My mum is going on holiday to the other side of the world. Alone. At the airport I hug her tight and fight inevitable tears as I say goodbye.
“Have a good time! Stay safe and remember to keep your bag close to you.”
“Yes Mummy.” Her smile is cheeky, her voice reassuring.
“And I love you.”
“Love you too.”
My heart is racing, irrational fear worming its way through my body. I want to say so much more than I love you. I want to tell Mum how I always needed her even if it appeared I didn’t, how I hoped I’d always been there for her the way she had been there for me.
Reason tells me I can’t blurt all that out. Mum deserves to have a joyful journey not have my anxiety as her travelling companion. So I stifle the fear and push away the words that might frighten her.
Then she is gone, the Customs queue sweeping her away from me. I stand there for a few moments, expecting one last smile or wave. Now the train waits, to take me back home. Alone.
Mum held my hand until I could stand on my own. She knew when it was the right time to let go, when to let me fall, when to wait for me to get back up again and find my way.
Through the years, Mum walked beside me and away from me, knowing how to let go without ever really letting go. Today it is my turn.
It is the end of the school day by the time the train begins to snake its way out of Central. At each stop children burst through the train doors, fighting over seats, their laughter and voices filling the carriages.
“Is it okay if we sit here?”
I look up to see three girls, their arms full of heavy bags.
They sit down, talking as if they have saved up all their words for now. I am reading a magazine but I can’t help eavesdropping on their animated conversation. I look up to steal a glance, to soak up their breathless energy.
One of the girls takes a phone out of the depths of her school bag.
“Can you pick me up from the train station in about twenty? We got out of school early.”
A woman starts to speak as the girl closes her phone and picks up the conversation from before. My heart tugs. I am catapulted back to my teenage days. Was I so dismissive? So blasé about the presence of Mum in my life? My heart tugs again. I know that I wasn’t.
I could have had a daughter like this girl. Quick to dismiss. Or a daughter like me. Quick to love.
I look again at these girls. I want to draw them to me, into my world now. I want them to know the love, the joy, the fear, the holding on, the letting go, how it travels through the years, from your Mum to you and back again.
This is the resolute nature of time. We can’t go back. We can’t go forward. And yet time circles around us, so we learn what it is that ties us to the people we love, so we learn how to give back what we have been given.
A short time later, the train is empty. I hear my phone beep. It’s Mum. Her plane is delayed. She isn’t on her way to the other side of the world just yet. Time gives me time before I need to let go.