minute 3.09. Finally, you start feeling light again. You never feel as light as when you’re at the airport. Either because you’re leaving a home, either because you’re arriving to another. Planes might mean change but airports will always be a home free of ‘I miss…’ , no matter to which city they belong to.