By Sonya Rehman
The Dubai airport is freezing as hell. I’m so glad I’m wearing a blazer and a light scarf (midnight blue with tiny blue sequins – bought it in a rush because it caught my eye, looked like the night sky painted across a roll of fabric). Even though I was sweating through my scarf during the trip to the airport, my hands are very cold right now as I balance a fat Orhan Pamuk book (The Strangeness In My Mind is the name, since you insist) on my lap. Thank God I’ve eaten light and gotten a good three hours of sleep. It’s past 3am and my flight leaves in three hours. Will the plane crash? Will it get shot down? Will it get hijacked by a bunch of crazy mofos? Will I be seated next to a fart machine? Horrifying thoughts.
I went overboard shopping for the family again – chocolates, things for the house, nifty things from IKEA such as a little device that you stick into a mug (powered by a battery) that makes your coffee extra frothy (as if you couldn’t beat the coffee by hand yourself…), two big glass jugs with cork screw lids (only because I don’t trust those ‘BPA free’ plastic bottles – these days everything is ‘cancer causing,’ sheesh), ten books for myself, and a big pile for my sibling, winter clothes, a beret (navy blue), shoes, and many hand-painted Turkish plates and coasters from the Turkey pavilion at Global Village. Why did I shop so much? Why? The sleepy dude at the Emirates counter tells me I have to pay Dhs1,500 for my overweight luggage. After scraping my jaw off the floor, I make my long walk of shame to the waiting lounge upstairs. I feel poor and stupid for shopping so much. Scarcity always makes you make shitty decisions when it comes to buying something as simple as tooth paste to a pair of boots.
I’m not going to sit in a seat in B11 just yet – too many Pakistani uncles who stare, instead, I settle into a seat at another gate, further away and make a mental note to go to B11 half an hour before boarding.
I’m feeling a little melancholic. Things are ‘good’ and ‘normal’ but there’s a constant heaviness that I have now resigned myself to. I begin reading this beautiful, unpretentious book. Tearing my eyes off the page every now and then, I look at the commuters coming and going, lounging about, shopping, walking past me briskly, slowly, lugging heavy bags or light knapsacks (lucky bastards). This has to be the strangest, most futuristic airport I have every been to – who am I kidding, I’m not a seasoned traveler, this is the only futuristic airport I’ve ever visited. Even JFK airport doesn’t have a patch on this one. It’s like a mini universe in itself. Earlier, I saw a monk (yes, a monk), walking towards me – he was dressed in a light blue robe, was a short, slim man, clean-shaven and made his way down the duty free shops…his pace of walk was relaxed as people whizzed past him in a haze of colour. So otherworldly and surreal.
My thoughts of the monk are interrupted by a thick, sludgy, happy European accent a few seats behind me. It’s the voice of a heavy-set middle-aged man who’s talking nineteen to the dozen. His animated speech is frequently interrupted by a throaty chuckle and I can just imagine his squishy belly jiggling as he laughs out loud. A few minutes in and he’s making these weird whooshing sounds – he seems to be reenacting something he finds awfully amusing. I wish I knew what he was saying. His laughter and happy energy has made its way over to me, I can ‘feel’ his easiness, his kindness, his simplicity. To laugh like that with so much ease…I bless him in my heart and thank him for his happiness.
My eyes trail across a sea of faces: so many different nationalities – so strange, fascinating, beautiful in their foreign-ness. Here we are, in the centre of the universe, our universe – here we are, always lurching backwards, grabbing the familiar with anxious minds like abandoned children, or, forward, propelling into future scenarios, desires, with racing thoughts on what could, no, should be…
I walk into the waiting lounge and see a friend’s friend who also happens to be traveling to Lahore. “Heyyy Sonya! What are the odds!” I’m so happy to see his not-so-familiar face, yet ‘familiar,’ because, Lahore. We share a quick embrace and sit down for a quick chat. The good folks at Emirates have bumped me up to business class, I tell him when the boarding announcement is made. He motions with his chin at the throng of people at the gate. Pakistanis never believe in lining up for a queue, so we join the crowd and elbow our way up to the front.
We say goodbye and I walk like a freaking princess the other way down the business class aisle. Talk about blatant airline class apartheid.
So much for business class when someone in the seat infront of me pukes his (or her) guts out. A pretty air-hostess throws a blanket over the mess quickly. It stays that way for the rest of the journey, the smell of stale puke wafting about. I watch Casablanca to calm my not-very-frazzled nerves as my mind repeats agaar marna hay toh maar jao gi over and over in a tough, dry and pragmatic voice. Humphrey Bogart’s constant “Here’s looking at you kid” makes me want to slap him. But I like the way they kiss in these old movies. It’s like one, final, steady puch! Not like a face eating contest in current day cinema.
The sun is out and the aircraft is so steady. We land. I could hug every passenger on this plane right now (even the passenger who puked). I’m so glad we’ve landed safely.
I am alive. The melancholy has shifted slightly, briefly. But inside, I am as light as a flute.
To my next adventure…