Another insanely early morning, another dull grey airport. Three times in as many days, in as many cities. But at least this time it was home.
Throwing his luggage into the boot of the waiting taxi, he gave quick instructions on where he wanted to go. Home. He leaned back and closed his eyes.
He missed his little girl. He called her every night - he needed her to hear his voice, to know that he was there, even though she couldn't see him. At one and a half, he didn't know how much she really understood, but she seemed to recognise his voice on the phone. "Papa?" she'd say in her clear baby voice. Then happily, "Papa, papa, papa!" That's all she ever said on the phone when he called, and he didn't quite know if it made him feel better or worse.
He loved his family and he loved his job, but there were days when the sheer weight of all the demands on his time and energy felt like a giant hand pressing down on him, pushing him down, down into the ground.
He became aware of voices, and opened his eyes. He noticed a small screen, attached to the dashboard by the front passenger seat, playing a movie. He was horrified. Did the taxi driver have a deathwish? Here they were, just getting onto a high speed motorway, where a split second's inattention could cause a deadly pile-up, and the driver was watching a movie?! He curtly told the driver to switch it off, and turn on the radio instead. The driver complied, and he closed his eyes again, trying not to think of the long day ahead.
It could not have been more than 5 minutes when the voices started again. He sat up abruptly and saw that the screen was back on. "Didn't I tell you to turn that thing off?" he asked the driver, angrily. The driver bowed his head in apology. "I'm sorry, sir" he said, and pointing at the front passenger seat, he added, "Baby."
He saw her then, peeping round the side of the front seat, big frightened eyes staring at this loud, angry man in the back seat. A little girl, not much older than his own. He slid across the back seat to get a better look and saw that the passenger seat had been set up as a sort of play pen for the child. There were some rolled up blankets, a few plastic toys, a bottle of water, and a bowl of food. And of course, the small screen, still playing the movie.
She didn't make a sound throughout the journey. Just sat in the front seat, and played quietly by herself. Was this her life, he wondered. Did she spend her days riding in the cab with her father? Did she have no other family? No home?
He didn't ask, of course. He couldn't. He tipped the driver a little more generously than usual. He wanted to say - for your baby - but he didn't. Instead, he smiled at the small face looking out of the side window, and waved as the taxi moved off.
And then he went in, where the little owner of another pair of big bright eyes squealed in excitement on seeing him and jumped into his arms.
He was home.
(This is a fictionalised account of a true incident)