Written by the wonderful, talented Bernard. More of his work can be found here.
Jenny rolled her suitcase along the corrugated speed escalator down the wide airport corridor to Domestic Terminal ate 9. The clackalacking of the bag’s polyurethane wheels increased in intensity as she weaved her way around the stationary travellers pockmarked along the human conveyorbelt. The escalator had a great view of Jenny. Black ballet flats, well-fitted dark blue denim jeans and at least five layers of assorted jackets and button-down shirts. Her top half gave any seasoned airport traveller the immediate impression of someone moving homes for good. All to aware of finite carry-on weight allowances, her worldly possessions were crammed into her checked-in luggage, with the last and heaviest clothing items draped around her, giving her the appearance of a well-fed sumo wrestler who had neglected their leg workouts.
Home. Jenny was indeed on a trajectory far away from it. The place she had grown up in, the house of her parents, the anchor to her childhood and teenage memories. Her home was a simple white-picket fenced house in a leafy, tree-lined suburb of Melbourne. The house was an Edwardian-style cottage, built in pre-Federation times, which had earned it a heritage listing and subsequently been a thorn in her parents’ home renovation plans. ‘Nothing gets pas council if it’s heritage listed’ was one of her father’s more grating expressions. Nonetheless, it was a house filled to the brim with antiques and hoarded goods from op-shops and overseas travels as well as the assorted mountains of paraphernalia from Jenny’s school days. A white participation ribbon from the 50m freestyle relay she had nearly drowned in at the ear 8 swimming carnival (or at least that was her excuse for pulling herself along the buoyant lane-rope for half the race). A poster of a Mediaeval castle she had to stay up until 2am designing back in year 9. Old sneakers, beyond well-worn with faded colours and gaping soles. Home.
Yet, these items were not contained in Jenny’s suitcase, nor stashed in her carry-on handbag. They were back at her home, her parent’s house, lying there just as they had for the past eight years. Once Jenny had earned and crafted these ribbons and posters and sneakers, they were placed on shelves and in heaps to be forgotten as tactile objects and to exist from then on solely as dust-accruing decorations. There they now remained, lying dormant in her sarcophagal room.
No, what was more important to Jenny were the clothes she enjoyed wearing and functional items: her laptop, mobile phone, camera, hairdryer, electric toothbrush and the tangled amalgam of their respective power and USB connection cables. She had packed her toiletries, especially her ‘amazing’ conical hair brush she had found online at a 70% discount. There were her shoes, oh her shoes. A flashbulb memory was attached to each of their purchases. The deal, the emotion she was feeling at the time of purchase, who she was with at the time, the brunch or high tea she had eaten beforehand and even the smell of the shoe as she tried it on for the first time in what was always a Cinderella moment. She had her towel, her bedsheets with an immeasurable threadcount, a picture of her husky, Maximus, who was also back at her parents’ home in Melbourne. He was allergic to flying, her parents had said, although secretly Jenny thought they were just selfishly keeping him for themselves and robbing her and Maximus of their entitled happiness together. Combined these objects constituted a checked-in luggage weight of 37 kilograms. The cream of the crop of her personal items now about to be stowed away in the cargo of her aircraft.
Jenny was on a flight to Sydney. A one and a half hour flight. A ten hour drive. A lifetime away. For she really was leaving her life behind. The life of her childhood self, of her adolescent self, the life with her parents, the life with Maximus. With each moment in time Jenny was gaining new experience and thus becoming a different person. Not marginally different, but entirely so. With each step, in fact, Jenny was changing completely. Her life was fragmented into hundreds of thousands of individual lives across time, like a strobe light was passing over her. Her trajectory with time was like a series of dot points on a graph, rather than a continuous line. Certainly the movement of the dots were in a general direction that to any reasonable observer would look like something contiguous, as if Jenny were in fact one person. Yet, at each point Jenny was reinventing herself and drawing on past experience, present momentary stimuli and future hopes and dreams. The person Jenny was not who she had become and was becoming. That Edwardian home she had left behind was the home of her thousands of former selves, but not her as she was now.
Home. What was it then?
The wheels on Jenny’s suitcase continued their incessantly noisy rotations as she inched step by step towards Domestic Terminal gate 9. Suddenly her threadbare jeans started oscillating along their leftmost seam. In fact at that exact same moment her left jean pocket started whimpering ‘bzzt-bzzt’ sounds as well. It could only mean one thing. Her glorious mobile phone was communicating to her, letting her know in its robotic language that someone wanted to talk to her. Now. It was a beautiful phone that had superseded her slightly less beautiful phone only two weeks earlier. This glorious phone was heralded as the most technologically innovative iteration of its kind and Jenny simply had to have it. For only $70, of her parent’s money each month for 24 months, it was hers. Jenny teased her prized phone out of her tight pants that were hugging it in their vice-like grip.
‘Get your own phone, pants’, Jenny whispered.
‘Incoming call: Dad’, read Jenny’s phone. She let it go to voice-mail.
Jenny was busy now. She had just talked to her father not thirty minutes earlier when he had dropped her off at the airport. He could wait.
She was walking past the alley of airport clothing stores with their colourful and skilfully designed signage, which desperately cried ‘look at me’ to anyone lumbering on by. Yet, they were also out of touch with those very people whose attention they pined for. Clothing adorned mannequins and sale signs hung unadmired with the sales clerk busily folding otherwise untouched clothes or indiscreetly offering their profound insights on Facebook. The mere location of these shops inside the airport terminus was enough information for the majority of travellers to deduce that they could not afford its merchandise. They were too poor to even acknowledge the stores’ existence, having spent the vast sum of their credit card allowance or government handouts on the plane ticket itself. A tumble-weed would not have been out of place in these stores. Neglected and unloved, these store-fronts were the broken homes of consumerism.
Jenny’s jeans started vibrating again. She recommenced the ritual of coaxing her phone out of her pocket.
‘Incoming call: Dad’, Jenny left it to ring out as she scrolled through her phone’s menu.
‘One missed call.’ She swiftly pressed the next button.
‘One voice-mail message.’ Then the screen updated itself: ‘Two missed calls. Two voice-mail messages.’
Jenny turned her phone screen off and clasped it in her hand as she made her way to ate 9.
She walked past smiling families greeting newly reunited family members as they exited their plane. ‘Welcome home’, they mouthed to their loved ones. Men and women in prim business suits walked in long staccato strides, their inner metronomes ticking at just the right tempo to get them to their departing plane on time. Lovers in thongs, surf attire with the Mr adorned with tribal bicep brachii tattoos and the Mrs with earthy red dyed hair, linked together with playful pinkie fingers. Children arched out across the course-way, only turning back at the shrill cries of their parents who were already encumbered by large overstuffed hiking backpacks and additional children that were strapped to their chests in baby-holsters. These were all snapshots into the lives of others in transit from their respective homes.
Jenny turned left into the seating area of ate 9. She plonked down into the creaks of the plastic and lightly cushioned seat, littering her luggage out in front of her and onto the adjacent seating. She would move them if she had to, but she was so fatigued from walking around that at that particular moment she simply did as she pleased- regardless of how it affected those around her.
‘So over this, ugh,’ Jenny lamented to herself, as she peeled off two of her five heated jacket layers. A light cloud of steam rose from her as the layers came off. These items soon found a place on her newly formed chairdrobe. Then she arranged her remaining worn clothes and her hair using the black screen of her clutched phone as an impromptu mirror. ‘Clothes look respectable. Hair done.’ She slouched back in the chair in contentment.
Jenny’s phone’s light flickered, demanding her attention.
‘Oh that’s right. Dad called’, Jenny thought. She thumbed the recall button on her phone.
‘Hi, dad. You only need to call me once you know. Twice is excessive.’
‘Did you get my message?’
‘Oh the voicemail? No, thought I’d just call you. Do you miss me already?’
‘Absolutely sweetheart. We miss you already. Your mother and I…’
‘Ugh dad it’s only been half an hour since we last spoke. You’re making me feel claustrophobic.’
‘Sorry sweetie, but this is important. It’s your mother…’
‘Yes?’ Jenny stared vacantly through the ate 9 window out onto the airport tarmac, watching the airport staff load her luggage onto the plane. ‘My plane is being loaded, so I might have to board soon.’
‘Okay. Jenny, your mother just came back from the doctor. I’m sorry baby, but she has cancer.’
Jenny focused her gaze on a workman wearing a yellow fluorescent vest. He was slowly driving some kind of airport-grade golf cart. ‘What?’
‘She has breast cancer, baby.’
The golf cart driver looked like he was singing a song. ‘What?’
‘She had a routine mammogram today. Stage 1 cancer the doctor said.’
The golf cart driver wasn’t singing. He had one hand on the steering wheel, the other on his mobile phone. He was deep in conversation. Jenny wondered if he was meant to be using his phone so close to the aircraft. ‘What? Cancer?’
‘Yes, everyone’s frantic, Jenny. We’re doing the best we can, but your mother’s really scared. I’m scared. We just wanted you to know. Needed you to know. Just enjoy your trip, sweetpea.’
Jenny’s eyes had lost focus on the golf cart driver. Her visual sense had been muted to hone in on the sound from her mobile phone. ‘I’m coming home, Dad.’
Home. So was it her parent’s house and the house of her childhood all along?
‘We can’t do that to you dear. Just stay in touch. Come back when you can.’
‘I’ll stay in touch for sure. Where is mum? Put her on the phone.’
‘Your mother is unwell, dear. She is resting. You can talk to her later.’
‘Let me talk to her.’
‘Later, Jen. Later.’
‘How am I supposed to go to Sydney now?’
‘The same way you were going there before.’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘You know what I mean too. That’s how the Smythe family deal with things, Jenny. We keep going.’
‘I have to go now. My flight is about to board.’ Her flight still had fifteen minutes until it was ready for boarding.
‘We love you, Jen.’
Jenny swiped her prize mobile phone screen to end the call, then fitted it back into her pocket. She was mute and expressionless. If anyone were to approach her then, she would have given one-word, monosyllabic replies.
‘Get on the plane. Get on the plane.’ Her mind was facing an onslaught of thoughts and emotions. She had to force herself to focus on what had previously been so effortless. ‘Get on the plane. Make sure you look after your belongings.’ Here she sat with all her most important possessions packed before her. She had left every item that she did not need behind at her parent’s house. It wasn’t her home, she had told herself. It was theirs. She had grown up there, but her home was where she was now. Wasn’t it?
Jenny felt an emptiness inside her. There was indeed something missing and it wasn’t an object. She absently played with her phone, flipping through her contact phone numbers. There she saw the phone numbers of her family and friends. Mum, dad, her friends. It no longer mattered that her prized phone was the best and most impressive gadget on the market. No, what made it valuable right then was that it was her nexus to the people she cared so dearly for. Her poor mother. She would visit soon. Oh, and her dad! How was he going to cope alone? ‘Maximus must sense something is amiss as well. He must miss me so!’
Then it all hit Jenny suddenly. She knew what home was and what it meant for her. As if channelling the very soul of Charlton Heston in his 1973 blockbuster film ‘Soylent Green’, she realised ‘home is people‘. Home is with her loved ones: its specific location or its contents ancillary.
Jenny stood up and gathered her belongings. With each step she took she was moving further away from her home. Her parents home. Her parents. Maximus. Her flight was boarding after all.