– Resident or citizen, sir?
It was January 8, 2012, almost midnight, and an impatient newyorican voice at the other side of the counter had just interrupted my standing nap.
Minutes ago, I was frantically running down the aisles of Arturo Benitez Airport with 2 old suitcases, an indecently overstuffed carry-on and a backpack so heavy I risked falling on my ass every time I stopped to catch my breath. Now I could barely keep my eyes open: to them, the man behind the voice looked impossibly like Marc Anthony.
– Resident – I replied half-asleep, as I handed the documents that would surely start the usual queries about my uncommon foreign-citizenship, dual-residency two-year journey.
– Are you returning to your home country?
– Then your final destination is?
A sudden silence turned the impatient voice into a somber one. It was as if I could hear Marc Anthony stuttering after a solo gone wrong.
– Toronto…. Do you have a valid visa, sir?
I searched into my wallet as a half-smile crossed my face, an expression carefully modeled after decades of being asked the very same question every time I exhibited my wine-coloured passport.
– This is not a valid visa.
– It is, in fact, it is a resident card.
– Your resident card expires in 2 days, sir.
– I know. And this is why I need to land in Toronto tomorrow – I replied.
For a moment, my voice awakened to project all the stress I had accumulated in the last days – the last-minute packing, the not-goodbye-yet dinners, the long explanations of my nomadic life.
The trick must have worked, as Marc Anthony announced, with a final sarcastic scowl:
– I hope they let you in. Here’s your boarding pass; proceed to immigration immediately.
The story of how I came to be seated in Copa Airlines’ Flight 276 to Toronto, exactly a year ago, after two years of making the exact opposite trip, couldn’t start less favourably: with a backpain and an unfriendly warning.
Of course, leaving aside the life others wish for you in order to keep your own dream alive is hardly an idea everyone meets with smiles and cheers.
Looking back, it is impossible to believe how long it took me to make up my mind. It was hardly the first time I had moved on my own, dodging lazy travelers across an international terminal, packing spirits ready for the next school, the next project, the next country. Except, of course, this time things were different. Because even if I couldn’t recognize it at the time, I wasn’t looking for a new challenge as much as for a long-forgotten, pending bet with myself.
Sixteen hours and 8,500 km later, I would finally open my eyes to a quiet winter morning. Through the hotel’s window, a lazy streetcar strolled down an incredibly clean Dundas Street. I submerged in a black suit, wrapped a tie around my neck and walked to the nearest coffee shop to grab a bite before my interview. On the TV, a skinny figure lamented the first world problems of a city which by then should already be covered in snow. Sigh.
A smile escaped my overdressed self. I tightened my coat and opened the door. Outside, the cold air swept around, looming with possibilities.
Little did I know that what would happen from that day on would deserve one day a story of its own.
Toronto, Jan 8, 2013.