That they almost didn’t let me on the flight came – surprisingly, perhaps – as no great surprise.
In fact, it was something of a thrill.
I’d already spent an hour and a half waiting in the check-in line. The flight had started boarding before I’d even gotten to the desk. All around me, exasperated Indians were turning to each other and shaking their heads. At the understaffed service desk, tempers were beginning to flare, from staff and customers alike.
“I’ve got a connecting flight from Delhi,” the woman behind me complained.
“Me, too,” I answered. “Don’t worry; we’ll be alright.”
I think I’d already attracted the goodwill of the queue. I’d been sitting on my pack while we waited, bob-sledding myself forward every time the forest of knees around me advanced. Something of a novelty for the toddlers bored on their stressed mothers’ arms.
I wasn’t stressed, though. In fact, calculating the time till the front of the queue, estimating the delay at security, watching the minutes tick down till the gate closed, I began to feel it for the first time: excitement.
I had just been saying to Gavriel in the car on the way: as many emotions as I’d felt over the preceding weeks, actual, palpable anticipation had not been among them. It had all seemed so distant, so unreal; to travel had become a vague memory. Or perhaps – as we’d said in the car – it was simply that rising at 4.30 in the morning to fly 30 hours half-way around the world just wasn’t such a remarkable thing, anymore. I’ve spent four of the past six years travelling, after all. Perhaps the novelty had worn off?
But all I needed to get my head back in the game was a little complication, it seemed. Finally, with 15 minutes before the flight was supposed to depart, I arrived at the service desk.
“Good morning!” I chirped at the lady, who had just finished berating a family of seven with apparently only five tickets. “Goodness, hectic in here this morning, isn’t it?”
“Crazy,” she agreed. “I’ve not seen it like this since before the pandemic.”
Documents at the ready and bag already on the conveyor, I explained to her as efficiently as I could the details of my itinerary.
“The bags won’t go all the way through,” she said, having scanned her list. “You’ll need to check-in again in Delhi. Do you have an Indian visa?”
“I’m only going to be in the airport for eight hours,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter. You’ll have to exit the transit area to collect your bag and then check-in for your next flight. You will officially be entering India. You need a visa.”
“I don’t have a visa.”
“You won’t be able to board this flight without a visa.”
We looked at each other, our expressions half-hidden by our masks. But the eyes said it all.
“Well, that’s troubling,” I observed. She didn’t answer. “What can we do about this?”
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” she answered. “Let me check.”
“Please do,” I agreed.
While she was gone, I considered the situation. I wasn’t going to get on my flight. I was going to have to go back home and book another. It was untenable – I was out, I was gone, after 18 months in Melbourne I was hitting the road again. Don’t make me go back, not even for a day, not after all the farewells had already been said. It was stressful enough the first time.
I considered purchasing another flight at the airport for that same day. Not really within my budget. Could I get a loan from someone? Only a few hours into the first day of my big adventure and already considering taking a loan. That bodes well. And, of course, all these thoughts swimming in a soup of utter dismay. How had I not known? Why had I not double-checked? Why did I do these things to myself?
Dismay, yes. But – as I said at the outset – surprise? Not really. Somehow, it seemed perfectly predictable. My last weeks before I left had been a bit of a mess. It was the most stressed and emotional I had ever been about leaving the country – in large part due to all the beautiful people that had come into my life those past six months. My pre-departure to-do list was about 80% incomplete. My tickets had been twice cancelled and rebooked – once by the airline, once by me on something of a drunken whim two weeks before. And I had been bedridden with the flu. Nothing good comes easy, it seemed.
Another women arrived at the service desk, reviewed my documents and heard out my case. She was even more definitive than the first. Without a visa, I would not be boarding the flight.
“I hear what you’re saying,” I answered, measured and courteous. “Is there nothing we can do?”
“You can get a visa.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you for your help. Could I speak to the supervisor, please?”
I watched her striding away through the scrum of passengers with my passport in her hand to confer with the supervisor behind the screen. Blood was surging through my skull. Sweat beading on my forehead. I took some deep breaths. It wasn’t panic, actually. More like determination. Determination on a tightrope above despair. I watched them shaking their heads.
“Excuse me!” I called, leaning over the desk and waving like some inoffensive, blundering simpleton. “Could I please speak with you?”
Harried by other panicked passengers, the supervisor strode reluctantly over.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “They won’t let you through in Delhi; we can’t let you on.”
“I understand. Thank you,” I answered, voice level. “Would you mind if I just explained a little…”
Perhaps it was the impending passenger riot behind him, but, within five minutes, he had handed my passport back to his colleague serving me.
“Up to you,” he said to her. “But if this comes back to us, it’s your responsibility.”
“It won’t come back to you, Raquel,” I said soothingly, reading her name tag. “Don’t worry.”
“Alright…” she said reluctantly. “I just don’t want you to send you over there and then you get stuck.”
“No, no,” I answered. “Send me; I’ll handle it.” Beneath the uncertainty, I felt conviction: Just get me on the plane.
So, Raquel relented.
“Are they holding the flight?” I asked, seeing that we were a minute past the departure time.
“It’s been delayed,” she answered, handing back my passport and buzzing my bag away. “You’re lucky.”
Walking away, I felt more than lucky – I felt exhilarated. In those moments, as the globe of my future was sent on a wild spin and all things went up in the air, that which I had thought forgotten came over me again after an eighteen month hiatus: the thrill of the journey.
Certainly, I was not out of the woods yet. Who knew what would happen when I got to Delhi? Who knew what further difficulties lay ahead? The thought made me smile. It didn’t matter. Now I had my wings back. Now I was away.