January Journey

by Max Akroyd

In case airports aren’t confusing enough, they put a man in the way of their signs. In a parallel world where toothpaste is definitely a liquid, sir and your multiple metal crowns earn you a brisk rub down by a complete stranger, you need a sign – something to point you in the right direction. There it is – the multicoloured oracle. People look to it for guidance, and even the godless pray that the words ‘flight delayed by x hours’ don’t appear next to their final destination. I approach the departures board with due reverence, trying to pick out Nantes from a hundred other names. Before I can even start looking: can I help you sir? asks a man dressed like a funeral attendee. I now have two competing sources of information where I barely wanted one. I mumble something untrue (the truth being: I just want to go home now please) and walk away confidently in completely the wrong direction. Fortunately he’s facing the other way snaring other folk as I sneak past him and find another sign free of human intermediary.

Later, on the plane, I discover my hand luggage has become too engorged with duty-free Jelly Babies for the kids and the jumper that still smelt too much of the farm. A strange sight greets my fellow passenger upon entering the plane as I wrestle with the bloody thing. They grumble as I block their way, on four – maybe even five – separate, increasingly desperate, forays into overhead compartment hell. At least this spectacle makes the air stewardess smile momentarily, before she has to wearily resume the pre-flight ritual for the fourth time that day.

Living in the middle of nowhere, you end up a kind of weathered residue of your former self which makes normality appear very strange.  The early-morning shopping precincts had been transactionless but people showed up anyway. Why does a sign need a man to explain the sign? I’m sure he just wants to go home too. Why does the lady squeezed into the red nylon suit designed by a misogynist have to dispense instructions to an unheeding collection of grumpy travellers who care not which toggle to pull in the unlikely event the plane should land on water… I don’t any more know why we do this to each other.

It’s a relief to be in the car on the final stretch. Despite a thick sea mist hanging around the motorway near Vannes, it’s all so straightforward. And then the fog is gone. I can now see the big bridges crossing the big rivers which seem to hold a memory of the daylight on the surface of the water. French roads are very quiet at this time of night and I only have to dip my lights a few times between Lorient and home. After a few hours the driver and the road and the travel and the music from the car stereo have become one substance.

I stop to pee by the roadside (well, when in Rome…). The car is just a tiny pulse of light and sound in the afforested night. The moonlit beyond is constant, unperturbed by human trajectory.