My phone tells me that it was 5:33am on April 7th when it started vibrating urgently. I woke, dazed, not realising it was a missed call from Mum until I looked at the screen and saw it, accompanied by a message from my sister, telling me to call them as soon as I could.
I don’t remember standing up, but I remember R stirring as I climbed over him. “It’s my family,” I told him calmly, in a voice that didn’t feel like my own. “Something’s wrong.”
Then I was in R’s room and the phone was ringing. Mum answered. It was Dad. Mum had found him breathing strangely in his sleep.
Then he had stopped.
They had tried CPR. Then there was the ambulance. I mhm-ed, to let them know I was there even as my brain struggled to process what she was saying. It was early, so early.
They worked on him for ages, she told me, but he never regained consciousness.
Probably his heart.
There was a dreadful pause as her words travelled across the distance and sunk in. Then I screamed. Dad.
One of the realities of living so far from home is the fear of something like this happening. It’s always a possibility, it’s undeniable. Yet even in my grimmest ponderings, what I had always imagined was an 11th hour flight home and a hospital. I never imagined it this way. I never allowed myself to imagine that, suddenly, there would be nothing.
I remember the rain outside and sitting around in stunned shock punctuated by new waves of grief and tiny sparks of activity. The cats got fed. I started a load of washing that I promptly forgot about for 12 hours. I made lists in my notebook of things I needed to do as I thought of them, scattered thoughts that flitted away as randomly as they appeared. I cried, cried, cried.
I was going home, that I knew at once. R and I locked horns regarding Mr. K and whether he was going with me. I said hell yes, he was. He was never going to meet his grandfather now, a fact that tore and tears at my heart. It was the least I could do. R was adamant that I wasn’t thinking straight, that a long-haul international flight and a family in mourning was no place for a baby, that it was too late anyway. Part of me recognises that he had a good point. Still, I won.
And so a lot of technical, important things followed. I discovered that Japan will issue passports on the day citizens apply for them if an urgent situation is adequately conveyed to them. In my case, it was an e-mail from my sister requesting that Mr. K attend my father’s funeral, translated by R because an official translator isn’t necessary. There was not one but two photo stores near our local passport office and the one we stumbled into had a special chair and multiple squeaky toys to be brandished at Mr. K, resulting in a slightly stunned-looking photo.
Calling Qantas and Jetstar in English will get you redirected to a call centre, the location of which I can only speculate on but which definitely isn’t in Australia. Asking for a flight for bereavement reasons yields little response. Asking for a flight from Tokyo to Melbourne ASAP yields a suggestion that you try Osaka or Okinawa instead, that they don’t do flights from Tokyo to Melbourne… even though the latter does direct ones and both offer transfers in various other Australian east coast cities.
Inquiries in Japanese yield better results, but we still found it easiest, in the end, to just book a Jetstar flight online; unlike a lot of international flights, they let you book it only a day in advance.
Even if I look and am about to burst into tears, a jerk of a salesman will still try out his English in an effort to get me to apply for a credit card that I, as a foreigner, am probably not eligible for. There are plenty of men’s handkerchiefs in red, black and white this year, I discovered as we waited in a local department store for the passport to be processed. Red, black and white are the colours of my father’s favourite football team, he loves hankies, and his birthday is in early June. I no longer need to purchase one.
Packing. What was the weather even like in April in Melbourne? (Answer: Warm, getting progressively cooler but in an unpredictable sort of way.) Half our wardrobe, it seemed, was wet from the rain, including most of R’s pants. What did I wear to a funeral? What did I wear to my father’s funeral?
Time seemed to move in fits and starts, and we missed one of the trains to the airport the next morning because my brain couldn’t quite manage the task of accurately calculating how long it would take us to get to the station. We caught another one, luckily, and meandered quietly out to Narita, where we found out just how irritating Terminal 3 is and got given a free canvas bag marking its first anniversary by a giant chicken.
Feeding rooms, customs, a free airport pram after we had to check ours in. Riceballs, because R wouldn’t be R without onigiri.
And then the flight. The airline allows ten and a half hours, though it typically takes a little less. Ten and a half hours on a budget airline sucks at the best of times. Add a five month old baby without a bassinet and a nicotine-addicted husband, both of whom resist my futile attempts to entertain them and the latter of whom is more than a little unwilling to be there at all, and you have a very, very long trip.
I haven’t adequately been able to convey to anyone so far how torturous it is, to find myself suddenly out of my little white-noise-filled Japanese world and into one filled with Australian accents and English I can understand, where half the plane seems to hold middle-aged men with loud voices in the sort of neat-casual clothes that bring to mind my father. I doubt I’m adequately conveying it now. It’s shocking. It hurts.
I am going home. I caught myself thinking it over and over again, a tide of bitter despair accompanying it. Melbourne, finally. I am taking Mr. K home and R is coming with us. I’m getting what I wanted so very much.
Not. like. this.
There was a problem with the airbridge at Melbourne airport and we got stuck on the plane for a further 30 minutes while they tried to sort it out. Then there was a trek through the duty free store and the odd experience of going through the non-residents line at passport control, getting to the baggage carousel and sending R and Mr. K through while I waited for my suitcase.
Not so many minutes later, I followed. My mother and my sister were waiting on the other side of the customs doors for me.
And just like that, the 8147 kilometre trip became the easy part.