My back feels like it has been tenderized by the ever-hostile Chef Ramsey. A week on top of an inflatable (deflatable?) air mattress simulated the experience of sleeping on a very large water wing with a pinhole. The couch accommodations at my brother’s proved that cushions will inevitably divide in the middle creating an inescapable quicksand vortex at some point in the dark of night.
But I have been sleeping without moving, until the sun pours through the windows around eight in the morning, gently roasting me underneath the duvet when I awake, my skin ready to catch on fire. My mind is exhausted from pacing. I was supposed to fly to Amsterdam yesterday, with an overnight at the Amstel Riverview Bed & Coffee before a connecting flight to Nairobi. A few weeks ago I scoured the Lonely Planet bed and breakfast listings online until I found such a gem, clicking on 109 pictures of toilets placed conveniently inches from the sinks and snapshots of the curiously frightening floral and brass decor of over a hundred B&B’s until my pupils turned square. But with a 20-hour flight delay, I will now arrive at 8:30 am and fly to Kenya the same day. The dreamy Amstel canal view, pancake breakfast and extensive clog shopping will have to be saved for another stay.
In a week of transient life and underwear recycling, it is a minor setback. Travelling tests not only physical flexibility, but emotional bends and stretches too. I have visited the important branches of my family tree, seen my VIPs and returned to all my favourite Toronto haunts. There were greasy lamb burgers, cold pints on steamy patios, hot curries, sugary indulgences at Pusateri’s and many glasses of champagne.
Hellos and goodbyes have collided, leaving my intestines in a tight French braid.
I’ve been running around sleepy Cabbagetown and along the soupy Don River thinking of how the terrain beneath my feet will change in just two days. I will leave the concrete familiarity of Toronto for the dusty roads of Lubumbashi, Congo. Here I dodge dogs in Riverdale, wearing snappy little Burberry jackets and strollers as wide as Hummers with kids sucking on Starbucks frappacinnos. In two days there will be goats and chickens running at breakneck speeds beside me, the slow whir of curious Congolese on bikes behind me and monkeys eyeballing me from the mango trees.
I run and try not to think of the Comoros Airbus crash that snapped short the lives of 153 people. I think of the 9/11 stories of those who survived, or didn’t because of some last-minute decision to sleep-in that day, or grab a muffin on the way to work. All our decisions, non-decisions and unexpected delays change the course of our lives on a daily basis.I have always loved the movie Sliding Doors for that very concept. The 1998 film shows the unfolding life of Helen (Gwenyth Paltrow) when she catches the train, and in a parallel story—what happens when she doesn’t.
Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven played on a similar idea, but instead of time altering the path of our lives, the story suggested how certain people change our life forever. Eddie, a lonely war vet, lived what he felt was an uninspired life, fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. When he dies on his 83rd birthday in an attempt to save a young girl’s life, he awakes in the afterlife where he meets five people who were affected, forever, by his decisions, actions, words and love.
The book naturally forces you to evaluate your life and wonder, who are my five people? And in a Sliding Doors frame of mind—what would have happened if that flight did fly out of Toronto as scheduled? Was the conversation I had at the airport with the Swedish businessman for a greater purpose? Why did we becoming engaged in conversation? Why not the guy in line behind me that was flying to Saudi?
When I board the plane this afternoon it will be with a furry head of mixed emotions. Faces of those I love will be like a whirling dervish spinning before me. I’ll think of my dogs, of course, and all that is secure and familiar disappearing beneath me as the plane climbs in elevation. But the pull of adventure is magnetic to me, and as easy as it would be to stay, it would be harder for me not to go.
Africa has embraced me like a lover, and her grip has followed me across the oceans. I hope you’ll follow me, vicariously, to yet another landscape, the Congo.
Come walk with me through my sliding door…
And if you haven’t heard why there’s all this talk about Africa: