“Window or aisle?”
I took my boarding pass and boarded the flight.
No sister with me this time. No one to hold my hand. No one to exchange sparkling glances of excitement with.
Sure, I was going to meet her, but on this journey in 2006, I was alone.
The journey to Milan from Mumbai was a long one, but I sat straight, willing myself not to fall asleep. What if my head dropped and I leaned against the man sitting next to me? Mortifying! Better to be sleep-deprived. I was travelling alone, I reminded myself, and I had no comfortable shoulder to rest on.
Chewing the inside of my cheek, I kept myself awake. I could not bring myself to eat dinner at 2 in the morning, so I drank a glass of water and stared out of the window. The world I was flying over looked like a topo map. I loved topo maps. I found myself marking settlements in my head with red dots, matching the red roofs I could see below. I measured distances with string, and calculated scale – inaccurately, of course.
And I dozed off.
I woke with a start. I peeked at my co-passenger through the corner of my eye, hoping I had not moved in my sleep. He smiled blandly back. I wolfed down my breakfast. (Except for the watermelon. Too red, too watery. I don’t like fruits.)
After a beautiful sunrise, there I was. Milan.
“Please, ma’am, you need to take off your belt before you go through the metal detector.”
I did so.
“Now, please raise your hands as you walk through.”
That’s when the wave of tiredness and incomprehension hit me. “If I could take off my belt and raise my hands,” I wanted to ask, “why would I wear a belt at all?”
I didn’t ask that – for no reason other than that I was too tired.
I somehow kept myself awake through the second flight as well – to Paris.
I saw the beautiful snowy mountains. I watched the raw wilderness melt into cities.
I could see my sister through the glass while I waited for my suitcase. Of course it was last. Everybody’s suitcase is ‘last’ on a conveyor belt.
And then there we were – together in Paris once more. Chuckling about taking off your belt and raising your hands. Shaking out wise heads about staying awake for so long. Ready for another adventure.