After more than 50 days in hot Delhi/Noida, returning to the cooler climes of Hanoi should have been something to look forward to anytime. But not this time. Not this time.
We reached IGI Airport well in time for our 1:40pm flight to Bangkok. Though I am one of the laziest persons I know, I hate arriving late for appointments, functions and, especially, flights. As far as my memory goes, I have never ever been late for a flight. There have been more than one occasion when I am at the airport even before the airline counter opens and I am usually one of those who line up to get in first into the aircraft. We arrived well in time and duly passed the security checks, booked our baggage and made for the lounge where we had a leisurely lunch of faux Japanese dishes which included a soup, obviously meant to be miso soup but tasting unlike any miso soup I’ve had before.
As I still had a few hundred rupees left with me, I went to buy some books to read on the flight. With about 2 hours left for the flight, I settled down to read while my wife kept herself busy calling and texting friends on her mobile. She went to the ladies after a while as I continued trying to concentrate on my book and keep my mind from thinking of all that we were leaving behind in Delhi. The next thing I knew was hearing two airport staff checking with the lounge receptionist whether there were any passengers for Bangkok still left. I looked at my watch and suddenly realized we had only 15 minutes left for our flight, and my wife was nowhere in sight. I immediately rose, called my wife on her mobile telling her to hurry, grabbed our bags, and told the airport staff we were on the Bangkok flight. She immediately picked up her walkie-talkie and I heard her telling whoever was on the other line that they had finally found the ‘missing’ passengers and that we were on our way. From the corner of my eyes I saw my wife leisurely making her way towards us when the lady told me it was about 10 minutes’ walk to Gate 24 and we should hurry. With our best apologetic faces in front of the Air India staff at the gate, we passed through another security check before boarding the aircraft with about 5 minutes to spare. We were the last passengers on board and the aircraft doors closed almost immediately after we entered and started taxiing for takeoff even as we settled down for the four and half hour flight to Bangkok.
So began a new chapter in our life.
In more ‘normal’ circumstances, we probably would have panicked with recriminations all around, running to the gate and apologizing profusely to the ground staff. But we were super-cool and, without breaking a sweat, walked up to the gate, ignoring the irritated looks of the Air India staff, and almost leisurely made our way to the aircraft as if we were used to being the last ones to board. It seemed almost like we were deliberately trying or hoping to miss the flight. And perhaps we were. Perhaps we were.
We hardly spoke the whole way, each lost in our own unspoken thoughts. After more than two decades of always travelling with kids in tow, we were finally on the move again as a couple. My mind wandered back to the last time we travelled as a couple from Delhi to Paris, on our way to Morocco. We were young then, and the future was still before us. In between then and now, we have been blessed with two wonderful kids, now grown up into a fine young man and a wonderful daughter. I thought of all the wonderful and blessed times we’ve spent together and realize that they are all just memories now.
There were times during the last two decades when my thoughts strayed to the time when we would finally be alone again. But, even then, when such thoughts intruded, I always tried my best to think of other, more pleasant, thoughts. In fact, I always tried to suppress the thought. Frankly, it was, and is, sometimes too much to think of a life without the kids. Except for the few occasions when you wanted to snuggle in bed for just a few more minutes but had to get up to get them ready for school, I can hardly recall a time when my kids caused any trouble or hardship that would have made me really look forward to a time when I would be ‘free’ of them. But here we are, finally all alone, while they are thousands of miles away in India, doing their best to adjust and make their own future.
Even during the last few weeks we spent together, poring through numerous college brochures, filling up numerous applications and standing in line for what seemed like eternity in the hot Delhi sun, and it was just a matter of a few weeks, days even, when we would part, the thought of us parting was something I refused to entertain though it was like a dark cloud that hovered above us at all times. We never spoke of it, but parting was the one constant that always tempered our happiness and joy even when Esther secured a place in St. Stephen’s, or when we managed to get a suitable place for her to stay. Even when God answered our prayers and provided even beyond what we expected, the thought that our answered prayers were only bringing us closer to this next chapter in our life always managed to somehow dampen the spirits. We are, after all, only too human.
Now we are back to the proverbial Square One but I find that it is no longer the same Square. Yes, we are back to only the two of us, more than two decades later, a little the worst for wear and tear, but all systems still functioning. The first time round, we had a whole future to make and dream about and there was much to be excited about. Looking back, even the air then seemed much fresher (and, perhaps, it was), and there was a whole future to plan for. Now that we’ve seen that future and we find ourselves having to plan for another, different kind of a future, I find myself thinking and dwelling more in the past, clinging to memories.
It is now all quiet at home. Too quiet. For the moment, and perhaps for quite some time yet, our minds and hearts will be thousands of miles away. But life goes on and we will, soon I hope, have to regroup and restart our life. A few more days and I will ‘meet Abraham’ and another future beckons.
(Hanoi, 5 Aug 2012)