And soon after, I’m about to take off from London. Sitting in my Emirates plane, it feels like returning to the womb. They’ve just brought around the hot towels. My video menu is in front of me, I’ve picked my movie and plugged my headphones in, to start as soon as we’re airborne. Across the aisle, a smiling young Emirates man is gratifying two small children and their mother by handing out Emirates toys. Nobody’s scurrying around creating needless tension. No officious voice saying utterly useless things like: “Zone 1 passengers only, repeat Zone 1 and 2 passengers commence boarding after the termination of the pre-boarding at the door marked 3 at gate 3. Please have your boarding passes handy, Repeat, boarding cards only. Repeat boarding papers only. It should look like this.” No underlying anxiety on the faces of passengers. All is calm, all is bright.
Outside the window, London has a fine morning. Somewhere out there Parvez and Sumit are doing stuff, but I have no way of contacting them. Just numbers stored on a phone that doesn’t work here. It brings home to me that the office I’m returning to is a few colleagues less now, my life is some friends fewer. It brings to fruition the clouds that have hung over my head ever since I left, and I start to cry. With my general good fortune regarding seats, I have no fellow passenger. The two-seater by the window is all mine, so I’m free to weep in peace. I notice that the couple sitting diagonally across from me are looking like they want to be comforting. I give them a look that says: “Try it and I’ll give you something to cry about.” They get the message.
We’re taxiing for take-off now. I’ll be back, London. This may be where I belong.
They’re now handing out menus, so my first glimpse of the English Channel has serious competition. Lunch has smoked salmon and salad for appetiser, two choices of main course, cheesecake and chocolate for dessert. Afternoon tea features sandwiches, cake and scones with clotted cream. The tears seem to have dried up pretty quickly at the sight of “tender braised lamb with saffron rice and artichoke ragout.” If I seem hysterical, note that all I’ve had for dinner is fake coleslaw in a plastic cup, with fake vegetables in a fake meat sauce and a few slices of preservative bread.
I think I might relax my strict “water only” flying policy and have a glass of wine to celebrate the fact that there is food in the world again.
Unnumbered hours later (yes, the lunch was as good as the description), we seem to be almost there. 10 days earlier, I’d opened my eyes on my Chicago flight to see city lights below, and for a moment, in my half-awake state, I’d thought joyfully that it was Dubai. That was my usual two-week marker – I always get a pang of homesickness at this point, and it passes swiftly.
This time the lights below are really Dubai. I recognize things, pretend I don’t see my office tower and look at all the others with interest. I am delighted, relieved, even excited, to be back and yet there’s an underlying ambiguity that I have never felt before. I don’t know what to do with this new feeling. But I am suddenly overwhelmingly grateful to generous Buntoo for offering to pick me up.
We touch down. The local time is 8 pm. The outside temperature is 35 degrees in familiar Celsius. My e-gate card will get me out of the airport painlessly. I am home.
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