The third short story in the series that I am writing for Camp Nanowrimo. This story is fiction but was inspired by a true story.
Michel slipped his hand across his wife’s limp fingers. She had taken another pill, for her nerves, and he worriedly felt for her pulse or any other sign of life at regular intervals. The flying, the concern for her mother’s health, the lack of money was stressful enough without the sadness of having to let go of everything they loved.
Happy that he could feel her pulse steadily thudding in her wrist, he rested his head back and shifted his weight in the uncomfortable seat. The woman on the aisle seat had a broken foot, and her moon-booted limb encroached on his tiny piece of real estate. She was asleep, too. Once he would have made a joke about a threesome but now, he was just too tired to bother with jokes. He looked past his wife’s hunched form at the vast plain of clouds below, the bluest of blue skies above. A tear slipped down his cheek and he didn’t bother to hide it. Claudel was asleep so he didn’t have to be the brave one just now.
Australia was already thousands of miles behind them and even if they’d changed planes in Singapore and headed back to Sydney, the country they loved wouldn’t have been any closer. They were no longer welcome there, their visas cancelled, their belongings sold. No reason given, just time’s up. They would have been held at immigration, put on another Air France flight. More tears came.
They had arrived all those years ago in Sydney and bought a van. The goal had always been Byron Bay. Fifteen years of managing a hotel, fifteen years of paying taxes, fifteen years of falling hopelessly in love with the most incredible natural environment. The surf, the diving, the travellers from all over the world.
A hand on his brought him out of his thoughts.
“Are you okay?” said the girl with the broken foot. She was from Amsterdam and she was going home too, reluctantly.
“Yeah,” Michel said in his best Aussie drawl.
“I’m going to stretch my leg. I’ll get you something to eat from the flight attendants.” She hobbled along the narrow aisle.
People are kind, Michel thought. Even the guy at immigration had been kind, and sorry, but there was nothing anyone could do. They had to leave. At least the girl from Amsterdam was young, she could apply for a visa, maybe get citizenship in the future. She could marry an Australian. He and Claudel didn’t have that option. He looked over at her again, her slight shoulder rising and falling. He wasn’t even sure how they were going to survive in France but at least they would be together.
Eventually the Dutch girl hobbled back. She had to avoid sitting for too long, her doctor said. Difficult on a flight to Europe so she stood as much as she could, leaning on the back of her chair, chatting to the couple behind them. Michel was grateful as he had a little more leg room. He looked at his watch. Just under an hour to go before they arrived in Paris.
“How long?” the Dutch girl asked.
A voice came from the seat behind. “I can’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower.”
Michel felt himself groan inwardly. They could keep the Eiffel Tower if he could have another day on the beach in Byron, one more dive at the rocks.
Suddenly there was more movement in the plane. The lights came on. The flight attendants began handing out arrival cards and breakfast. His body still thought it was midnight. It was midnight in Byron Bay.
An announcement over the loudspeaker informed them in three different languages that they would be arriving in Paris in fifty minutes. There was a muffled cheer from the rear of the plane.
All the excited tourists could keep the whole of France, he thought, if he could just live in peace for the rest of his life, in harmony, in Byron Bay.
The flight attendant came to him. Claudel really had to wake up and put her seatbelt on. She was kind, too. She’d been helpful when Claudel was crying. The three hours in Singapore had been like torture but they’d managed to calm her down enough to get her on the plane. Imagine, she had said to the flight attendant, imagine someone coming along and taking away everything you have and telling you to live where you have no job, no home and no chance of either.
He gently sat his wife upright and fitted her seatbelt. The landing cards were filled out and they were ready. As ready as they would be anyway.
The landing was smooth enough for Claudel to sleep through it and although he stood to help the Dutch girl with her carry-on he sat down again and waited until the plane was empty. Claudel woke and gazed from the plane with her black eyes.
“Let’s go…” he said.
She looked up and nodded.
“It’s all going to be okay,” she said.
Michel smiled. He was so relieved to hear her say those words that he nearly cried out.
“It is,” he agreed.
“Let’s only speak Australian,” she said, grinning.
He nodded and laughed. He kissed the palm of her hand then placed in it their passports, landing card and the handle of her bag. The cleaner had begun making their way down the aisles of the plane, making it ready for the next passengers.
The passage through customs was a breeze; there obviously had not been many French nationals on the flight. Michel steered their trolley towards the Uber pick up zone.
“We’ll get coffee at the hospital,” Claudel said.
Her mother only had days, or hours, they’d been told. The Australian government had given them three months to leave, imagine packing up their entire lives in three months, but the news of Claudel’s mother had given them less time. They loaded the bags in the Uber. They’d sold everything except the essentials. They had no home here, why would they bring any more than if they were going on holidays?
We could just pretend we are going on holidays; Claudel had suggested but after the news of her mother she didn’t feel like pretending anything at all.
A coach stopped and blocked their exit. A school group in matching blazers, rolling little matching bags behind them, began to file on from Arrivals with almost military precision. Michel, Claudel and the Uber driver stared in amazement as the teacher handed each schoolgirl a bright red beret and a miniature French Flag to attach to her bag.
“What is it with France?” Michel said.
The Uber driver turned to look at him.
He asked in French what Michel meant by the question. He seemed a little annoyed.
“Oh nothing, we just came from Australia. We were living there for nearly sixteen years.”
“So why did you come back?”
“We had no choice, they are getting very strict over there,” Claudel chimed in.
“France is the best country in the world, and Paris is the best city in France, so you are in luck,” he said.
Claudel breathed out sharply.
“You just need to ask these fifty girls in red berets waving their little flags,” he laughed. The coach drove off.
“We had a great life. I went surfing every day,” Michel explained as the driver pulled into the traffic.
“You will just have to find a way to get back there,” said the driver, smiling at him in the rear-view mirror. “Or, find a new way to live here.”
Michel nodded and smiled. It’s that simple, he thought and looked out the window at the hazy morning.