An all-encompassing digital beep woke him. "Cabin crew, landing in five minutes," a muffled voice said incredibly fast. He was surprised he could understand what it said at all.
He looked at his watch: 2.30am. Rather late. Mentally, he corrected himself. No, it's only 12.30am, his watch was fast by exactly 2 hours. Ah, the wonders of the modern age, the world is round, and so it isn't the same time everywhere.
Inwardly, he thanked God for getting him this far. Two days ago, it seemed an utter impossibility that he would be here. A room, worn-in by 4 months of habitation to be packed, a set of muscles atrophied by a month of exams, unfit for physical labor to be used to carry cartons full of books to storage, and a mind ravaged by the stress of studies, to be relaxed by the imminent joy, it seemed an insurmountable task for him to have come this far. It seemed the adrenaline of possibility was made all the more potent by the inherent fear of unfulfilment of expectations harbored for so long.
Slowly, he reached under his seat to find his seat belt, as the Fasten Your Seat Belt sign went up, punctuated by a muffled beep. He looked around him. Everyone seemed tired, yet expectant. He lay back and closed his eyes; this was a cakewalk. He had done it so many times before, it had become a matter of routine.
Yet in all the 4 months between leaving and returning, this moment, as clichéd as it had become by repetition over the years, held special meaning. The feeling of anticipation was a special one, and he knew it. He opened his eyes slowly, and turned his head toward the small porthole in the cabin, his head firmly set on the headrest. He looked out at absolute blackness.
The aircraft banked to the right, and a star of artificial lights filled the view of the small porthole. Silently, he praised God, for
teaching man that which he knew not, that they may illuminate the darkness, make day of that which was night. He marveled at what he thought was humanity's greatest accomplishment and possibly its undoing: technology.
His reverie was broken by the anticipation that swelled up within him, fighting for his attention. Now is not the time to admire or introspect, now is the time to palpitate. With all his might, he tried to hold that thought, the anticipation. The expectance of something greater, the desire for something bigger overwhelmed him as he closed back his eyes and shut out the world around him. If he were given a choice to hold a moment, and to be held in that moment for the longest time, he would choose this one. The uncertainty of expectation and possibility, and the certainty of past record and experience bubbled within him, fighting for supremacy.
After what seemed a long while, the plane jumped up and down as she touched her mother's bosom; land at last! He closed his eyes again, as a man looked at him. "Look hard, dear friend," he thought to himself. "Not everyday do you see a man sleep through a landing as rough as today's." The engines went on reverse thrust, and all sense of hearing was bleached with the bass rumble of the mighty engines that propelled this steel beast that carried him across the sea. Mentally he made a note to remember this awful excuse for a pilot for landing so harshly.
A ripple of clicks filled the air as passengers unbuckled their seatbelts, almost in unison. Again, he wondered at the marvels of herd behaviour. Despite his efforts, he could never recall unbuckling his seat belt so noisily or so soon after the engines stopped the unbearable reverse-thrust, yet every time when the plane landed, he heard them. He cleared this thought from his head, inwardly chastising himself on over-analysis of the world.
The airhostess proceeded to recite the instructions pertaining to ticket reconfirmation and the decorum of staying seated until the aircraft came to a complete standstill. First in beautiful Bengali, then in mangled English.
Shortly, he noticed people standing up, retrieving their luggage from the overhead racks. He sat still. From the view outside, the aircraft was still only halfway through taxi. The terminal was a far way off according to his calculations.
A mind-numbing hour went by as he disembarked from the plane, got his passport stamped by manically depressed, disgruntled immigration officers, and retrieved his luggage. Retrieving luggage from this airport was always a charm. Yelps and screams cut through the late night air as corrupt officers told off equally corrupt laborers to go easy on the baggage, and the conveyor belt squeaked its futile squeak, unheard by whatever semblance of maintenance engineers walked the hallowed terminals of this airport.
His heart beat like the drum of a Dragon Boat, rhythmic, intense and unforgiving, as he approached the automatic doors opening up to the humid air of Bangladesh. A whiff of particulates and noxious gases from natural-gas and petrol engines assaulted his olfactory senses as he looked upon a familiar sight: his mother, craning her neck, looking right past him. She was looking for someone plumper, more clean-shaved and with shorter hair. How he loved this part.
His father recognized him, though. Being the engineer he always was, he always anticipated the longer hair and acute weight-loss. Putting the trolley aside, the boy knowingly smiled back at his father, and ambushed his mother with a bearhug before she could properly lay eyes on this sorry excuse for a man she once bore for 9 straight months so many years ago.
She protested, but he refused to let go. He looked up behind his mother where his brother stood, only one of two precious gems for siblings that he had. "Not the whole set tonight," he thought to himself, "but this will have to do…" as he praised God with every drop of his soul. He was home.
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