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You Can Never Go Home

And That's OK

By Ryan FrawleyPublished 5 years ago 3 min read

Sparrows live here.

It stays warm all year, of course, and the crumbs of overpriced food dropped by passing travelers who eat from boredom more than hunger are enough to raise a family on. I know that the birds live here, raising chicks in the steel rafters and shitting on the polished floor, rather than it being a case of a few unlucky individuals getting trapped and lost inside the cavernous space of the airport. Because I’ve seen them before. I’ve been here before. I almost live here myself.

We’ve all been here before. The droning chatter. The manufactured smells. The facsimile food. The silent, highly decorous and utterly ruthless war for power outlets. It doesn’t need describing. One echoing departure hall mimics all the others. Even the languages hardly change. After so long abroad, my head turns by itself at the sound of English being spoken. At the airport, I hear it a lot.

It’ll be English and French in Edmonton, too. My phone, set on top of the half-empty case at my side, chimes regularly with updates. An ocean and most of a continent away, my brother is killing time in a place just like this, waiting for his flight while I wait for mine.

The sparrows drop quickly from their perches above the shops, tiny wings blurred by motion as they fall. That’s the look I was trying to achieve when I had a sparrow tattooed on my arm years ago.

The memory’s corners have become rounded from frequent replay.

Damp air rising from towering trees and a faint mist hovering over the dark water of the lake. My footsteps hollow on the small wooden bridge. The cloud of twittering sparrows bursting from the bushes and surrounding me in an instant. I can still feel one bird’s twiggy toes on my outstretched finger while the bright black bead of its eye stared into mine.

I’m not superstitious. The universe doesn’t drop hints, and the birds know no more than we do. But when I heard that my grandmother had died, was dying in England while the Canadian sparrows swarmed around me, it felt like something. Sparrows used to be seen as psychopomps, creatures that carry the souls of the dead to the next life. The tattoo came later.

All of this happened in a different world. Before smartphones, before messenger apps. Back then, my brother lived in England, and I lived in Canada. Now he lives in Canada, and I live nowhere.

Like an airport sparrow, I find what warmth I can and call it home.

I could say that what I’m doing now is going home, but it doesn’t feel like it. England hasn’t been home to me since long before I left. Even if every time I go back to my dad’s house, it feels in some ways as though I never left. As though all those years, the airports, the jobs, the girls, the triumphs and setbacks were just the fleeting dreams of a frustrated loser. At least there’s no tragedy this time. The last time both my brother and I were under our father’s roof, it was for a funeral. But there’s no loss this time to draw us back upstream. It’s a vacation.

My phone has fallen silent. He’s in the air now, en route to Toronto, to Frankfurt, to Birmingham. I’ll beat him there by a full twelve hours or more. Even the miracle of human flight has its limits.

It’s always warm in the airport, even in the winter. Even in the freakish snow that fell in the French Riviera yesterday, while a storm named Emma grips England in her teeth. But today, the Mediterranean sun is slanting through the windows, casting hot rectangles of light on the polished floor and making the fallen crumbs of food look twice as large, twinned by their shadows. The sparrows have their food, their shelter, their nests tucked into inaccessible corners of the high ceiling where the maintenance staff don’t go.

But do they ever miss the wide blue sky that shines outside, just on the far side of a pane of glass?

It was the very first time that I flew out of Nice, when I stood in the unmoving line in the jetway, waiting to get onto a plane. The sun was cooking us slowly as we waited. Fellow passengers fanned themselves with paper tickets. Outside the hot glass, on a small metal platform, a dead bird lay with its tiny legs curled up into the air. Mistaking the view through the window for the open sky, it had flown joyfully at the pane and broken its neck. But no cage held it; no predator tore it apart. It died with that bright blue sky in its eyes.


About the Creator

Ryan Frawley

Towers, Temples, Palaces: Essays From Europe out now!

Novelist, entomologist and cat owner. Ryan Frawley is the author of many articles and stories and one novel, Scar, available from online bookstores everywhere.


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    Ryan FrawleyWritten by Ryan Frawley

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