Day 18 or maybe still 17, could be 19
Over nine hours from New Delhi to London. Half of it spent half sleeping. The other half spent rubbing elbows and thighs with my neighbors; a Sikh with a giant maroon turban and mustache to match on one side and a chubby non-specifically-identified-religion Indian man to my right. We sat in companionable silence, understanding the rules of the personal space we were allotted and its spillage.
When I came to I began to look around. Over the tops of the seats in front of me cropped a sea of color. Turbans in every solid color – from pastel to rich gem tones – took up nearly 50% of the seats back here in the cattle car. Under the turbans sat an array of mustache and beard combinations, and on a few of the men, aviator style classes circa 1975 America. Most of the other heads I saw were thick with lustrous black hair. An occasional pale spot dotted the landscape, but otherwise, not too many like myself.
We touched down in London in the morning, I think. Our first order of business once off the plane and after the western (hallelujah) style toilets, was coffee. In our particular terminal our only choice was Apostrophe. A lovely coffee shop that was the perfect bridge between Chai masala and Starbucks.
With an hour to ground ourselves before hopping on our next flight we spent our time sipping, texting and posting.
Onto the next plane. This time we are sitting together, in the middle bank of four seats. I am on one end, Karin is next to me and next to her is a hungover guy in his mid-twenties who has spent the past 24 hours on the ultimate London pub crawl. He tells us he is Venezuelan, but grew up in Canada and now lives in Curacao. He has no accent, is very likable and when he realizes no one is going to be taking that last end seat, he moves over to sleep. We like him even more.
10 hours later we are back on planet America. There’s so much to adjust to, but the familiarity of English and Spanish, the smell of Florida – the sun and humidity warm the earth here, mixing the loamy scent of rich soil and sand with the salt from the ocean in a pleasing blend that has become “home” – and the hustle and bustle of the Miami airport lift our spirits.
We find our luggage, go through mini-customs – a sort of self-check-out, then encounter our customs agent. I have not known too many border guards or customs agents to have a sense of humor on the job. But we seemed to have found one and at first we didn’t get it. He asked if we had anything to declare as he looked at our three full-sized suitcases and four large carry-ons. I said, “No.”
“No?” he asked.
“Not more than $800 worth each.” I said. This is the truth.
“Oh, no, it’s not $800, it was changed to $8.” Joke?
“Um, no, I don’t think so, the kiosk said $800.” I’m gonna win this.
“It was changed and it’s like 700% tax on anything over that.” Yes, joke.
Karin, “We only bought a couple of scarves and they were like 100 rupees each.”
“That’s like a lot of money.” says he. “She knows,” pointing to me. “She’s a lawyer!” laughing now because he ‘got’ us.
I roll my eyes as we walk away, Karin is too tired and distracted with calling her honey to react as our guard calls out, “No, a judge!”
Please do not mess with the women who have just spent over 20 hours in a row traveling. It’s so not cool and you could get hurt.
Outside, the skies are SO blue, the air clean and clear, warm with still a hint of coolness in the breeze. Home. We are greeted – eventually, there’s some confusion about where we are, where he is, etc. – by Karin’s honey who whisks us back to their house. I down a cup of coffee and decide to drive home.
It’s a four hour drive and half that time will be dark. I know I shouldn’t do it, I have no idea what time my body thinks it is and no concept of tired or wired.
I make it with many stops for caffeine, crunchy stuff and a walk around the car. Back at home I am still surrounded by a cloud of India. In part this is a literal smell, but mostly it is the experiences that still hover just above my skin, not yet absorbed fully. It is a mind fragmented, struggling to assimilate here and there. And there is weariness.
I shower to reduce the physical scent of India and immerse myself in my familiar surroundings, sit on the couch with my doggies and promptly fall asleep.
I will be sleeping for days, dreaming of India and waking up with a Shiva chant on my lips. India never leaves me.