I suggest reading this first.
“Leona, run.” I hear my great-grandma’s voice as my yellow rain boots hit the tile.
My flight to Copenhagen is boarding in twenty minutes and I still have to change terminals, legally enter the U.K., clear customs, pass security, and find the gate. How do you say “I’m fucked” in Danish?
I was three hours delayed coming from Toronto, but I’ve been assured by the tall, blonde flight attendant that the London Stansted airport I am currently sweating in – is small. I exit the terminal tram and sprint to the intimidating U.K. BORDER sign where a long passport control line snakes in front of me. Shit.
I meet the eyes of two British backpackers who immediately sense my stress. “My flight is boarding, like now.” I tell the lads. “Her flight is boarding, like now!” they yell, getting the attention of approximately everyone in line. I duck under stanchions and apologize incessantly, like a true Canadian, as every single person lets me pass them. “Thank you!” I yell back to the lads who return a thumbs-up. Ten minutes until the gate closes.
My boarding pass, however, has other ideas. I put my phone on the scanner and all I get on the plastic barrier separating me from security is a big, red, X. I try again, X. Again, X, X, X.
“WHY?!” I scream at my phone before an airport employee takes it from my hands, squints at the screen, and lets me through. Eight minutes.
I throw my carry-on suitcase, backpack, and fanny pack (they’re trendy now, I swear) onto the conveyer belt and watch them inch by while I have an anxiety attack in the metal detector line. I never know how to walk through metal detectors, I don’t want to be overly confident, but I also don’t want to – “Shoes off!” someone interrupts my train of thought. I look down at my bright yellow rubber boots.
“Whose bag is this?” a security agent holding my backpack demands. “It’s mine,” I raise my hand and roll my eyes like an annoyed teenager.
“I’m going to have to take a look inside,” she says.
“Okay, but my plane is boarding.” She ignores me and opens my bag.
“Liiiiiiquids?” she repeats, staring into my soul.
“Only the required amount.” I break.
“What’s this?” she asks, pointing to my full water bottle.
I wonder what the jail time would be for hitting a security agent.
She hands me the bottle, “empty it or throw it out.”
Without even considering the other option, I open the cap and chug the whole thing like a frat boy in his prime. Water and sweat drip down my face and into the collar of my red knit sweater. I am fully aware of the scene I’m making, but don’t care because I’m so bloody thirsty and tired from running all over this godforsaken airport.
I pass my now empty water bottle to the unimpressed agent who takes it and my bag to another counter where she swabs them for drugs probably because she thinks I’m on them. By the time she gives my bag back, I have one minute left.
“Leona, run.” I hear my great-grandma tell her daughter as I sprint through the duty-free, which you have to conveniently pass to get to the gates. I weave in and out of perfume displays and curse the flight attendant who told me this place was small. I stop to check the monitor for my gate, which is now closed, but, if I hurry, maybe I can still make it.
“Excuse me!” I yell to unsuspecting travellers. My lungs burn as I lug my suitcase up and down escalators and conveyor belts. The gate numbers aren’t getting any closer and I still have a ways to go. My legs slow out of sheer exhaustion, but I think of her and keep going. “Leona, run.” There it is again.
I picture my grandma’s young, track-star legs carrying her through the night as her father chases her off the farm. He is drunk and angry and has a shotgun in his hands, but she is fast. She pumps her legs harder and picks up speed, she doesn’t look back, but I sure do. I blink away tears as memories of this past month play in my mind like a supercut. The dead maple tree outside my grandparents’ home, my doctor’s words, his blue eyes – it’s all too much and I just need to find the gate.
I try to focus on the numbers and not the pounding in my chest when I spot an unusual amount of people in red shirts at the end of the hallway. I run past the very loud, very red mob and notice the letters on the screen above them. “STN > CPH” – holy shit, that’s my flight. I can’t believe it.
“Holy shit!” I gasp, dropping my backpack and ripping off my soaked, red sweater. I’m at the back of the line in a tiny red tank top with no bra and it feels glorious. “I didn’t know there would be strippers on the plane.” I hear some asshole Brit say behind me as I wipe sweat from my upper lip. I’m too relieved to be pissed, “breakfast and a show!” I yell back. “And she’s got wellies, too!” He laughs with his buddy and points to my boots.
Now I’m pissed.
I whip around and in a very threatening don’t-fuck-with-me tone, I say… “what’s with the shirts?”
“Football,” he replies, Wales is playing Denmark in Are-house.”
Ah, of course.
“Hopefully you guys don’t choke like you did in the World Cup,” I say with complete confidence in my sports-related chirp.
“Oh no, he smirks, you got it wrong, you’re thinking of England, we are WELSH.”
I look down at my red top and yellow boots, then at everyone else in red and yellow shirts with red and yellow crests, red and yellow scarves, red and yellow hats. “I’ll have you know, my name is Welsh.” I tease.
“Well, what is it then?” the
Brit Welsh asshole asks.
“Ah, that’s a surname, not a name-name.” His, much older, buddy remarks.
“Oh, fuck off.” I tell them, I think we’re friends now.
The not-so-asshole Welsh guy looks at my backpack on the floor, “so what are you doing, going to Copenhagen – he stops when he looks back at me – all by yourself?”
I pause, unsure how to tell them, so I say the first thing that comes to mind, “I’m going to pour one out for my grandma.”
They stare at me, confused. “Is she in Denmark?”
“Nope, she’s dead.” I say, serious, straight face, relishing in the awkward silence, before cracking a smile.
The not-so-asshole Welsh guy lets out a big belly laugh from his rather big belly – he gets me. He reaches into his carry-on and pulls out a ziplock bag of travel-size shampoo bottles full of brown liquid. He grabs one of the bottles, “you like Jack Daniels?” he asks.
“God, no,” I wince as he takes a shot, then hands the tiny shampoo bottle to me. I close my eyes and think of England as the warm liquor burns its way down to my empty stomach.
“Your Grandma would be proud.” He smiles.
I think so too.