It happened on our way back from Frankfurt airport.
We had been to the airport to drop a friend of Paru’s mother, who stayed with us during the weekend and was now returning to India. Paru was quite fond of this aunty – she had pleasant childhood memories of times the two families spent together – and she was sad aunty was leaving.
It was a working day, and I wanted to get to office soon. The drive to Frankfurt took about an hour, and I hoped we could drop aunty and get back by around 10 am. I was wrong.
Aunty had excess baggage – she shopped to her heart’s content while in Europe – and Paru was worried she would be penalized for it. She had prepared aunty for this eventuality, and we hoped that by going early she could be among the first to check-in and hence stand a good chance of her entire luggage being accepted.
We reached the airport three hours before the flight departure-time, and found that the Air India counter would open only an hour later. Aunty suggested we leave, saying she would manage on her own. Without displaying the slightest of hesitation, I accepted. Paru didn’t say anything either.
We said our goodbyes, and before we left aunty asked us how she could reach us “if there was an emergency”. We told her how to dial our mobile number without the country-code, and pointed to the pink-colored telephone booths nearby. Then, we left.
It was a bit odd, leaving her like that, but I told myself not to get emotional about the matter. Paru was feeling very uneasy, I could see it.
“She doesn’t have any Euros with her.” Paru said.
“She has a credit card isn’t it? She’ll manage.” I replied.
We walked to the car park, paid for the parking, and drove out of the airport. The uneasiness lingered.
“We should have stayed back, isn’t it?” Paru asked.
“Probably. But there’s no point thinking about it now, is there?”
We were on the auto-bahn, and the traffic wasn’t as heavy as it was in the other direction. I focused on the road.
“It is a very Indian thing.” I said. “This habit of staying back until the train or flight leaves.”
“We are Indians.”
“I know, but what I meant was that it is a cultural thing, which is done for the sake of tradition. We need to be more practical and let go of such traditions, at times.”
Paru didn’t reply. The silence was unbearable. I switched the radio on.
“Could you turn it off, please?”
I turned it off.
“I’ll keep worrying about what happened with her luggage until I hear from her after she lands in India.” She said. “I wish we’d stayed back at least until she checked-in her luggage.”
I didn’t reply. The traffic in the opposite direction had eased; most people had already reached their workplaces. After a while, I spoke again.
“Shall we turn back?”
She turned towards me.
“I’m serious. We’ve driven for about 15 minutes now, so in another 15-20 minutes we should be back at the airport, which would give us some time before the counter opens.”
She took a while to reply.
“You don’t mind?”
“We can work a little late in office today isn’t it?”
“Absolutely. So shall we take this exit?”
We took the exit, entered a small town, and turned back towards the auto-bahn in the direction of Frankfurt. Soon we were driving in the opposite direction. Paru seemed relieved, and relaxed.
“Shall I switch on the radio?”
“I never knew that the direction we’re driving in could make such a difference to your mood!”
She gave a bigger smile.
As we drove back to the airport, a couple of streams of thought were running through my mind.
Firstly, the change in direction of driving. One moment we were going one way, the way we had planned, and the next we were going in the opposite direction – a change triggered by a momentary exchange. We would now have a totally different experience: encounter different cars, meet different people, see different sights. What did it mean? I like to think – or be under the illusion – that I’m in control of what I’m doing and where I’m going, and such events where “something else” seems to be in control leaves me intrigued and uncomfortable. It was as if my life branched into two, one going the way back home, and the other towards Frankfurt.
Secondly, the change in direction of thought. What made me change my mind and decide to go back? Was it because I didn’t want Paru to feel uneasy the whole day thinking about what would have happened to aunty and her luggage? Or was it because I didn’t want to face the guilt upon learning that aunty really needed our help at the airport? Either way, my decision was based on something to do with Paru and me, rather than genuine concern for auntie’s welfare. And that didn’t feel too good.
We reached the airport, parked the car, took the elevator, walked towards the lounge – throughout experiencing a strange feeling of “we were here just a little while ago”, a feeling that wasn’t really deja vu, but a sense of being part of a movie that was controlled by someone else who was playing with us just as an editor plays around with parts of the film, replaying bits and re-arranging snippets – so we walked towards the departure lounge and found aunty walking towards an escalator.
She had checked her luggage in – with no problems, Thank God, she said – and she was very surprised to see us. Paru explained how worried she had been, and aunty was moved.
“So typical of you!” she said to Paru, giving her a warm hug. “But you shouldn’t have worried – I would have managed.”
We spent some more time talking to aunty before leaving. On our drive back, I thought again about how we should have been on that stretch of the road not at that moment but some time back. I then knew I would be writing about this episode, even this very sentence about knowing I would write all this, and you would be reading it, and probably reflecting over it and talking about it with someone….. all these triggered by that one moment where something within me decided I would change direction – flip-flop.