It’s 10am. I’m standing downstairs near my daughter’s apartment, surrounded by suitcases (“soupcases” in the dialect of twins) waiting for the taxi to the airport. We are going to the airport unaccompanied. We’ve said our farewells.
At checkin we watch anxiously as the kilos click over: we come pretty close to our shared 60 kg allowance. Then it’s through customs, a far more rigorous check than usual for Warsaw: everything out of plastic bags, a tray for each category, boots off.
We reach our seats and feel the usual horror at the smallness of knee-space. The third person in our row is shaping up to be a nuisance – she needs to get out twice before takeoff – but then she nuisances herself into a bulkhead seat, and we have three seats to share between two of us.
That’s how I see out the window, for the first flight time in ages: the wide expanse of the Black Sea and then the rugged spine of snow-droozled mountains; lakes beautiful in the pink light of late afternoon; and, as the sun disappears, twinkling towns in wide valleys.
Dubai turnaround is short, after a very lengthy bus ride from the plane. We lie in recliners chatting desultorily and watching the passing parade: men in keffiyehs twisted in complex arrangements; surprisingly cheerful children in prams; scarved and glittery women; young solitary backpackers; solid couples who demand with their bodies more space than I feel they are entitled to. We display our carry on goods – twice, but more casually than in Warsaw – and we’re boarding for the last leg.
No upgrades to business class this time, but we’ve somehow scored the extra legroom of economy plus, which also explains why our seats were pre booked. The window seat is occupied by a very Aussie bloke, who proves to be an oil engineer working in Iraq, 28 days on, 28 days off. I manage to sleep for probably a third of the 14 hour flight, jaw inelegantly dropped, mouth uncomfortably dry.
I watch “Dancer” and a documentary about the mounting of an exhibition at MoMa (“China: through the looking glass“) and build up a an insanely long listening list, although I only actually play a few Chuck Berrys, a bit of Johnny Cash and a fair amount of Pavarotti. We’re right at the front of the plane and can watch the comings and goings of the pilot: I’m not sure I find this comforting. However, the only bit of drama happens when I suddenly realise my glasses are not where they ought to be. After a lot of groping in the darkness I find them lying, miraculously unharmed, in the middle of the aisle.
Finally we land in Sydney, and are greeted by cranky customs officers who issue bullying instructions. But all four soupcases arrive; the opal card works on the airport train; and we’re in bed in the hostel by midnight, with the alarm set for 6.
Then it’s the seven and a half hour bus trip down the coast to Potato Point: the luxuriant spreading branches and bluey-green foliage of eucalypts; the white clouds in a blue Australian sky; the line of ocean reaching to the horizon; the friendliness of the woman in the Nowra salad bar and the Lebanese man in the gelato bar in Batemans Bay; the typically Australian joke when I buy an Australian SIM – “It was easier when we just used two tin cans and string.” I relax into familiar landscape and familiar language, at ease with both.
Already I’m having trouble believing that I lived in Warsaw for a year.
If you want an image of my arriving state of mind, try this photo from the bus window, all blur and mish mash.