it had become a habit towards the end. a couple of times a day, i’d summon the airline website, and click on the special link for updates on the volcano situation. wednesday, when we were due to fly, i clicked and read that airspace was gradually opening up but that our flight, already rebooked from the sunday past, was cancelled.
so i called the airline to change our flight once again, maybe for the coming weekend, and instead of the regular hold music, i heard a recorded announcement that the cancelled flight had in fact been reinstated. i was so stunned that i wasn’t even sure i’d heard right. i stayed on long enough to speak with a real person, who said that, yes, we’d be flying that night.
it was mid-morning, and my mother was out buying cuts of pork and chicken so that she could make dumplings and pies for the long days ahead. i sent her a txt. i also sent one to my sister, beavering away at her deskjob, and she wrote back shortly afterward: i see i do not deal well with change.
my mother showed up at the door a half hour later, with bags of meat. stoically, she began making a tray of chicken pies. i went downstairs and attempted to pack two weeks of accumulations and roughly four days of vague happy plans into my big black baggage.
the night before, we’d sat, the four of us exiles (and honorary exile) in volcanic ashland, at a not-too grimy laminate table at HK diner in chinatown. spread in front of us: a platter of peking duck, a saltfish and chicken hotpot, a large dish of noodles fried up with nothing but beansprouts. i gazed fondly at the expanse of shiny food, and said, “so this is what it feels like, to be a refugee”. oh how we laughed at our good fortune.
now, fate laughed at us. outside it was warm and sunny; inside, behind shutters, i wrapped jam jars in knits and nestled them tetris-like and fingers crossed in a cradle of folded tshirts.
but we still had to eat. a little past lunchtime, the kid and i left my mother rolling out puff pastry, and headed up the road towards euphorium bakery. it was late enough that most of the sandwich counter had been depleted — only a few lay forlorn amidst the crumbs of the empty cabinet. i was too sad to eat a regular sandwich, so i picked an alternative from the display: the whoopee.
back home, the others ate their sandwiches as i finished up my packing, while a disagreeable feeling gnawed at my stomach. when i was done, i made myself a cup of tea and ate half the whoopee. under different circumstances, i’m sure it would have been delicious: a couple of moist, cakey, dark chocolatey biscuits held together by a respectable amount of lightly sweetened cream. as it was, i ate it too quickly, all hungry and preoccupied, and it caught in my throat like a handful of dry crumbs.
the other half i left for my sister, and she ate it standing up in the kitchen when she returned that evening, while we waited for the taxi to show up to take us to the airport. i think she found it… bittersweet. the chicken pies were golden on the counter. the pork dumplings would just have to wait for another day.