At arrivals, a man stood with his chest out. His middle stretched against his seaweed green wool sweater. The man smiled at Dad.

Czesc, Zdzichu,” Dad said.

Dad and Zdzichu hugged. I’d only seen Dad hug family that way—full and tight.

Krzysiu,” Zdzichu said. It was my childhood nickname.

I wanted to say, I’m not the kid I was when we left. Instead, I zipped up my jacket and stuck my hands in my pocket, and said “Hi.”

“It has not been so good weather,” Zdzichu said.

“Really?” Dad asked.

“It has rained, but I hear it will be sunny.”

I waited by the carousel for my bag. I knew that people talked about the weather to continue conversation’s sound instead of allowing for silence. I zoned out as I stared at luggage passing.

When the international airport was called Warsaw Okcie, Dad and I had checked blue leather suitcases with metal nubs that scraped along the linoleum floor. Patch barked and Mom’s two cats Fun and Nora yowled in their crates. Since then, our pets had all died and were buried in the sandy ground of our backyard in Orlando while the luggage deteriorated in the heat of our attic.

Dad pulled our bags off the conveyer belt. I let Zdzichu take my bag. Then, he led us out into the parking lot.

In the car, Zdzichu and Dad babbled back and forth. The wipers flicked rain off the windshield. As Zdzichu drove us to a bank, I remembered how I used money on Saturday mornings when I went to our neighborhood’s corner store. I would redeem the deposit on cola bottles and then buy Sprite for me and Coke for Joe. I'd clutched the green neck between my thumb and forefinger and the clear bottle tinted with caramel soda between my middle and ring finger. In my other hand, I'd held a box with a Snickers bar snug against a stack of pogs. Back at our house, I'd elbowed the bell and Dad buzzed the front gate. In the kitchen, I'd eat the Snickers as Dad would uncapp the bottles. I'd pocketed the pogs and then would walk up the staircase. At the landing, I'd touched the wobbly banister knob. In our bedroom, Joe would climb down from his top bunk and I'd hand him the Coke. Down the hall, we would sit on the entertainment room’s floor. Joe would flip the TV to Biker Mice from Mars. The Polish narrator spoke for all the English voices. The dubbing couldn’t completely cover over our language. I would crank up the cartoon’s volume.

At the bank with Zdzichu, rates fluctuated on a digital board. The dollar traded for about two zloty. When I gave my dollars to the teller, I was handed a few bills and then a pile of coins. Zloties began to be paper in tens. I tucked the bills into my wallet and then filled the left front pocket of my jeans with coins.

After the exchange, Zdzichu drove Dad and me to an apartment building. We crammed into the lobby’s elevator. It was as small as a bathroom stall with the same sort of graffiti and smelly pools in the corner. A single bulb illuminated us. We huddled in the middle, our shadows overlapping. When the lattice closed, it triggered the creaky lift.

Off the landing, Zdzichu knocked on a door.

“Hello,” a girl said, opening up. Childhood merged into teenagehood. Her hair was in a greasy ponytail. Baby fat melted into curves and pimples mixed with freckles. She wore jeans and a T-shirt.

Joasia,” Zdzichu said.

“I’m Asha,” she said to me. “Nice to meet you.”

Czesc,” I said. “We’ve met before.”

On furlough, Asha’s family had come to visit us. Her parents had taken Joe and me to the ocean. Asha had wiggled in a car seat between us. Asha’s father had driven to Coco Beach where green waves mixed shale into an ugly, harsh shoreline. He hadn't wanted to pay a fee, so he'd parked at an access lot without even a foot-washing station; only a boardwalk had led from the asphalt lot to the beach. Joe and I already had on our trunks. Asha’s parents had pulled down her pants. I'd followed Joe to the boardwalk. Asha’s parents had kept her at the shoreline. Thankfully, they had put her into a swimsuit. The water had rushed up to her legs. Joe and I had filled a pail with wet sand for her to make a sandcastle. Then, we'd splashed deeper into the water to bodysurf. When it was time to leave, Asha had sat on the shore. Her father had told her we were leaving without her. Asha had slapped the castle down. Asha’s mother had walked ahead with Joe. I'd stayed on the dry sand. Asha’s father had turned away. Asha had gotten up and ran past me. She'd grabbed her father’s hand, crying.

After Zdzichu left, Dad went to the bathroom. I stood in the kitchen. The electric kettle churned with water for tea. I didn’t have anything to say to Asha about how she was older, but looked the same. I considered talking about the weather, but the toilet flushed.

Dad reappeared, saying, “I’m ready for a nap.”

“I’m tired, too.” My mind felt worn. I was back in Warsaw and everything seemed so normal, but also slightly changed like Asha.

In a guest room, Dad lay on a couch. I stretched on a mattress. I stared at the ceiling.

The day before at Orlando International Airport, Dad and I had ridden the monorail from the terminal to the gate. Through the tinted glass spring faded into summer. Egrets drifted onto the airport’s retention ponds. Palm fronds waved in the wind. Inside, the a/c blasted and a voice blared over the intercom to have a safe trip.

After takeoff, I'd looked down to spot the cluster of giant steel stick-figure sculptures at the departure drop-off. One figure had held its I-beam arm pointing up. Another figure had held its hand over its brow following the trajectory of our dissipating jet stream’s trail.



Chris Wiewiora grew up in Warsaw, Poland, with his parents who served as Evangelical missionaries under the Iron Curtain. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University, and lives in Orlando, Florida. His nonfiction about his return trip to Poland has been published on A River & Sound Review, Matador, and New Found.

Categories: Airports, Trips

Latest Stories
Checking In/Checking Out

Filter by Category

Everyone has a story to tell...

Submit Yours Here

Points of Departure: