Monday. 0830. Southampton Airport.
I always used to love the buzz of airports. People waiting, looking important in the departure lounge; announcements for the next flight to exotic locations. Somehow, sitting by myself here with just a cup of tea for company – direction France – doesn’t quite hold the same anticipation.
My last two days at home were similar and quiet. On Saturday, Brother was working so Mum, Dad and I jumped in the car and went loch side. The weather has been quite wet recently, so instead of walking the trails (with Mum in my old Converse), we bimbled along the tarmac road. The loch was grey, two swans punctuating the duvet of low-lying cloud. Their human doubles stood at the end of the road, rods instead of bills to catch minute loch creatures. I clicked electronically. It was a quick stroll, but nice all the same.
That night was my first in Glasgow since Christmas. I was prepared for that being a strange experience, compulsively seizing a window seat on the train like I was en route to uni, but it seems I’d been home too long. It felt completely normal. C was waiting for me at the station; we sat in the car’s warmth and opened our anniversary gifts.
He wrote a letter. I would quote but I’ve only read it once, and I’m scared to reopen it in case I tear up. He also presented me with a small, maybe 6×5 parcel which contoured like a book. Initially, I thought it was the Moleskine I’d given him for Christmas that for some reason he was giving back, but I was wrong. It was a threaded green 1904 copy of Othello, a book of his I’ve always admired. “I want you to have it”. That was special.
Chomping and chatting taken into account, my favourite part of the evening was our spur-of-the-moment walk around the West End in the dark. There is nothing like Byres Road at night: always people around; not in a scary city way, but with a vibrant, studenty atmosphere. We walked up to the university; an almost ghostly yellow light projected on the gothic spire, and on finding an open gate we ended up in front of the main building looking down on Kelvingrove and the skyline of Glasgow.
When I left the airport this morning, I saw a sign advertising the city. An old sandstone building in the background, and the inscription: “This Is Home”. That’s how I felt when I looked out, the streetlights like stars, the roads like asteroid trails, C beside me. Peace.
Sunday morning, yesterday, the last before my departure. Down to my grandparents to wave goodbye.
I really admire Gran. She is so matter-of-fact and just-get-on-with-it about everything. She asked if I was looking forward to going back, and with a tight throat and dangerously watery eyes I replied, “No, not particularly.” Unlike Mum, she didn’t hug or comfort me, but rather said, “Oh it’ll be great! You’ll have a great time!” I suppose the grandparents have seen so many things in their time that a year abroad must seem fun and diverting. I can’t help but feel ungrateful.
It was nice to see them, chat a bit. My grandfather was offering words of wisdom, like, “Normandy will be pretty in the spring with all those apple blossoms” and, “it’ll be lightening up at night before you know it.” I was only there for fifteen minutes, and when I said bye they implored me to keep in touch via Skype. I felt my eyes filling again. Why is saying goodbye always so difficult? Coming up to 1400, Gare de Rennes.
It’s bizarre to think that now, I’m in a different country. I’m trying to work out how I feel about that. As the plane broke the cloud barrier, I saw tiny French houses, and cars on the wrong side of the road. And I didn’t really feel that much. I don’t feel happy at returning, yet I don’t feel sad either. It’s like I’ve just accepted it, knowing it’s got to be done, and I think that’s the best way to view everything.
The airport and the station are reassuringly familiar. When I asked for my ticket I didn’t falter with my French, even though it’s been two weeks. It’s odd to think thought, however ‘familiar’ it seems, that C has done the Glasgow-Rennes journey more than I have.
So, France – second impressions? Still a higher proportion of creepy or even just homeless men, solely here in the station. It’s very grey – that said, it is Brittany after all. The ladies are more stylish, and by that I mean they wear more black. Last, for the moment – the toilets are not a speck on the British ones with our cleanliness, automatic taps and hand driers, the nation of disinfectant. By comparison, here, you take what cleanliness you can get (I recommend McDo).
I have two distinct feelings on my return to France.
One: When I think of teaching – the stress of 3èmes and 4èmes, and the last minute rush when the teachers don’t notify you – gives me a slight flutter in the pit of my stomach.
Two: an unquenchable desire to just seize the moment and get it over with. I’m in France; okay, so let’s try and speak French, paint, read, write – only don’t get so down about everything. Though 8 weeks seems so long. But I’m here. That’s reality. So let’s live it and see how it goes.