It had been a bloody good night! Jeez, head is still a bit wobbly after those Gin Fizzes. Wow, those guys could play jazz; the beach-front bar had been fantastic. Never known such joy and energy. Italians really know how to party. But what a day today! Warm December sunshine was streaming into the house and I called the oil base to set up a flight to Aberdeen for later that day. All was well in the world.
The mobile rings. It’s my wife. “Better phone Ireland, your father is ill.” Damn. Hope he’s okay, but the tone in Maria’s voice was not good. No answer from my parents’ number. Okay, phone Tony, see if he knows about it. “No mate, first thing I’ve heard.” “Well, can you try to find out and give us a call back?” “I’m in Ravenna so if we need to go to Ireland, I’ll divert from here.” “Okay”.
Ten minutes, fifteen. Spent pacing up and down the living room; the bright sunshine having lost its appeal. The phone goes. “Hello, what’s the news? Is Dad still alive?” “No, he’s dead. Looks like a heart attack.” “Okay, I’ll go straight there. Can you make it across? “Yes, I’ll look up flights from Amsterdam. See you there.”
I hang up. Ireland. Need to go. Need to talk to Mum first. “Oh hello Martin. Yes he’s gone. I knew when he was taken by the ambulance that I wouldn’t be seeing him alive again.” She sounded calm, collected. “Now don’t you start crying Martin, you’ll get me going.” “Sorry Mum.”
Flights. The room is starting to sway. “Hello, yes. I need to change my flight. Have to go to Ireland, my father just died…” I break down, become incoherent. The lady at the base can no longer understand me. I feel sick. My cries are like howls. God knows what the neighbours must be thinking.
Within ten minutes (or was it ten hours?) my friends Dante and Martin arrive. I regain some control at the sight of their faces. Dante gets on the phone to make the arrangements. Martin finishes my packing for me. The taxi quickly arrives.
The driver doesn’t speak English. It’s okay, not much in the mood for conversation. But embarrassment starts to grip me. I feel I must explain these silent tears that I can’t stop flowing down my face. He must think them odd! The Italian for Pope is Papa? Father? “Mon Papi, e morta”. He understands. He radios back to the controller. I hear the words “papi” and “morto”. He asks by word and sign whether I would like the radio turned off. “Non, musica e buono”. It’s almost a two hour trip to Bologna. I reckon the poor guy needs a break from the sound of my sniffing.
I don’t fucking believe it! The brand new Mercedes in which I was travelling just broke down! What are the chances of that? We glide to a silent stop on the hard shoulder. The driver makes a gesture of apology and opens the bonnet. I don’t help. I can’t help. I can’t think, except to acknowledge that I’ve missed that flight.
Half and hour later and we are moving again. I thought a new vehicle would be needed but somehow he fixed the car. Still don’t know what happened. We get to the airport and I thank the driver. He wishes me luck.
A look at the board and sure enough the Amsterdam flight is gone. I go to the desk and explain the situation. I am composed now but a funny sensation is creeping over me. It is like being in a cocoon. The world becomes distant. The sound of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” starts to drift into what consciousness that is left to me. I see the scene from Trainspotting in which Ewan McGregor overdoses and sinks into the carpet. I too have sunk, sunk into my own carpet of grief.
The flight to Paris is almost empty. I have the seats to myself. A young man sitting across the aisle looks with concern at a new attack of silent tears. I try to smile but I know I can’t. He looks away.
At Paris Maria calls. She’s worried. “What are you’re plans darling?” “Well, get to Ireland. It will be late by the time I get to Dublin. Not until after ten now.” “Then you can’t drive tonight, you are in no state.” “No, I’m fine” “No, you are not! Promise me you’ll get a hotel tonight.” “Okay, I promise. Will you be able to make it out?” I know the answer already. Maria was immensely fond of my father but travelling at short notice with a seven-month-old baby is no joke. “No, I don’t think I can.” “I understand.” “Hotel tonight?” “Yes.”
On the flight to Dublin, I sit next to Michael. He’s a little older than myself. In order to explain my leaky face, I tell him about my father and gradually the story expands to take up the day so far. It helps. Goodness knows what he must of thought but his kindness helped this stranger. Thank you Michael.
So, hotel or car? What use is a hotel to me? I head for the Avis deck.
Even through my cocoon, the car is still rubbish. But so is my navigation. I head out on the road to Limerick instead of Cork. It takes me an hour to rectify my mistake. Maybe a hotel was the sensible option after all? Late night music radio is my current companion. “Perfect day” comes on. “You're gonna reap just what you sow.”
I smile. I know now I’m going to make it home.