Such a Long Journey
‘What am I doing here?’
The room was large and dark and cold. Our first night in India and I’m shivering under a measly blanket. The furniture in our hotel room is ridiculously oversized. An intimidating hulking wardrobe hogs almost an entire wall. Despite the entire place being made of cold, echoing marble, the walls are thin and let in the sounds from the street. Although it is only four am, New Delhi is coming to life with noises that sound nothing like noises at home. In my semi-asleep state the difference between inside and outside is blurred and the early morning bustle, the cars and dogs and chatter, are invading our room.
‘Why am I here?’ I also asked myself, and for the first time became a little scared.
British Airways, with whom we had flown eight hours to London and then seven hours to Delhi, went quickly from being my new favourite airline to being my least favourite. I had never flown with my own personal TV screen before, and got giddy watching romantic comedies and ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and ‘Frasier’ and never-before-seen Britcoms and an episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ with Sarah Jessica Parker in which she discovers an ancestor who may have accused someone of being a witch in Salem (“I feel… that if my forebear… was in any way responsible…for a person being accused, I would feel like… it sounds silly, but I would feel like I would somehow have to… atone.”)
Dervla and I drank gin and tonics (“The drink of the colonists,” she told me. “It supposedly helped stave off malaria,”) and buzzed over the Atlantic.
In the futuristic Heathrow Five in London we had to run to catch our connecting flight and just barely made it. We asked the flight attendant as we boarded to check if our bags had made it on.
“They have been processed; they’re in our system.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m ninety percent certain they will be put on.”
And, as the pilot apologized because we were delayed due to a few more bags being loaded, we high-fived and had another gin and tonic.
We arrived at the Delhi airport in the middle of the night and a middle-aged man with vibrantly hennaed hair checked me through customs. Like a lot in New Delhi, the airport is sparklingly new, with wall-sized posters representing the different groups of India beaming at you as you enter the washrooms (the Sikh, warm and turbaned; the Kashmiri, beautiful and Asiatic, with a river boat in the background).
I was relieved when I spotted Dervla’s backpack coming along the ramp, for if hers made it on, surely mine would fully.
Oh, silly Max.
After twenty minutes, when we were sure it wasn’t coming, I crabbily filled out a form and was assured that my bag was on another flight, would be arriving the next day and would be delivered directly to our hotel.
The outside of the airport looked like any other airport. It actually reminded me of the Dublin airport, airports being one of those globalized spaces that are both in specific countries and are not. A man from Intrepid picked us up and, as Dervla made small talk with an Irish couple who were also being ferried to their hotel, I looked out the foggy windows.
We passed highway overpasses and grassy islands and dark laneways. It didn’t look that different from driving from Pearson in the early morning. Only the odd band of dark figures, huddled around open fires, made me feel we weren’t in Toronto any more.
I was worried about my bag. I had never lost a bag and now when I was arriving in my first third world country, about to set off on a three week tour the next day, did my trusty backpack go missing. Beyond the practicality of needing my toothbrush and more undies (and some official forms which Intrepid claimed we needed, which of course ended up in my bag and not Der’s), you want to have your stuff when you arrive in a foreign land because you need that little bit of home.
The next afternoon, a driver would show up and after I ran back upstairs to retrieve the airport form to prove the bag was mine, and then again to grab some money because he gruffly requested a tip, I would be reunited with my clothes and books (as you all may know, my favourite kinds of objects).
That early morning though, arriving in our Delhi neighbourhood, illuminated by neon signs and with wild dogs wandering the deserted streets, all I wanted was a bed.