A month ago, I had the opportunity to visit some loved ones in the States, which I’m thoroughly grateful for. I was looking forward to everything — being back on American soil, tasting Southern delicacies like chicken fried steak and gravy, being enveloped in familiar arms and homes again, and of course, the Great American Road Trip across 10 states that my boyfriend and I had been planning since March! I was so excited, I barely slept the night before my flight.
After a 6-hour freezing cold plane ride to Dubai, I spent my 5-hour layover at a small cafe in the airport journaling, reading and editing photos on my phone. My fascination with airports never gets old. As one of the greatest geographical magnets of all time, airports attract various people from all parts of the world and at 4 a.m. that morning, the Dubai International Airport was buzzing with thick prongs of people, all eager to arrive at their final destinations. Businessmen in suits and ties, fashionably-clad women in five-inch stilettos, toddlers in the cutest little jumpsuits, international students and their signature backpacks. Everyone had somewhere to go.
The small cup of peppermint tea that I’d ordered (18 AED — everything’s pricey in Dubai) had gone cold and I was way too cheap to order a second cup. I was just there for the wifi. I wasn’t in the mood for a freshly baked croissant or one of those good-looking pastries in the glass display case at the counter. My mind reeled from excitement and a lack of sleep, but I was ready for Houston. It was just a matter of time now.
From my seat at the cafe, I could see my departure gate. My 16-hour flight to Houston wasn’t scheduled for another two hours, so I was doing good on time. I took another sip of that cold tea, gagged inwardly, and continued writing/reading/editing until some time passed. When I glanced over at my departure again, I was surprised to see that a long line was already in progress. Had I somehow missed the voice-announcements? I got up, grabbed my stuff and strode over to the line, where I found myself behind a burly American guy sipping a ginormous can of soda. He chatted away about how he wasn’t looking forward to the long flight back to the USA. 16 hours… oh boy. Tell me about it.
I stood in line for five or ten minutes, politely nodding at his little jokes. It wasn’t until I lifted my chin to the digital sign suspended over the gate, that I realized it said: BOSTON.
“Wait,” I froze, my eyes glued to the sign as a wave of embarrassment washed over me. “This plane goes to Boston?”
The people around me nodded. Oops, I’d been waiting in the wrong line like a fool. I blamed the fatigue.
Mortified, I ducked out of the line and finally found my departure gate right next door. Boarding time wasn’t until another 30 minutes, so I sank into a seat and breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t wait to get on the plane to Houston and get some well-deserved shuteye. Or so I thought. I was in for another surprise, I just didn’t know it yet.
Window seats are great for the view, but terrible for 16-hour flights when you need bathroom breaks every few hours. I’d known this in advance, which was why I’d booked an aisle seat for my long trip to Houston. I had just found my seat beside a sweet Nigerian couple, when someone tapped me on the arm and I turned around to see a young Middle-Eastern mother smiling at me.
“Hi, are you traveling by yourself?” she asked. I nodded. “Would you mind trading seats with my husband? He’s seated somewhere in the next cabin… and we’re traveling with our two kids…”
I’d gone to great measures to ensure that I’d have an aisle seat on this flight, so when she posed that question with pleading eyes, I hesitated. I contemplated saying no, because I knew this was going to be a really long journey and I didn’t want to risk having noisy neighbors or squeezing my way past them to the lavatory every two hours.
“Please?” she prompted quietly.
I glanced at the two toddlers buckled in beside her — a young boy and girl with mobs of brown curls, both staring at me through the same liquid brown eyes as their moms. It was a long ride and they’d definitely want their daddy with them. And then the craziest thing happened — compassion washed over me. So I agreed to swap seats.
Worst decision ever.
It didn’t matter that great service and comfort were the airlines’s forte — everything went wrong the moment I arrived at my new seat in the next cabin. That was when I knew I’d traded in my peace and comfort for a 16-hour nightmare.
It was a window seat beside a grouchy Nigerian mother and her ten-year-old daughter. The mother was seated in the aisle and she glowered when I asked if I could get to my seat by the window.
“I have a baby.” she snapped, motioning to her little boy perched on her lap.
Since she refused to budge, I had to begin the uncomfortable process of squeezing through with my bags. It was a mess in there. Cookie crumbs littered the carpet and half of my seat, wrappers were strewn on the floor and the most unpleasant stench of stinky feet greeted my nostrils. During meal times, the mother made a fuss with the cabin crew, demanding this and that and throwing out comments in that reprimanding tone of hers, much to the staff’s dislike. Nevertheless, I watched them force a smile as they nodded stiffly to her incessant requests.
She adored her children, but she was brazenly rude to everyone else and unaware of it — or maybe she just didn’t care. She didn’t seem to care when her son started screeching. The little boy (his name was Kenah) screeched at the top of his lungs when his sister stopped him from yanking her earphones out of the audio jack. He screeched when his mother told him to sit down. He screeched when he was told he couldn’t do something. He screeched when he didn’t want to sleep. He screeched when he was excited. He screeched for no reason. He was screeching because he could. And his shrieks literally hurt my eardrums, as he was seated two seats away.
Crying babies, I can tolerate. But spoiled, screeching toddlers, and for SIXTEEN HOURS? It was getting a little too much. My patience, which had started out really abundantly, was wearing thin. I knew it wasn’t entirely Kenah’s fault, as he was only a kid; it was mostly his mother I was annoyed at.
During the first 10 hours of the flight, I was polite enough to shrug off the little things, like when Kenah shrieked for the 100th time because he didn’t get what he wanted, or when his sister left her unfinished food tray on the floor and dumped her blanket over it (uh, that’s a total roach-magnet there), but when I was desperately trying to get some shuteye and Kenah continued shrieking at his mother because he was wide awake and refused to sleep, I wasn’t the only unhappy passenger in that cabin. People behind us were muttering under their breaths and evoking short grunts of disapproval — but nobody really had the courage to tell the mother to quiet her son.
She scooped him onto her lap, provoking another series of bellied screams from him, and rocked him gently, cooing, “Sorry, Kenah. Mommy’s sorry. Why don’t you sit? (another shriek from him) Aww, sorry Kenah. Mommy’s sorry.”
My jaw dropped in disbelief. Why was she apologizing to her son when she should be apologizing to everyone on the plane, whose peaceful naps had been mutilated by her poor parenting skills? I sighed and cranked up the volume on my earphones and tried to sleep through Kenah’s incessant screams.
We were arriving in Houston soon. I could barely contain my excitement and it spread across my face in a huge grin. We were floating among the clouds now and I watched the puffy substances in unreserved awe, soaking in the wondrous view through my window. We were drifting through a massive cloud exhibition in the sky, where swollen white clouds danced to the gentle rhythm of the wind.
God’s creation never ceases to amaze me.
Before I knew it, the pilot had announced our arrival in Houston and everything went by in a blur. Despite not being able to catch any rest on the flight, I was thankful that we’d arrived safe and sound. My heart was full with joy as I exited the plane. A million things raced through my head while I followed the crowd into the sunlit airport. A long line was already forming at the immigration where officers checked and validated passports.
When it was my turn, I encountered a slight interruption with my passport/visa and had to be “detained” along with other foreign travelers in a separate room for 45 minutes. This was the second time it happened while entering the US. I never understood why, but this time, a very nice officer explained that I was only being held for a while because my university had accidentally left my student account open, when I had already graduated three years ago. It was just a minor misunderstanding between the American customs and border protection and my university, but she assured me that everything was alright.
Several hours later, I was wheeling my suitcases into the arrival lounge. My heart continued to pound. I couldn’t comprehend that I was actually here, just minutes or even seconds away from being enveloped in Emmanuel’s embrace once again. The last time we hugged, it was April. Four months wasn’t a long time, but it certainly felt like forever. I scanned the sea of faces for his. Nope, not there. I steered my bags away from the strangers who were eagerly awaiting their loved ones, and then BAM. I saw him.
He still looked as handsome as ever (he’s probably grinning as he reads this). He held a paper bag in his left hand, but used his free arm to wrap me in a nice, warm hug. Ah, the pure rush of joy of being reunited again.
The paper bag contained several things: a purple rose, KitKat bars, Cheezit cheddar chips, cold water, candy, and the sweetest card.
“How was your flight?” he asked as we walked toward the elevator. I was still overwhelmed from so many things — surviving that long flight, being held up at the airport, being back in America, and seeing him again.
I smiled. There was so much to tell him. “It was… interesting.”
“So, a lot must’ve happened,” he grinned knowingly. “It’s a good thing I got you some food. We can snack and talk about it in the car.”
Soon, we were driving on the interstate beneath the broad Houston sky. The sun was making its grand exit through splendors of gold and orange. It felt great to be here again, enjoying this remarkable view. As the night closed in, I closed my eyes and thanked God for the end of a crazy day, and the start of an amazing adventure.