It’s not that anything was lost in translation, there wasn’t any translation to begin with. He pulled at his beard and spoke at a frenetic pace which didn’t slow even when we tried to tell him that we didn’t speak French. We wished we did, because by the way his face twisted and his hands carved the air as strings of unintelligible sentences piled out of his mouth, whatever he was trying to express seemed important.
Then “airplane.” The first english word we could pick out of his verbal slurry. I repeated it. He repeated it back. He laughed. We laughed. We’d made a connection, and even though it was only two syllables, it felt special. Airplane, he said again. Airplane, we said back, laughing. With one word we’d overcome a great divide. Then he took one fist and drove it into the other, hands opening dramatically on impact, his eyes wide: an explosion. He looked around the park. Silhouettes of people drinking in the humid summer night dotted the grassy hill opposite ours. Then another english word: terrorist. He whispered it and brought his fists together again, the explosion bigger this time, spittle flying from his lips like debris.
9/11? I said, cringing as I pieced what he was doing together. His face lit up and he laughed, slapping his fists together over and over, each explosion making us shrink further into ourselves. We’d been unwittingly laughing at and humouring what was likely a Francophone conspiracy theory, or worse, and the man was overjoyed. We stood up and he started to shout. I traced a line from my crotch to the ground, my hand exploding as it reached the grass. He nodded.
The voucher was good for one meal in any restaurant in any Canadian airport for an entire year. Printed on the same paper stock as the plane ticket, I shuffled one in front of the other like it was the set-up to a card trick. A large group of Chinese children wearing a uniform of some sort hovered over their smartphones, vouchers in hand, bumping into each other playfully as they waited. Our flight had been delayed thanks to mechanical issues and the vouchers were Air Canada’s penance for us having to wait.
The elderly couple next to me were taken with the kids. “It can’t be a table tennis team, there’s just too many of them.” The woman said to her husband. He nodded and looked to be doing the math in his head. She leaned over to me and pointed at one of the young boys; the arms of his glasses were missing, replaced with pieces of string that were tied around his ears, small knots dangling like earrings. “Those Asians are so inventive, huh?” I looked at my voucher and wondered if the Whitehorse airport had any good eats.
During their final embrace––I assumed it was their final embrace, due to her tears and all––she held onto him like they were falling out of an airplane and he was the only one with a parachute. There were tears coming out of his face as well, but not at the same volume as hers. It seemed like he was crying only because she was, like how you yawn when you see someone else yawn, or laugh while watching the 2008 romantic comedy Gold Rush in the theatre on a first date; not because Mathew McConaughey and Kate Hudson are funny in it, because they are most certainly not, but because your date is laughing and you think if you laugh too that she’ll think you find the same things funny and that you’re on the level.
She burrowed her face into his shoulder and said things that probably related to how this was likely their final embrace. He nodded as she talked and cried. There was a Starbucks coffee and iPhone in his hand and as he looked over her shoulder to check the phone, the cup tipped and coffee dribbled to the ground.
The large sunglasses on her face made it difficult to tell whether they were tears of happiness or tears of unhappiness. Her friend seemed to be consoling her but wasn’t saying things like “it’ll be okay” or “I’m so sorry,” which was making it even more difficult to tell if she was upset or not. The fact that she was standing in front of the clinic (I mean, like standing right in front of it and totally blocking my way in) made it trickier still. Did she just get a terrible/terrific diagnosis? Was she pregnant, yay! Or pregnant, nay! What if she was just diagnosed with a disease of perpetual weeping and now she was weeping tears of happiness because she finally knew why she was always weeping at things that didn’t usually make here weep, like dog food commercials or airplanes filling the sky with the sound of their weary engines as they returned home. I kinda hoped it was the latter, but also hoped she would get out of the way, I was going to be late.
The boy squatted in the grass, elbows on his knees, head in his hands, sobbing. A girl, younger than he, watched confused. She threw her hands in the air as if to say “what’s wrong with you, boy?” She patted him on the head but he continued to sob. She babbled to him in toddler tongue and got nothing. She spun in circles like she was trying to catch the answer to whatever it was that would make the boy stop crying. Finally she pulled up handfuls of grass and dropped them on his head. He wailed as the blades flittered down his face.