Chapter 23: He Won't Go
I was wandering around the airport trying to remember what I used to do when I was traveling. I had forgotten almost everything related to traveling and airport procedures. I had forgotten how to spend time inside its restaurants and shops, and even how to use the free Wi-Fi, which gave travelers the chance to communicate with whoever they wanted. Throughout those eight years I had only gone to the airport to bid farewell or to welcome others. I hadn’t once passed through the check-in gate.
I felt a little nervous, but it was fine; it was just because I hadn’t travelled for a long while. I wished I could find an Abu Al-Abed coffee so I could taste the old times and calm my shaking hands. Maybe it wasn’t obvious to anyone else, but it felt like there was an earthquake inside me. Why was I so nervous? Did I really fear traveling alone? Or was it just because of all the waiting around?
Waiting always created a sense of tension and anticipation, but when the plane took off everything would be fine. It wasn’t about that, though. It was my son’s tears and his heartbroken expression. Even though I tried to attribute the blame elsewhere, that was the real reason. I wasn’t trying to kill time; I was trying to kill the motherhood inside me. I would have to suppress it for a whole week, and I wished I could just leave without this intense guilt running through my veins.
I walked towards the gate and sat in the waiting area. I tried to distract myself by watching the people round about me: a man drinking water, another scanning the pages of Life of Pi; a woman soothing her child on her lap while the father looked at his phone, as if it was the wife’s duty alone to care for the baby.
My phone rang. “Hey Lara. No, he’s not with me. His father banned him from traveling.”
“What? Are you still going?”
“Yes, I’m at the gate now.”
“That’s amazing. Are you sure about this though?”
“Isn’t it my right to travel? Isn’t it my right to enjoy a few days of freedom and peace after all the years of restriction and torture?”
“Of course it is, but…”
“But what? My son’s with his uncle and his father has to take some responsibility. I’ve had enough after all these years.”
“You’re right, Nadia. Enjoy your vacation.”
I held the phone for a while after I hung up. Should I call and check on my son? No, there was no need. If I called, that awful feeling would be reignited inside my son and within my own heart.
Should I have told him that his father was to blame for what had happened? Should I have told him the truth about his father, which would have made him hate his own dad? Or was I doing what was supposed to be done? Did his father deserve for me to treat him with such decency? Or should I treat him the way he was treating me? Surely he didn’t deserve the fine image I had portrayed of him to his son, but his son would grow up one day and discover the truth about his father for himself. He certainly would, but not through me.
The gate opened and the passengers formed a line in front of the attendant.
I couldn’t escape the urge, so I picked up my phone and called my brother. “Let me speak to my son for a minute.”
“Really? That fast?”
“Yes. Don’t worry, he’s fine, Nadia. Go and have fun. You’ll only be gone for a few days and you’ve wanted it for so long. I think you need it. Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time to compensate him. Give yourself some space now. You deserve it after all those years of struggle.”
“Yes, but —”
He interrupted me. “No buts. Your son’s fine and we’ll take care of him. I’ll let him call you every day until you get back.”
“Okay… Take good care of him please.”
I put my phone back in my handbag and headed towards the gate. The flight attendant took my boarding pass and smiled as she checked it over. “This way, please. Enjoy your flight.”
I walked down the long gangway and the attendants welcomed me at the end of it, guiding me to my seat. I sat beside the window, leaving the seat beside me empty. My son should have been sitting there, but now no one would occupy it.
“Mom, when we get on the plane, can I have the seat beside the window?” my son had asked while he was packing.
I couldn’t bring myself to sit in his place, so I shifted into the next seat, leaving the window seat empty. He would have been so excited if he had been with me.
“Mom, I’m so happy that I’m going away with you,” he had said, hugging me when I showed him his passport. He was so excited he had jumped onto my lap.
How could I leave without him? We had arranged everything together. We had bought everything we needed for the trip side by side.
One time at the mall he had picked out a straw hat for me. “You should put this on so the sun won’t bother you.”
I had laughed and bought it just because he had chosen it for me. In turn, I had picked out an outfit for him. “And you should wear this to the concert.”
He had nodded his head, smiling. He couldn’t believe he would be getting on a plane to hear Adele sing at a live show. I wished I had never introduced him to this dream.
I had read on one of the websites that Adele had agreed earlier to go on tour, only to spend a long vacation with her son instead so they could enjoy the adventure of traveling. I didn’t want my son to travel the world with me for a year as she had; I had just wanted him to come to Italy with me for a week!
The fuss of the boarding passengers created a chaotic atmosphere in the cabin, distracting me from my thoughts. One was storing his bag, another was trying to find her seat, while someone else was sitting quietly with his seatbelt buckled. I still sat there, staring at my son’s empty seat, tortured by everything he had said and done in preparation for this trip.
All the little details pounded in my head like a hammer until it felt ready to explode. His smiles, his laughter and his excitement, followed by the harsh words he had spoken as he got into his uncle’s car and drove away.
“You’re lying to me, Mom.”
I wished someone would sit next to me to distract my brain. This seat couldn’t remain empty, leaving me hanging between the struggle of motherhood and my desire to break free from my ex-husband’s chains.
Regardless of the battles I had been through to break away from his tyranny, the law had given him the authority to ban Waleed from traveling because of the title he carried, which my ex-husband had never understood or acted responsibly upon. Fatherhood wasn’t just a name printed on a piece of paper!
The seats started to fill up, but the seat beside me remained empty. I could still see my son’s eyes behind the car window, watching me.
“You’re lying to me, Mom.”
Had I been right to lie? I knew deep down that I hadn’t planned this trip to fight for my freedom or to prove to his father that I could do whatever I wanted. I had planned it for my son, and only for him. So I unbuckled the seatbelt that was constraining me, just for him. My life had always been and always would be for him!
The attendant stopped me at the exit and tried to send me back to my seat, which was as empty now as my son’s beside it.
“Ma’am, you need to go back to your seat, please. The plane’s about to take off.”
“And I’m about to lose myself… I’m about to lose my son… Please let me out.”
The attendant looked at me. She saw a mother’s panic in my eyes rather than the impulsiveness of a crazy woman. She went to speak to the captain, leaving me standing there, while an air of apprehension started to spread across the cabin in response to my sudden desire to get off.
She quickly got everything under control by telling the other passengers my son was in a critical condition and that I had to leave. Everyone was at ease but me. I waited for the plane door to open, and as soon as it did I ran out onto the gangway.
I took a deep breath the second I stepped back into the airport. I knew then that my freedom was a journey I had chosen to take with my son and would never be anything other than that.
“You won’t be sleeping alone, honey. I’m coming for you!” I said aloud.
I rushed out of the airport, and took a taxi home. I left the plane behind me and watched it take off with its two empty seats.
As for the concert tickets, I had given them to a couple I had seen on the plane.
“These are from me to you with love,” I had said.
I had given them away with love, even though I didn’t believe in it any more.