Oh yes, there were tears at the airport when Family Little City was reunited earlier this week. But not in the way that any of us had imagined…
* * *
The older sister had used her height advantage to peer over her brother’s head and spot their mother first. Screaming with excitement, she set off across the terminal building as if jet-propelled, her little brother trailing in her wake. Ignoring the No Entry signs, she slipped under the barrier, and barrelled so fast into her mum that she nearly knocked her off her feet. Her brother was just seconds behind, the trio a mass of hugs and bags and screaming and tears.
Kid A, Amnesiac and I looked over our shoulders at the utterly familiar scene taking place behind us, one like thousands of others taking place at airports all over the world, every day of the year.
I turned my eyes away from the family of strangers back to the front of the terminal building and continued scanning the entrances.
I was glad they were enjoying their reunion…but where was ours?
* * *
You’ll have it in your house, either by preference, habit, accident or design: jobs that just naturally fall to one partner over the other. Round our way, packing is one of mine. The logistics may have been daunting but there was a small part of me that was really enjoying myself.
My brother lent us his Land Rover and my parents drove me, the kids and our 15 suitcases to Heathrow. No queues at check in, a simple swipe of the credit card to pay for all the excess baggage (one frightening aspect about expatriating is how quickly you become immunised to spending large sums of money without so much as blinking) and we were off.
As we headed for the gate, texts and calls wishing us good luck and bon voyage were coming in from all quarters. Even now there’s still some I haven’t replied to. It had been less than two days since we’d arrived back in the UK from France; it was all happening so quickly there almost wasn’t time to take in the magnitude of what we were about to do.
It was probably better that way.
The kids weren’t even thinking as far ahead as what awaited them at the other end of the flight. You want wonder? Try looking at a long-haul plane through the eyes of an eight year old: a blanket! Uncomfortable headphones! Retractable remotes that disappear into the armrest! More buttons than Benjamin Button’s button factory!
Somehow, they each managed to watch a movie, despite an average of seventy-three self-inflicted interruptions. But it was a night flight, and it wasn’t full and eventually, they were able to stretch out and sort of sleep. And before we knew it, we were beginning our descent.
* * *
“No,” said Kid A involuntarily, as she stepped out of the plane and into a heat unlike any she had ever experienced. “Not good.”
I helpfully raised my eyebrows in an I-tried-to-tell-you kind of way. I’m fairly certain it didn’t help.
But our empty flight, plus that fact that the overwhelming majority of passengers into Doha – I think it’s above 80% – are in transit, meant that there were no queues at immigration or baggage reclaim.
We’d arrived early and sailed through everything. This was turning out to be the doddliest doddle of all time.
And so – with a pair of porters in tow – the three of us, tired but buzzing on adrenaline, made our way through customs and out into Arrivals.
This was it; the moment we’d all been waiting for.
The kids were jumping and hopping to get a better look at all the grown ups waiting behind the barrier, each hoping they’d be the one to see mummy first. This was going to be the yin to the yang of her departure, a sunsoaked riposte to the screaming and misery of ten weeks ago…
But the anticipation soon gave way to double take, and then to realisation.
She wasn’t there.
I checked my phone; there had been no response to my text half an hour previously announcing our safe arrival.
I tried calling her mobile, to no avail. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes passed. I dismissed the porters, who had been waiting with stoic patience alongside us.
My mind quickly raced through the possibilities: from she’s parking the car and she’s stuck in traffic, to she’s got the wrong day, all the way to she’s done a runner… which was when the phone rang.
I looked down at the screen. Yes: it was Mrs LC. Even as I answered the call, I imagined that a soon-to-be-legendary anecdote was about to unspool, a do-you-remember-the-time-we-moved-to-Qatar and-you-slept-through-your-alarm kind of classic to be passed down through the generations.
She had a story to tell, alright. But they were not the words I’d heard in my head as I imagined this moment many times over.
They were not words that you particularly want to hear at any time.
“I’m fine,” she said, but I could tell immediately that she’d been crying.
“I’m fine, but I’ve had a car accident.”
* * *
Now, read on…