We were late for our flight. We were cutting it fine, but we were there. We’d made it.
Trace, Izzy and I hurried towards the expectant final call checking desk and as we neared, I pulled out of the top pocket of my jacket our three passports. At the desk, I fumbled in vain to open all three passports on their respective photo page.
But then I stopped trying. An overcoming sense of calm swept me. We’d made it. We were there, there was no need to panic anymore.
I laid our passports on the counter for the checking desk clerk to deal with.
She smiled with a steady professional ease and scooped them up in a flash of pink polished fingernails, from the beige vinyl of the check-in desk.
It was then that I noticed that Izzy’s passport, sandwiched between mine and Traces, wasn’t, in fact, her passport anymore. The dense, red and gold embossed official document that, split seconds earlier I’d pulled from my pocket and placed reassuringly on the check-in desk, had been replaced by a piece of folded up, crumbled at the edges A4 paper.
The check-in clerk unfolded the sheet of paper and looked down at a black and white photocopy of Izzy’s passport, open at the photo page.
I stood back for a moment, unnerved and unsure of myself. I’d just handed her all three passports, right? Out of my top right pocket, where I’d put them earlier? To make sure of a speedy check-in?
I glanced at Trace and Izzy stood beside me, to confirm my reality. They were both stood right there, both panting for breath from the anxiety of our late arrival as much as I was. And I’d just given her all 3 of our passports.
The check-in clerk smiled. ‘It’s ok’, she said, ‘as long as there’s two, it’s all covered’.
I didn’t question it. It was a massive relieve. We would still be on our way. We all thanked her, gathered our baggage and headed for security.
It turned out we were flying from a tiny airport, really no more than an airfield. A handful of small propeller planes sat stationary, as we were escorted at pace onto the runway by a nervous looking besuited male airport assistant towards our awaiting plane, its propellers already fired up for take-off. Trace was just ahead of me, striding towards the aircraft and Izzy was just behind me, ladened down with the stuff she’d wanted to bring with her, clutched to her chest, as well as rammed full in her backpack.
It turned out we were walking through unkempt, dry long grass, rather than the usual pristine tarmac of a runway. There were no painted yellow lines on a smooth grey surface to guide us, no orange plastic barriers to heed our way. And what made matters worse, with all the baggage I was carrying, (as with Izzy, I too was laden down with baggage) I had to loop my foot around one holdall bag and drag it along the grass.
I was thinking, why isn’t this guy helping me? Why’s he not offering to pick up the bag I’m having to drag along the ground with my ankle? Why’s he not helping Izzy with her luggage too?
My iPhone alarm goes off. It’s a slow, pulsing ring tone, designed to gently wake me up from sleep.
I breathe, then I breathe again.
I look at the window blinds and clock that the sun’s up. It’s light, it’s mid-May. All the environmental signs confirm my iPhone’s previous assertion. It’s 7am and I’ve been dreaming.
I lie in bed and carry on breathing. Breathing.
It’s like my day brain is still processing things, still coming to terms with the reality of a mid-May morning. It’s like it needs a little more time to adjust before my dreaming brain shuts down.
In the few minutes it takes for one brain to handover to the other, one to clock-off and the other to clock-in, I lie in bed and hold on dearly to the few precious moments I have left of being awake when it still feels like Izzy is really here. I cling onto that feeling, that momentary proximity, not ever wanting to let go, as my sleeping brain begins to shut down and my day brain takes over. She’s here. She’s there. She’s stood right next to me at check-in. She’s running alongside me to get on the plane.
I get up and go downstairs to make coffee. Trace is already up, no doubt from another restless night. I take over coffee and lie at opposite ends of the sofa with her, still half asleep. We play with the dogs, both competing for our attention, our fingers running through their fluffy, lockdown coats.
As I tell Trace about my dream, still rich and wooing in my head, I think, is this like brain defragging?
In the early days of having a PC, I’d periodically have to defrag my hard drive. Defragging would shift and reorganise files, bits of code, software installations, upgrades and the like and move them around to make more space on the hard drive. It was a like having a good old tidy up, a clear out and a reshuffle of all that was there.
The defrag programme would take some time, even overnight, to weave its sorting magic. And sometimes I’d sit and watch as tiny square dots moved around and grouped together, opening-up space for new files and new memories to replace them, whilst sorting out and making sense of the old fragments – the electronic particles that had been scattered, moved or discarded. Fragments were shown as red, green or blue dots, shuffling, sorting and aligning themselves.
Until this morning’s dream, I’d never really given their photocopied passports that much thought. But thinking about it…
At a Manchester airport freight hanger, seven days after they died, seeing two coffins with passports photocopied at the photo page, taped to the top of each. Daffodils placed beside by their pictures by a thoughtful member of the ground team.
An airport. Passports missing. A recurring motif. Of course.
Red dots that need defragging, assimilating.