She’s an elderly lady, wearing a wool cardigan with a very distinguishable maple leaf pin. “Ma’am, these cookies are delectable.” She gives me a little laugh, “I’m glad you liked them. It was either this or wine.” I laugh, wine would be a great idea, and I suppose that it’s five o’clock somewhere. Come to think of it I’d really like a drink. “So, I assume by your accent you’re also heading back to Toronto?” The one thing I’ve learned as a Canadian living abroad is that we do in fact have a discernable accent. It’s not as crass as the American but very distinctive, and as we know, everyone loves Canadians. “You are correct.” I extend my hand, “My name is James.” She takes my hand, “It is very nice to meet you, James. My name is Tiia.” She has the slightest of accents, one that I recognize. I can feel the look of scrutiny come across my face, “Tiia, you’re Finnish aren’t you?” A look of surprise comes across her face. “How did you know that?” When I was an undergrad, I did a year abroad in Finland. That was the first time I’d ever been outside of North America. I was 21, and I’d just packed up and moved halfway across the world. It was strange, the signs were in Finnish, the temperature, well it’s almost the same as in Canada, the food is bland, and the people are best described as socially awkward. Which is why I’m a little surprised by Tiia’s behaviour. “I did a year abroad in Tampere when I was in university. So I got accustomed to the accent.” She’s signalled the flight attendant, “Would you mind getting us each a glass of wine? Please, and thank you.” The best way to get to know a Fin is to drink with them. After a while, we’re both sitting there with empty glasses. In that time, she’s told me that she immigrated to Canada when she was twenty-five and settled in Toronto with her husband. That was almost fifty years ago which explains the slight accent. Instinctively I take my phone out, it’s on airplane mode, so I have no notifications. I stare at it for a second and then place it next to the empty glass, face down. I’m no longer smiling, the distraction is gone, and I find myself thinking about Alice.
“Why do you always do that? I ask you something, and then you just say nothing. James something is wrong just tell me.” I look down, and I can see the spelling error in the first line of the paragraph of the essay I’m marking. “Revulition” I just shake my head, and immediately regret it. “Yeah, you go ahead and just shake your fucking head. James, I’m your girlfriend you can open up to me, you can tell me things. I know that’s not your strong suit, but you’ve done it before. Since you’ve left, you’ve been… like this! Tell me, what’s wrong.” My hearts began to race, and suddenly I feel like I can’t get enough air. “James!” I hold my finger up to the screen grab the trash bin next to my desk and throw up. The bile burns my throat, and tears are flowing down my cheeks. I can hear the concern in Alice’s voice, “Please tell me you’re okay” She’s been saying that a lot too, I’m the furthest thing from “Okay” After a minute or so I wipe away the tears and head for the washroom to rise out my mouth. When I look in the mirror, I can see how dishevelled I look, just worn out, ragged, sad. My eyes are bloodshot, and my hair is a salt and pepper mess. I go back to the computer, “I’m fine babe.” She can hear it in my voice that I’m lying, “You’re lying, but you know what? James, I care about you, and I love you but this shutting me out, lying to me shit, it’s not fucking working for me. So I’m going to go. I really wish you’d talk to me. I really wish you would, but I’m not going to beg you anymore.” She ends the call without saying “I love you.” Every time she doesn’t, it makes me think the worse. Deep down I know its just one of those things that you don’t need to say, epically when you’ve been together as long as us. But lately, when she doesn’t do it, it makes me think the worse. I can feel the urge to text her, I can feel the anger boiling. I take my phone and throw it across the room. “What’s wrong with me?” I know the answer, but admitting it isn’t something I can do right now, I have papers to mark.
“I know that look.” Tiia is handing me some gum, the seatbelt sign is on, we’ll be landing soon. I slide my phone back into the inside breast pocket of my jacket. “We’ve got quite the wait till the next flight, I know a nice restaurant in the airport. Would you like to have lunch? It’s on me, for the cookies and the wine.” She’s fumbling with the tray, “Well its been a long time since someone asked me out, but yes I would love to.” I smile and help her tray. When I look out the window, the sun is beaming down, it is a shame that we’re not here long enough to enjoy it.
We’re the last two to leave the plane, her company has been pleasant, its made me forget about the fight with Alice. We’ve got to go through customs again which means taking off jackets and belts, but luckily for me, Tiia tells the customs officer that we’re travelling together and I’m escorted to another line. For someone who’s almost eighty she’s remarkably sturdy, most people her age would have asked for a wheelchair, or require one. “James, would you mind if we stop off at the duty-free shop? I have to get something for my husband. I always promised him if I was in Ireland I’d get him a bottle of whiskey.” Come to think of it I wouldn’t mind picking up a few things, so we head in. Ireland has always been a favourite of mine when my dad was alive, we’d come every year and get drunk at a different bar. Last year I came here for a conference and did the Guinness Brewery Tour and the Jameson Distillery tour. When Alice found out she was a little jealous, she’s always wanted to go. I feel myself get quiet, I take my phone out and connect to the Wi-Fi, no messages, just a few work emails and some social media updates. “James!” Tiia is waving at me, “You have to try this!” She seems so excited. When I get over to her, she’s holding a small shot glass full of some kind of cream or milk. I look at her and take the shot glass, the sales rep looks at me and says its Irish cream mixed with white chocolate. What comes out of his mouth next leave me in disbelief, “That right there is better than Baileys.” He’s right, it was. We both buy a bottle.