They say that the longest journeys are the ones that take you home. But for a married woman, what is home? Is it the family you have created? Or the four walls you grew up in? A place? A person? Or just the soothing comfort of familiarity?
After two and a half years, I decide to travel from Singapore to Trivandrum, my hometown. I yearn to see my Amma. This is the longest I have been apart from her, waiting for a virus that refuses to recede, until I decide that virus or no virus, I will take the plunge.
My husband and I work out a suitable week for my travel. Due to clashing schedules, he and the child decide to stay behind.
Or rather, the reason that Amma asks me to delay my travel is also the same as to why I tell my child to stay put in Singapore. Every mother wants to keep their child safe.
The day before my flight, the husband inquires as to why I haven’t started to pack. This is me, who meticulously makes lists and has everything ready, almost a week in advance.
“I’m packing just for myself. It won’t take long.”
Both husband and child insist that they do not recognize this non-hyper, subdued form of me. I shake my head in mock-indignation and take out a suitcase. I throw in a few dresses, a box of chocolates, and my documents and chargers. I am done! The suitcase looks strangely empty.
Packing for the family would have taken hours, ensuring that the medicines, clothes, and backup clothes are in, and every single thingamajig safely secured. But this time it is different; I am traveling solo. What if I forget something?
If I don’t have something, Amma will fix it. That’s what mothers are for, right?
“Do you need such a big suitcase?” the husband demands.
I stand my ground. I know my suitcase may be empty now, but when I return it will be stuffed to the last possible gram that is permissible, to the last possible thing that Amma can sneak in, overruling my protests.
As we prepare to go to bed, I have a sudden panic attack. I haven’t left my family alone for such a long time. How will they manage? And so, I take my laptop and put together…..a PowerPoint presentation.
You can take the girl out of corporate; you can’t take the corporate out of the girl.
One hour, and ten slides later, I convince myself that I have listed down all the emergency contacts, medicine names, class contacts, and grocery shopping lists. After mailing it to the husband, I nod off.
It’s time to leave for the airport. The child clings to me like a magnet.
“Don’t go!” she wails.
I haven’t seen her this affectionate for the past two years.
Oh well, distance does make the heart grow fonder!
The husband accompanies me to the airport. It is teeming with people. I feel uncomfortable seeing the crowds. A man joyfully films the hustle and bustle. Isn’t this how it is supposed to be? I feel like an animal newly released into the wild from its cage.
Avoid crowds Avoid people. Keep your face masked.
I don’t know what to do now.
“You OK?” the husband asks.
No. I am not OK.
I have travelled many times in the past; sometimes for work, sometimes for visits. But now? I am a different person. Someone setting foot into a new world.
I check in, bid the husband goodbye, and walk towards the security gates, pinching the bridge of my nose tightly every time someone coughs or sneezes. I wait at the boarding gate and overhear conversations in Malayalam. I get the full ‘Kerala effect’ even before setting my foot there.
As the flight takes off, my heart sinks and leaps at the same time. Singapore, my home, becomes fainter in the distance. But the promise of seeing Amma becomes stronger.
It seems odd to travel without having to worry about feeding the family or keeping them entertained. Despite the husband reminding me to sleep on the flight, I don’t get a wink of sleep. It isn’t for the lack of trying. The hustle and bustle of the air hostesses, the meal service, the weak bladder of the passenger on the window seat making me the aisle-sitter get up every thirty minutes, are all contributing factors.
After four hours, there in the distance, I see the lights of Trivandrum International Airport.
Crossing the seas, the COVID tests, and all the barriers, I am HERE, finally. My heart sings with joy as I clear immigration, earning stares from the security guards.
Perk it down girl, or else they will think you are up to something.
Grabbing my suitcase from the conveyor belt, I head off.
The customs control beckons me. I look confused.
“We need to scan your bag. Random check!” they declare.
I am puzzled. There is a worn-out salwar and a very worn-out Kurta in my suitcase. Nothing of any value. But a rule is a rule, and I have to comply. Imagine being sent back to Singapore, after all this struggle! I cooperate and am held up for the next fifteen minutes, waiting for the scanner to scan the contents of my near-empty suitcase. When the customs officer is convinced that I am just a cheap traveler and not a notorious smuggler, they let me go.
I trudge on, getting into the auto arranged by Amma. She has even sent a flask of hot milk for me to drink. Typical of her! It’s half-past eleven at night and I strain my eyes to see if I can recognize any of the buildings. Like me, has Trivandrum changed too?
It is close to midnight when I reach. The lights are on in my home and my heart races faster. I alight with a thundering heart to see a familiar form, frail yet firm, waiting to welcome me.
And then I cry out from the bottom of my lungs, with every ounce of energy, clear and loud,
I am home again.
Link to Part 2 is here.
Image credits: Pixabay