Wrote this on my way back to the US after a winter break back home. It’s more of a diary entry, almost a stream of consciousness…
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
Saturday 7:20 am PST 14th January 2011: At the moment, I’m at an altitude of 11,600 meters. A faint orange glow weaves it’s filigree brocade around an ocean of cotton clouds. It’s 7:20 PST, and this plane is old enough not to show me the exact map location. While I was marveling at the glimmer of sunrise, a frantic air hostess beckons everyone to close the blinds. But I’m on a caffeine high, and this forced sleep time doesn‘t seem to be working its charm. Everyone else seems to be somnolent however, and I don’t want to be singled out as the only rude passenger who turns on a distracting reading light. A façade of writing seems to be therapeutic as an alternative. It keeps me from thinking about home, and how every second I’m flying, the distance increases exponentially.
(A mobile phone ring tone just broke my reverie. We’ve been flying for two hours now, and they were supposed to have turned those off at take-off. No wonder this plane was experiencing so much turbulence; it’s interfering with all the signals)
It’s Kuwait Airways and they announce things in Arabic, with English one-liner translations that don’t even cover half of what was said. Forget the fact that the majority of passengers on this plane do not speak English, let alone Arabic. I’m translating things for the elderly aunty sitting next to me who is enroute to NY to visit her son. Aunty is wearing a chicken white chador, with a fringe of mehndi orange hair peaking through. She speaks softly in broken Urdu as she asks me about my travel plans. I’m terribly homesick and not in the mood for social conversations. Yet aunty is just being nice, and so I answer politely, with what I hope is not too saccharine a smile.
At the moment she seems to be asleep, one hand on her forehead in a characteristic “Haye Allah” pose J. And I’m typing away a profile with clues from conversation snippets. I wonder if she has grandchildren, and if she’s excited to see them. I wonder if it’s her first time traveling so far and if she’s comfortable in her plane ride. She wasn’t too fond of the airhostesses because they took too long, and unfortunately she only drank chai because she can’t eat the greasy qeema-palak paratha dish they just served because of health reasons. I guess they should always have healthier options for senior citizens, and other passengers with specific health needs regardless of if they’ve filed meal choice requests in advance. (Uncle sahib in front just decided to extend his seat as far back as he possibly can so now I’m kind of squashed. Tempted to push mine back, dominoes effect style).
Three weeks home was like giving a lollipop to a child only to cruelly snatch it midway. It was short and it was bitter. It was brimming with hope and expectations, and it ends with them crushed with derisive laughter. Yet every second at home was amazing. Eighteen year old me underestimated the opportunity cost of living the American Dream. Now as I float away from the green light across the harbor, I reach for it, as it intangibly slips away from my grasp. It’s misty now. I left half my heart in Boston, and leaving the other half in Islamabad.
Airports and airplanes have lost their charm now, jaded as I am. I’m incredibly lucky to have had the opportunities to travel by air at all, yet now it’s long car drives home that I long for the most. I remember as a child, airports held a magical appeal. Whenever I used to see someone off at the airport, I used to peer longingly through the glass windows past the travelers-only checkpoint. I would wave to the family friend/relative until they faded away into the distance. Then as a crowd would block my view of fascinating conveyor belts and sundry suitcases, I would wonder when I would be lucky enough to go off into the restricted areas. It was exciting, the prospect of traveling. When my father would go off for business trips, packing seemed like an adventure. Fun shopping trips, and traveling off to faraway lands, discovering rare things and objects. Abu used to bring home silk kimonos from Japan, Moroccan tea, Pineapples from Bangkok, Mangosteens from Bhutan, lokum from Turkey… So traveling held the magic of tales of merchants from ship voyages…it was fraught with wanderlust. Now the flight back home seems to enchant with sprinkled fairy dust.