So I love going home, not least because I get to lean back into my vowels without fear of rebuke. And there’s also time to go to Dairy Queen for my daily caloric intake via ice cream, and to ride bikes like the kids, down the middle of wide, empty streets, slapping mosquitos off already itchy legs. But it’s easy to forget, dreaming of long summer days by the lake, that everywhere you go in Minnesota, you have to talk to people. And not just any people – Minnesotans.
“Well, gosh. You’d think they could hurry up a little.” We’re in Keflavik Airport, Iceland, the surest shot to Minnesota from England through the sky. The Minnesotan who all the talking starts with appears beside me in line for the bathroom, dancing from flip flop to flip flop. It’s been a blissfully subdued journey thus far. But, as they would for a well-stocked buffet at sundown, the ’Sotans have assembled en masse at Gate 22b, clad uniformly in sturdy denim, baseball caps and Vikings hoodies.
“Mmhmm,” I murmur as panic appears, like a long-lost friend. I’ve lived in Brighton too long – losing, as the years go by, any capacity I once had for the mundanities that are my birthright. I now struggle to crack a smile for any old body or talk at length about the summer’s best sweetcorn and where to find it, or chronicle the damage of that tornado to the Bergstrom’s milking parlour, or lament Colón’s dismal pitching performance against Cleveland, wondering aloud if the Twins have, once again, missed their chance this year.
I look to the ponytailed girl to my left, first in line for the toilet, for support. But she ignores me and starts kicking the wall. And each toilet door remains tightly shut. Like tombs. The wait, now ticking from seconds to minutes in the gruesome way our corn fields stretch into some indeterminate point on the horizon, is charged. It will be only moments before she tries again, I know –
“C’mon ladies! Move it along in there,” she shouts, with a hearty chuckle. I’m obliged to echo her laugh, while crying a little inside. But it’s all she needs. Her Minnesota radar has flushed me out, even defective as I’ve become.
“Say, these bathrooms are real clean, aren’t they?” She’s inches from my face now, stinging me with a question she knows I won’t be able to leave unanswered.
“Yup, sure are.”
“I just don’t know why there’s only three. I mean, for this whole airport? Silly, doncha think? Now, have you checked all the doors?” It’s a reference to a common Midwestern practice of looking under and rattling toilet doors - which, happily, I’ve outgrown since living in your civilised nation. Sort of.
A latch clicks and I practically shove the girl inside the empty cubicle. “None free,” I say, watching as she takes out, and then offers me, some gum. I shake my head, let my face find a smile.
“Oh well,” she says contentedly, savouring her Doublemint. But all at once, the second click of a doorlatch hits my ears like a chorus of angels.
“Won’t be long now!” I throw backwards, trotting away. I’m exhausted. And I’m not even home yet.