Soft murmurings, the clattering of forks, the ringing of a teaspoon against a cup, a gentle hand on my back as I open my bleary eyes and find my cheek pressed against the too soft too tiny pillow that’s kind of wet with my medicine induced open mouthed sleep. Open my still unfocused eyes & brain and see the beige uniform and a smiling face. She’s saying something but it takes a few seconds to comprehend that she’s asking me if I want breakfast because we are going to land in a short while. That in short was my dream last night and has been for quite a few nights. A recurring bit of ecstasy that’s hard to wake up from. “Just a little longer please” you tell your sleeping self!
That magical feeling when you are both dead tired and also paradoxically filled with energy as you land in a new place, far away from home. The place could be one that you have been to before or it could be a brand new place, whichever one it is, both are bursting with new experiences.
If there’s one thing I have realised I miss through this nightmare that the world is experiencing, it is that feeling of spreading your wings and flying away on a vacation. It could also be spreading your wings and driving away.. just leaving for new horizons is exhilarating.
The days leading up to travel day, the packing and the repacking. The endless internal debates on what to carry. The googling of the weather of your destination followed by some more internal and external debates with family members on the kind of clothes and accessories to pack. Heated arguments on how many bags we should each take and whether someone really needs that extra pair of shoes or that sweater they just love. The night before travel predictably brings with it a mild degree of insomnia. Lying in bed going through all those imaginary and real lists of things to do before heading off to the airport. Jumping out of bed in a panic at 1 AM wondering whether you’ve packed your spare kindle charger and of course your “more precious than gold” kindle.
The day of travel passes in a flurry of chores and instructions to everyone around. The same instructions repeated so many times that you can see people around you wondering if this is just an adrenaline rush or something more sinister! They soon remember that they have seen this game being played out before and they collectively start rolling their eyes. I see them but I pretend not to. ETD is discussed a million times. Loud arguments erupt again between the risk takers vs the safety net folks. Finally a compromise is reached.
Suitcase loaded, handbags checked for the hundredth time for passports and for me in particular..my most important air sickness life saver medicine Dramamine. And there lies a contradiction.. I have absolutely horrible, incurable & just have to ‘grin and bear with it’ motion sickness. It’s really at a level that is incomprehensible to most people. You have to have lived it to know it. Most people thankfully don’t have to live it, but I do. Inspite of that I love getting on a plane. It’s really a hard to understand paradox.
Airports and the inevitable lines and the cribbing that follows. The fake complaining overlaid with smiles and very real bonhomie. The excitement building as one wanders through Mumbai Airport. Predictably as always we discuss how lovely it is now and then of course the mandatory reminiscing that goes along with it, by us, the so called ‘elders’ about travel and airports of days gone by. More eye rolling and reminders by the youth in our group of our tendency to repeat ourselves!
Finally boarding, settling down, reading the menu, discussing what we are each going to have.. someone debating the pros and cons of eating shellfish on the first leg of a long journey, others wondering aloud if they should have wine or something stronger. Someone else from the family already slouched in their seat perusing the movie options and asking in a sotto voce from across the aisle if we have any recommendations. I can always be found struggling with the complicated buttons of the seat that I can never seem to master despite having flown a million times. I have accepted that seats and buttons on planes are clearly not my forte. I do try I must say but eventually always give up and have to ask one of my daughters for help, or more embarrassingly the crew if I am on my own.
That feeling when the wheels leave the ground is like an invisible switch going off in my brain. The first 5 minutes I am tense as the aircraft lifts its face up to the heavens & the whole world seems to tremble, but as it equalises and steadies, my shoulders relax, I sink deeper into the seat, my eyelids seems heavy and soft and that invisible switch pulls my facial muscles into the widest smile. When this happens on my solo flights I am sure my co passengers must doubt my sanity. Or perhaps they all feel the same way.
The rushing for connections at transit airports or the leisurely coffee and meals at those very same airports, they all weave their magic that make up an unforgettable experience. Some of those airports as familiar as Mumbai airport that you stride through confidently, others strange and new that you negotiate carefully, always aware that you are out of your comfort zone. It’s that feeling of being out of your comfort zone that makes you hyper aware and sensitive to the sights and sounds around you. No time for day dreaming here, it’s all systems on and you truly feel alive.
And finally the wheels thudding down on the tarmac, your hands poised and ready to open your seatbelt, your handbag all set to go. Surrounded by a hastily folded blanket, pillows squashed behind your back, empty water bottles, chocolate wrappers. All around you signs of a journey taken. A journey that is both ending and just beginning.
I miss that little red cap on the heads of the smiling cabin crew as they welcome you on board and as they wave goodbye. I want that feeling of excitement again as the wheels land heavily in a place, bringing with it the promise of new adventures. I miss it all. I want that invisible switch that makes my mouth stretch and curve upwards. I want to find myself smiling idiotically again.