Taking half a pill of Lexotanil was not a bad idea, after all. Just as I was about to leave for the airport in the late afternoon on June 15, to catch my flight to Abu Dhabi and onwards to New York, a fierce rain and windstorm hit Islamabad turning everything dark – and also stirring up dark thoughts in my mind.
Would my flight be able take off on time? If not, would I be able to catch the connecting flight to New York, or end up spending the night at the Abu Dhabi airport or in some random hotel? Such thoughts, and many more, assailed my mind making me extremely anxious. I even considered cancelling my flight and rebooking on another date.
The drug did calm me down. I didn’t cancel the flight, and reached the airport in good time. Mercifully, the storm died down and the skies cleared up enough to allow the incoming flight from Abu Dhabi to land and then take off, back to Abu Dhabi, on time. (A friend of mine had recently reminded me that most things we worry about don’t actually happen. How true!)
On a longer flight, it’s always good to find someone interesting to talk to. It shortens the journey. I found one such person across the aisle whom I recognised immediately. Until recently, he was the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I had seen him on TV and read about him in the papers. I said a polite hello to him and he warmly returned my hello. He was obviously a friendly man. After the flight took off, we entered into a tentative conversation across the aisle about where each of us was going and why, and then we gradually moved to politics, as most Pakistanis tend to do.
Since the governor of KP is also the administrative head of Fata, I was curious to know his views on Fata’s special status and whether or not it be merged with KP, a popular topic of discussion these days. So, I asked him. He warmed up to the topic immediately. In fact, he invited me to take the empty seat next to him so that we could talk easily. He spoke at length, with great passion and conviction. He was against the merger of Fata with KP and wanted the status quo to remain, including the laws and traditional customs that govern the people in the tribal areas. I was not quite convinced with his reasoning but I listened to him patiently.
The three-hour flight to Abu Dhabi passed rather quickly. Before we landed, he asked me for my postal address so that he could send me a paper he had written on this very subject. As I couldn’t readily find a paper, I wrote my address on the tiny paper napkin, which the stewardess had given me along with the glass of orange juice, and gave it to him. I noticed the governor unfold the square napkin, tear off the blank half of it, fold the remaining half with the address on it and carefully put it in his pocket. We said goodbye to each other and proceed to our respective lounges. He was going to London and I to New York.
There was a three-hour layover at Abhu Dhabi, which I spent watching people, chatting with friends on WhatsApp, and drinking lemon-mint, a refreshing drink, especially when you start feeling drowsy. It was past midnight and the pill I had taken earlier was working on me.
My flight to New York took off on time, and I started wondering how I was to pass the next 13 hours. This time, a three-year old blonde child came to my help. He freed himself from his mother’s lap across the aisle and started moving up and down the cabin, examining people in their seats. After making one or two rounds of the aisle, he walked towards me, studied me carefully and then tentatively grinned at me. I grinned back and made a few funny faces at him. He giggled and darted back to his mother, a wholesome woman, and soon returned with a sheet of paper and a pencil. He had drawn a few random lines on the sheet.
Obviously, he wanted me to draw something. I had never been good at drawing. The only thing I had learnt to draw, early in school, like most other children, was a mouse. So, I proceeded to draw a mouse.
First, I drew the Urdu numeral seven <, which would become the mouse’s snout, then attached two Urdu 8s ^^to the upper leg of the seven. These would be the mouse’s ears. Then I drew the mouse’s body, which was simply a large blown up U, lying on its side. To this, I attached a tail and, finally, the two feet underneath the U. A dot in the snout, representing the eye, completed the picture.
As I was drawing, the child watched me intently. He seemed amused with the final result. He took the sheet from me, inspected it for a while, giggled a bit, and darted back to his mother to show it to her. I could see a faint smile on the mother’s face, but couldn’t tell what she thought of my drawing. She took the pencil from the child and did something to the sketch. The child came running back to me with the paper. I could see that the mother had added whiskers to the mouse, which I had not. She was right. A mouse is never without whiskers.
The child and the mouse kept me occupied for some time, but then the Lexotanil finally took over. I couldn’t resist sleep anymore. I pulled my seat into a bed, covered myself with a blanket, turned off the lights and went to sleep. It was an on-and-off kind of sleep, but when I woke up and looked at the flight path on the TV screen, it was only four hours to JFK. I must have slept for seven hours! This was the longest I’ve ever slept on a flight.
Passing the next four hours looked easy now. I decided to watch a movie. After fiddling with the movie menu, I chose an old movie, ‘Chocolat’. The story was set in a fictional village in France where people closely adhere to religious tradition. A young attractive woman – single mother of a six-year old daughter – who doesn’t believe in religion, moves to the village and opens a chocolate shop during Lent, the period preceding Easter when the Christian Church is devoted to fasting and abstinence. The village mayor uses the parish priest to turn the folks against her, but the woman stands her ground. Ultimately her chocolates win the village over to her side including the mayor and the priest.
It was a charming story with a profound message. With some changes, the story could have been about present-day Pakistan, with the difference that the woman would probably be dead in the end and the mayor and priest would prevail.
The movie lasted a little more than two hours. Only two hours were now left before we landed. I took out my laptop and started writing this story of my journey from Islamabad to New York.
What a relief the 16-hour flight was almost over. Thanks to the governor, the three-year old child – and a mouse.