It was a cool but sunny day. Just like before. A thin black sports jacket over her pink shirt, she drove right into the parking lot, chose the nearest open space, and jumped out. With her gray bag slung across her shoulders, she moved quickly through the lot and into the entrance. She skirted a young couple making their way with heavy backpacks, and a family of four with happy and excited toddlers in tow. A senior Indian couple were ahead and the lady’s bag slipped off her frail shoulder. She caught it and offered to carry it across the crossing. The lady smiled and asked her if she spoke Hindi. She did, but she didn’t want to get drawn into a conversation, so she said No, and smiled broadly, hoping that she didn’t sound rude. A traffic cop curtsied as she turned around, and she smiled back, adjusting her bag across again, and darting quickly up the ramp.
The scene was always exciting.
She loved airports.
It was always a pleasure watching people at airports. So many emotions all bundled into that huge space, many mirroring each other, but subtle differences between all. The way they greeted each other, the furtive glances at strangers, the well seasoned travelers and the new ones. The different colored bags among the different colored skin, with a myriad of accents.
She stopped just for a few minutes letting it all soak in. She was at arrivals.Baggage claim. A flight had just landed; United and from Europe by the looks of the passengers waiting around the carousel. She smiled at a little girl seated at the edge of her mom’s attache and the little girl smiled back. Tired, but she looked happy to be home, clinging onto her little rag doll.
The escalators were right in front, and she climbed them with subdued rush. Two at a time occasionally, and then stopping for her to rise higher and higher into the Departures. Every time, the hurried anxiety of the passengers caught her fair and square. There was always that little apprehension mixed with happiness and courage written all over each person’s face. The sad worried look while waving goodbye to the ones who skipped away happily with a squeeze and a hug, to the ones who clung on.
Her pace shifted dramatically. Now she slowed down and walked forward toward the check-ins. She kept walking towards the tall glass doors leading to the exit. To the sides were lovely long benches, mostly filled with ladies and kids waiting. A few gentlemen sat on her right, and she squeezed herself into a spot next to them. They smiled at her and she smiled back.
I don’t know!
What do you mean you don’t know? You drove here!
Yes, I did.
I don’t know. I am here ok. I just wanted to be here.
Okay you are here. Now what?
Nothing. Just shut up. I just want to be here.
So she sat. To look busy and not get stared at, she flipped her phone open. No emails. Nothing great on twitter. No Facebook anyway. Then she opened Whatsapp. Nothing. She typed a message smiling.
..and then erased it. Slowly.
She looked up. She was sitting right across the Emirates counter. How did that happen? she puzzled. I didn’t plan this part, she mused. She looked around her and indeed most were folks going to the Middle-east. The beards and the long gowns and the hijabs. Then there were the brown people. More than she imagined there would be at this time of the year.
Her eyes quickly scanned the line. She was methodical, just like her organized brain allowed her to search for a missing blouse or a forgotten form among a pile. She scanned slowly. Right to left, row by row. One family at a time, not allowing herself to be distracted by the sea of people crossing her vision and with the loud conversation next to her. Nothing. She then moved back slowly to the other end of the lounge.
Maybe at the other check-ins.
No. No one fit the description
Please shut up.
She instinctively put her free hand to her ear, to block the voice off and stubbornly refused to acknowledge it.
Orange-yellow shirt with black lines. Checks. Jeans.
No. None at the United counter. None at American. None at the British Airways, except for some bright reds, everyone had a jacket on. This year is colder. Her eyes strained under all that searching and looking. She squinted and craned and searched and blinked. No. Nothing.
Tired, she closed her eyes.
It was past 10:30 am. Why the hell aren’t we boarding yet? I whined twice. On text and on whatsapp. Everyone asked me to be patient. I took selfies and posted them. I’d already eaten a bagel and got some coffee. Nope. There was absolutely no action at the Emirates counter. Annoyed, I’d picked up my backpack and walked over to ask.
Yes ma’am we are running late, but not much longer. We should begin boarding in 20 minutes or so. Please be patient. So polite.
What could I say?! Losing patience but trying to not let the moment spoil the happiness of the trip, I turn around and stop mid-track. My jaw fell open and I stared.
He was there. Grinning. Completely and immensely enjoying the moment. The moment of surprise. The big reveal. He grinned and imitated my jaw-drop. I didn’t smile right away. I blinked twice and then I was shocked.
What are you doing here? OMG.
We were a good 50 yards away, not talking distance but it was as clear and as bright as the sun outside at 10:30 am.
I was shocked, and shaken and happy and shy and scared and excited and grateful and in complete disbelief. ..and then slowly, I let it all sink in.
It topped all the best days in my life so far.
I ran into the ladies washroom and sobbed into a coarse paper towel. I had never cried before in happiness. It was a first. A first of many, I hope.
Startled, she came back to her senses, as a young beautiful girl in hijab sat next to her daintily. The loud gentlemen had left. She smiled at her and asked in the most shy hesitant tone “May I sit here?”
Of course, please do, and she made room.
Curly swirly henna on her white palms and hands were still bright. She had the air of everything new about her. Her man came forward, left his suitcase, bent and murmured something softly to her, and she nodded as he walked to the counters.
“are you visiting here?”
“Yes, going home now”
“No, no, honeymoon. We live in Dubai”
“Aw, congratulations! You look great together.”
Leaving the young newly weds together, she got up and made her way to the escalators. Slowly dragging her feet. She stopped at the edge and looked all around her once more. Just one last search. No. Nothing.
“Excuse me Ma’am, looking for something? Can I help you?”
An airport officer had come up right behind her.
Startled, for the second time out of her reverie, she shook her head, not trusting to speak. She turned and got onto the escalators as they took her down. Slowly.
She sunk deeper and deeper. Into herself. Into her thoughts. Into a happiness that was just hers alone. No one knew and the only one who did doesn’t remember anymore.
A happiness that only she knew intimately. How precious was that.
Hugging herself closely as the cold hit her from inside and out, she made her way back into her life. The one that she was stuck in, coz it was familiar, and that’s all that mattered. Memories were as good as new. That is all that should matter.