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God’s Name is Celia

10 years ago

I raced past the little currency kiosk in the Vancouver airport, dragging my luggage behind me. The small, dark-haired woman inside leaned her head to the size, a quizzical look on her face. Can I help you? she mouthed at me through the glass that separated her and her cash from passersby such as me.

I halted abruptly and directed my suitcases and myself towards the kiosk, nodding my head in the affirmative. ‘Where’s the Air Canada passenger assistance counter? I’m told it’s right around here, but I can’t see it.’

‘Right there,’ she pointed to her right. ‘It’s right there; you see where I mean? just around that corner and you’re there.’

‘Thank you,’ I tossed over my shoulder as I headed in the prescribed direction.

No one was in line at the counter, but they needed a piece of paper; I didn’t have it, only on my laptop. Flip open the laptop. It’s OK, the woman at the counter says, just tell me when you were supposed to be flying. Next Tuesday, I said, right about this time of day. She writes down the flight number and sends me off to the Air Canada desk.

The woman in the kiosk observes my passage once more.

Stand-by is as good as it gets. Thanksgiving weekend is coming up, after all, what do I expect? So it is.

I pick up a distressed voicemail from my niece; take West Jet into London. Off I go to the West Jet counter. When I reach the front of the queue and I explain my situation, the woman at the counter, draws a tape barrier, closing off her counter, ready to do anything to get me sorted out. She will get me into London by 6:00 a.m. the next day.

With three hours to wait for a flight that will take me to preocuppyingly snowed-in Calgary on my way to London, I stop at the currency kiosk to unload 20,000 Philippine pesos.

Glancing at the list of currencies for sale, I notice that Philippine pesos are not listed. I make as if to leave. ‘You don’t take Philippine pesos.’

‘I don’t sell them, but I do buy them,’ she says. Then: ‘Are you OK?’ Her hands have come to rest in front of her and her head is once more tilted to the side, her face mirroring concern. Her dark hair is piled up on her head in a time-warped sort of style, bits of it out of place, falling over her ears and down her neck.

‘Ah, no. No, I’m not actually.’

‘Hmm,’ she murmurs. ‘I thought not. You didn’t look quite right when you passed by here earlier.’ Her voice is musical, roiling softly through the opening meant for vendor and customer communication. Her eyes crinkle, her forehead furrows, her body leans forward into the counter and the rest of the airport slips away.

‘I’ve just arrived from the Philippines,’ I blurt it all out, tears flowing. ‘I wasn’t to leave there for awhile, but, four days after he sent it, I got an e-mail from my brother telling me to come home; that our mother was very sick.’

‘Oh, beloved,’ she says. ‘Tell me about your mother. What’s your name? What were you doing in the Philippines?’

And so I talk, the tears streaming as I talk; only a few sentences. Celia, her name tag says. Celia.

‘Do you have siblings?’ she asks. ‘I have a twin…’ I begin. ‘I’m a twin, too,’ she says. ‘Two daughters and two grandchildren,’ I tell her.

She stretches her hands to reach through the opening at the counter. I take her hands, entwining our fingers. ‘Your mother loves you; do you know that.’ I nod; yes. ‘And she taught you just about everything you know. Do you know that?’ I nod again. ‘She’s so proud of you. Whatever happens, your mother loves you and you will carry her with you all of your life to come.’ I’m not sure I want to hear that.

At this point, an Indian man in search of rupees comes to the counter. Celia turns to him and smiles. ‘Do you mind,’ she says, ‘we need to finish something up here.’ He edges away; he’s not in a hurry. She turns to me once more, ‘And I love you. You are precious to me.’  I nod, as if this were completely logical. How.  Why.  Who are you?

The spell begins to break; the rest of the world begins to slip back into its place once more and I say to her, ‘I don’t think they’re telling me all there is to be told. There is no one here for me, I said, and I need to make a call to my daughter. Would you mind if I just stayed right here and made a call. And you’d be here for me if I need you?’ Celia nodded. I moved a few steps away and called Emily. ‘I’m here with Gram, Mum; we all are. Her eyes are moving about the room a bit; she’s resting comfortably. I’ll pick you up at the airport.’

‘She’s alive,’ I tell Celia. She nods. ‘You’re going to be OK,’ she says.

‘I’m going to go now.’ ‘OK.’

I walk away in search of the gate, looking for a kneeling place of some sort. I pause to look back; the man is now being served. Celia is still there.  An hour or so later, done with kneeling for awhile, I notice that the kiosk is empty; she is gone.

PS: Having spent a good bit of the 14 hours coming across the Pacific trying to distract myself by reading The Shack, tossing it under my seat, on occasion, snorting derisively, writing comments to the author in the margins, I was attuned to alternative images of God, of the Trinity as African American woman, a Semitic jeaned-Jesus and an Asian yogic Holy Spirit named Sarayu. And then there was Celia. Of course.  I arrived in London, greeted at the airport by a little throng of my family.  Mum had died three hours earlier.

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