A Continent Away

I was sitting in my parents' home office, at the same desk where my father would sit. My assignment lay tucked in the backpack, unread, unopened. With all that was happening in the world, my literary studies were no longer top priority. It was March 2020, and after a tiny, invisible virus had spread from China to the whole world, like some ancient plague of the Silk Road, the borders had all been closed, and my parents had found themselves stranded in North Africa. The journey from Marrakesh to Copenhagen – once a seamless four hour flight through the clouds – had suddenly been turned into an impossible stretch of rugged mountains, seas and plains. It was as if we were standing on two different ice floes, drifting apart. All I could do was to keep their little editing firm going. As I sat there day after day, the reality of our geographical separation – once rendered mute by air-travel – became increasingly real. They were far away from this wooden desk, these stacks of paper and dusty bookshelves. And yet their presence still lingered in the objects around the room; the desk chair was my father's near constant dwelling place, much to my mother's complaints. And that lamp over there, next to the recliner, there my mother would do her proofreading. On the window shelf the rocks and seashells were a reminder of their past travels and the stories they used to tell. I put away the spreadsheet for a moment and thought of Africa. They were stranded somewhere in rural Morocco, south of the Atlas Mountains. (How significant these geographical details had suddenly become!) I had read about people stranded in foreign countries, people relegated to cramped hotel rooms for weeks and weeks. I was interrupted by the frantic ringing of the phone – that sound both hopeful and terrifying. “Yes?” It was my father. The signal was weak and I had to press the phone to my ear in order to hear him, but he was saying something about an evacuation flight organized by the Swedish embassy. Two jet aircrafts had been given permission to leave Moroccan soil. When? In a few days' time. But seats were limited and my parents had a little to no wi-fi, so it was up to me to find information; airport, departure time, prices… I could hear the worry in my father's voice, contrasting with the calm, reassuring remarks of my mother in the background. I had to be fast, he was saying. My pulse rising, I felt both dizzy and energized. The once so quiet office was boiling. I had the power to help them now – and it was terrifying. Before I threw myself on the computer, I asked him if they were all right, if they had all they needed. “We have each other, son. But your mother misses home.” After some browsing I soon discovered that securing these seats would be more complicated than expected. Each applicant had to be signed up on a list – a lottery of sorts – and the day before departure, the chosen ones would receive an email with a link for booking one seat. As soon as I had signed up my parents on the list I felt a sense of relief. I had done all I could for now, and for a couple of days at least, the pressure had moved elsewhere. The office was quiet once again. During the following couple of days my parents called me several times, asking how I was doing, if I needed any help with the office and if the buds had shown on the great bush outside the window. I told them spring was growing out of every branch, they told me it was getting hotter down there, hotter every day. The day before departure I woke at six in the morning. Barely dressed I stumbled into the office and opened the laptop. No email yet. I went to have breakfast, and as I stood there in the kitchen slicing the bread, I realized how very much I resembled my father; watching the inbox like a hawk, shuffling towards the breakfast table with drowsy eyes and the mind elsewhere. My mother had stopped nagging about these things because, after all, he never nagged about our bad habits. When I returned to the office there it was: an email from the embassy in Morocco! I took a deep breath of relief… Then I realized an email was missing. My mother had not been given a link. I felt nauseous. The air around me became thick and heavy like the bottom of the sea. I called their phone, and they answered cheerily. “Hello dear! Could you book the seats? My heart was racing as I told them. We had received one email, one link, addressed to my father. Silence. I heard sighs, then they talked to each other in low voices. After a pause, my father spoke into the phone: “Can the link be used for booking in anyone's name?” “Looks like it,” I said. I thought I could hear my mother pressing him in her arms, her face buried in the grey stubble of his cheek in an act of love. Then my father spoke: “Book a seat in Mother's name.” I nodded, staring out the window. There they were, embracing each other in a distant hotel room, she closer to home, he a continent away.

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