This is the conclusion of yesterday’s post “Ninja Claus.”
Make sure to read that one first, or this won’t make a bit of sense …
So, 9 hours and 36 minutes after taking off, Air France 682 landed at ATL. Dang, that was one LONG flight! It very well could have been because of the crazy ninja flight path we took … who would’ve imagined my approach to Atlanta would take me over Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee?
I made my way up the jetway to immigration and border control. Despite my concerns about how busy it might be, it went very smoothly and I was on my way to the Delta Sky Club in no time. Back in September, you see, I had applied for a Delta Sky Miles American Express card and, included in my welcome package were two complimentary day passes. When they arrived at my parents’ address in South Carolina, I asked my mom to mail them to me in France. I knew I’d have a use for them a few months later, but I told her I should probably have them with me “just in case Michel and I travel somewhere on Delta.” Because, you know, Delta has lots of short-haul flights in France …
Once inside, I got on Delta’s wifi and tried to call my mom, but the connection was horrendously bad. It was kind of like a Verizon Wireless commercial.
“Hey Mama. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Chri … ma … re you … Paris?”
“Hey. I can’t hear you very well.”
“Can y … ear me … ichael? C… hea … ow?”
“I’m sorry, Mama. I’m in a — mmm — ‘café’ right now. I’m on their wifi, but it’s not very good. I can’t hear you very well.”
“Can … Michael? … ear me now? I’ll g … kitch … <pause> Can you hear me now?”
“Yeah, that’s better. I can hear you now. Did y’all have a good Christmas?”
During our one-minute call with really spotty reception, I learned that my mom had made a tasty Christmas dinner for her and my dad (her famous mac and cheese included), and she’d gotten several calls from family members. She seemed very upbeat, and that made me feel better about the fact that she’d spent Christmas morning without hearing my voice. I cut the call short, apologizing for the bad connection, and I said I’d email her when we got back home but that we would “definitely talk tomorrow.” Hee hee!
I camped out for a while in the Sky Club, enjoying a complimentary Blue Moon and lots of peanuts and yogurt-covered pretzels to compensate for the fact that Air France had failed to adequately nourish me. I connected on Skype with Michel, also using that spotty wifi, so it was a frustrating call. It was good to see his face, even if I couldn’t hear his voice that well. Finally, I wandered off to the C Terminal, the point of departure for …
Phase Two of Operation Ninja Claus (ATL ✈ CAE)
Now, as I made my way to Gate 55, I happened to walk past yet another Delta Sky Club, so I decided to stop in there and see if the wifi was any better. I ordered up another Blue Moon, grabbed some peanuts and key lime cookies this time, and installed myself at a table in a relatively quiet corner of the club. I connected to the wifi and — lo and behold — it worked really well, so I took the opportunity to call my mom back … and lie to her again:
“Hey Mama. It’s me again.”
“Y’all are home?”
“Uh, yeah, we’re home. Skype is still down, though, but our wifi works better than the one at that café. Don’t worry, though. We will definitely see each other tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry about it. I guess there are a lot of people on Skype today.”
“I think so.”
We started to talk again about their day, and that’s when the Delta Sky Club manager came in to say hello and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
I quickly cupped my hand over my iPhone and hurried toward a corner of the room that promised to be a bit quieter, all the while willing that manager to get her festive greetings over with already …
“I hear a lot of noise there.”
“Oh, that’s just the television,” I blatantly lied.
(“Please, please, please don’t let her overhear that Georgia accent!” I prayed.)
We talked for a few minutes, she told me to wish Michel a Joyeux Noël, and I told her we’d try Skype again the next day. After all of that, my mom was still — apparently — none the wiser to my plans.
I made my way to Gate 55, where — coincidentally — Delta had placed an advertisement for their Paris service.
At 6:30 pm EST (12:30 am CET), I boarded Delta 5224. After an interminable taxi out to the runway, we finally took off and made our short flight over to Columbia, touching down some thirty minutes later. As soon as I got inside, I connected to CAE’s free wifi, checked in on FourSquare, sent a message to Michel to let him know I was safely in South Carolina, and went to find my cousin and her family. After collecting my bag, we hopped in the car and headed off on …
Phase Three of Operation Ninja Claus (CAE → Bishopville)
En route, we talked a lot about the best way for me to announce my arrival and what my mom’s reaction would be. Should my Aunt Ruth call just before getting there to say she was coming to drop off a present? Should we just drive up and knock on the door? In the end, we decided a call would either tip her off or worry her, so we just arrived unannounced. I hopped out, walked up to the door and knocked:
<knock, knock, knock, knock, knock>
“Who is it?” I heard emanating from the other side of the door in a quiet, somewhat wary voice.
I could tell she was peering through the peephole to discern who would possibly be knocking on her door at 9 pm on Christmas.
“Ho ho ho!” I replied jovially.
The door opened and I saw my Mama’s inquisitive, but slightly confused face:
“Hey Mama. Merry Christmas!”
“What? It’s not you! It can’t be you!”
“Yes, it’s me, Mama. I’m here! Merry Christmas!”
Her initial shock wore off immediately and she hugged me tightly, scanning the faces behind me. Then — as I had predicted on the ride over — she asked the obvious question:
“He’s in France, Mama. He couldn’t come this time, but he’s happy I could.”
We came inside, laughing and chattering away about how I’d really surprised her … how she had no earthly idea I was coming. She hurried down the hallway to get my father, who — true to form — was already in bed. Standing in the kitchen with my Aunt Ruth, Uncle Phil, and cousin Melissa, and grinning ear to ear, I could overhear the conversation down the hallway:
“Sammie! Michael’s here!”
“What? We just talked to him a little while ago.”
“Daddy, I was in Atlanta when I called y’all,” I shouted down the hallway.
My parents emerged from the hallway, and I embraced my father, whose face bore a curious expression of joy, surprise, and incomprehension. And there we were, at 9 pm on Christmas Day, the three of us together in each other’s arms, when we weren’t even supposed to be!
And then came my mom’s third — also predicted — reaction:
“And, oh my goodness! Will you just look at this house! I haven’t cleaned at all.”
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved