The Frequent Flyer

I find it strange how accustomed I’ve become to airports. Specifically, the Lahore and Dubai airports.
Every few months, it’s the same process.

Try to get done the packing a few days before the day of departure but fail miseraly and end up doing alot of last minute packing till the very end, when you’re just about to step out the door. Leave at least 2 hours prior to flight time (since it’s an international one), all the while fending off anxious calls from home. Despite the fact that I’ve been doing this alone for nearly 3 years now, they still haven’t quite gotten used to the idea that you may actually know what you’re doing. Text a bunch of people goodbye while on your way to the airport, and make a sidenote to call a few of the ones who matter after you’re done at the DutyFree.

Reach the airport and find a porter, since there is no way you’re lagging around a 30 kg suitcase on your own. Try to look sophisticated while checking in so that you can get your seat upgraded, since your father always forgets to get a front seat booked when reserving the ticket. Of course, it always helps to smile alot when the attendant at teh check-in desk is male; alternatively, if it’s a woman, feign some sort of sickness or back ache. Get through baggage control and try not to lose your cool as people keep butting in line; hand a minimal tip to the porter and roll your eyes when he asks for an extravagant sum instead, he obviously assumes you must be some sort of gori/sheikha after seeing you’ve got a blue passport and are headed to Dubai.

Make it through passport control, too used to the typical scrutinising look at the man at the desk, there’s no point wondering why he has to look you all the way up and down and stop for a few seconds just below your neck; you know he would take a picture if he could. This specific instance is the same, be it in Dubai or Lahore; clearly subtlety is dead everywhere.

With everything stamped and cleared, you finally breathe a sigh of relief and make your way to the DutyFree, in Dubai airport of course. You get through the usual important chores first and buy the chocolates and knick-knacks you always get for the same people every single time. Then, you let out another sigh and start wandering around, aimlessly looking at books and gadgets and colognes, making a mental note about what you could possibly buy as presents for someone when an occasion arises. You buy the trashy mags you love to read on the flight, so you can get your weekly dose of celebrity gossip and high-end fashion trends, and then it’s snack time. As always, you contemplate between having McDonalds fries or a latte from Costa, and try to remember what you had last time so you can choose the alternative this time. You love this little bit of time, when you can sit down somewhere, sip some nice coffee, flip through the book you just bought, and remain oblivious to the hustle-bustle of all the other travellers. It’s like the calm before the storm. They all seem so frantic, and you know that you’ll be exactly like them in time..

At the Lahore airport, it’s a little different, but the hustle-bustle is still the same, maybe that’s a universal rule for airports everywhere: must be jam-packed and busy, or atleast appear to be. There are women with screaming children, young couples who you assume are going to Dubai for their honeymoon, men of all ages hoping to strike it rich in the Arabian city, and of course, the dancing girls of Lahore who are going to do what they do best, entertain the rich ones. There is no real duty free, just a few little stalls that sell odds and ends to vulnerable tourists at outrageous prices. No Costa or Mcdonalds, so you settle for some chai. No books or magazines worth buying, so you open up your laptop and watch an episode of wahtever show it is that you’re addicted to these days. Or you open up a blank document and write a little something, like you’re doing now. Despite the difference in the 2 airports, you manage to have your peaceful me-time, and you shut out all the external noise. You force your mind to become a blank canvas, you push out all the anxious thoughts you have about how it’ll be when you return to Dubai, and you try not to let it bother you that you couldn’t say bye to a few people you really wanted to see before leaving. You also don’t let yourself wonder why it seemed so important for you to see them.

Getting on the plane is usually the most annoying part of the entire process. There’s always an enormously long queue at the boarding entrance, with all the men pushing and shoving up front. Using the power of your gender, knowing that the tide of men will part like the Nile once did for Moses, you make your way to the front and hurriedly board the plane. You settle in and hope and pray as hard as you can that no one sits next to you; you’re not the type who likes to socialise on a flight, and despite the fact that you’ve actually met some interesting people in the commute, you’re not in the mood for it today.

There was a time when you’d get startled during take off and grip the edge of your seat, but it’s become too pedestrian now, so instead you now file your nails. You also can’t be bothered to look out the window as the plane ascends, you know exactly how the lights of each city twinkle, it’s not a new experience for you. You also know not to freak out as the engine roars and grumbles, and the plane starts to bump and shake at intervals. You know now thats it’s a small aircraft, a low-budget flight, so you just try to sleep all the way through. You take a pill and hope your headache, which is another constant travelling companion, will disappear. Soon you’re lost in a dreamless slumber, awakening only when you can feel yourself descending towards the ground. Towards home. Whichever one it may be.

My Scattered Soul, Part 2

I lived in Toronto, Canada for 7 years; it’s where I grew up. When I think of my childhood, it’s that phase of time that immediately comes to mind. We lived in Mississauga, in a sky-high building that was just a 5-minute walk away from Square 1. I really loved that apartment, it had 2 compact bedrooms, a narrow hallway, a solarium which we turned into a 3rd pseudo-bedroom, a storage room for all the odds and ends that gathered over time and a cute little kitchen that had a heater on which we used to dry our wet socks after they got soaked with snow.

From the 18th floor, everything looks different. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to look out the window, I would look up at the moon and then down at the roads, where Hurontario and Burnamthorpe intersected, and it always seemed as if I was much closer to the sky than to the ground. I would feel as if I could easily reach out and touch the moon, but to try and get near to the minute little twinkling cars which were so, so far down seemed like an impossibility.

During snowstorms, the tennis courts would transform overnight. Previously green and flat, its ground would become covered with high and lumpy snow. I always remember wanting to go down and walk across the fresh snow, before the mowers could clear it away, wanting to place my footsteps and leave an imprint before they could be ruthlessly removed. When the snow reached till your knees, there was this unsaid rule that you should step where someone has already stepped before, it was safer that way. But I always wanted to step elsewhere, where there were no footsteps. I knew it could be unsafe, that I could accidentally step on a sheet of black ice that always sneakily developed under the snow, but I loved hearing the sound of the snow crunching under my feet, flattening in defeat.

I miss the snow quite a bit. It was awful walking outside with the bitter wind slapping your face, with the windchill factor going below -30, with the chance that you could fall flat on your back any second as you navigated across the patches of ice, but I never had a problem with the snow. Sure it filled up your boots, soaked your socks, numbed your feet and gave you wrinkled toes, but it was all part of the experience. Having snowball fights, building snow forts to hide from the enemy, wearing snow pants to roll around and make snow angels, going tobogganing down snow-slicked hills; it’s worth bearing the cold for.