The last hug is the longest and the tightest. His tears mix with mine- I realise then I am the one comforting him.
He turns to leave then changes his mind. I can’t bear to see him this way. He kisses my forehead and my heart breaks.
I have always thought airport goodbyes were cool. Romantic even- depending on whom you were bidding farewell to.
But here he is; grey beard wet with tears.
” Maasalam, Baba,” I say bravely.
He nods. Turns and walks away quickly. Speaks to Sibtain who nods respectfully and shakes his hand.
I pray he does not look back. He doesn’t and I am grateful. I am fresh out of tears; I don’t think my body can take any more sobbing.
Sighing, I pick up my bag bracing myself for the security check. It doesn’t disappoint- the officials are unsmiling, hovering over the passengers; a pack of wolves salivating over what they can sink their corrupt teeth into. Every now and then they drop hints that unless some tea is offered there will be hell to pay.
I don’t know how I am going to survive the next 24 hours. I try to inject some humor into the situation: “one day I will look back and laugh about this with my kids.”
I look down at my beautiful heenaed hands.
I wonder how I am going to look to the natives with my black abaya and hijab. I want nothing of the tactics of the other ladies on the airplane. One moment they look like me and the next-after a trip to the bathroom- they are in power suits and designer handbags; their abayas neatly folded over their arms.
Me? I sit clutching tightly at my documents willing the plane to land- I am so done with the drunk seated next to me.
I think to myself perhaps I could apply a little rouge and some eyeliner. Nope, scratch that. What you see is what you get; no one should be expecting to see me look like as if I have just stepped out of the beauty parlour.
I think about all the achari and mabuyu in my luggage and wonder whether I need to declare them or not.
My drunk seat mate informs me I needn’t as that was inviting trouble with the customs bigwigs.
I don’t know why I listen to him considering I spent most of the eighteen hour flight slapping his hand away from my leg. I also don’t know why I never complained about him to Sonika, our flight attendant.
Anyway, we are landing soon. Anyone looking at me would think I am composed and absolutely know what I am doing. Actually I am freaking out with a hundred worries- none of which center around the reason I am here.
It has been a gruelling forty eight hours (remind me to fill you in on all the other juicy parts I left out- thank Allah for Sibtain) and I am ready for a gallon of tea and ten straight days of sleep.
” What brings you to the United States?” looking at my passport, stamp raised.
I smile and I tell him.
Sibtain catches up with me once again. His seat had been way across the plane from me. If it had been possible Baba would have instructed that he move close to me. I smile when I think of Baba. Only a loving worried father approaches a total stranger(whose own parents were crying over his leaving) to ask him to watch over his daughter. His parents beam- perhaps at the thought that their baby boy would have someone from home on his own life changing journey.
So. I am here. In one piece. No one is even remotely interested in my head to toe black. Still Sibtain, my new and faithful friend, whose journey isn’t over yet and has a long flight ahead of him to Loma Linda, refuses to leave my side. I know he is in transit and I am afraid for him.
“No, ” he shakes his head; his thick mane of hair falling over his eyes. “I made a promise to your father. And I am keeping it.”
So he pushes my luggage trolley, as bewildered with New York as I am but still we keep up the bravery for each other’s sake.
” You will miss your flight….,”
He shakes his head again.
Then, as the cool fall air hits us, I see a familiar face. I break out into a run and am safe in his arms.
This is what big brothers are for. To come hug you when you have been through what you have been through. I laugh and cry and point at my Loma Linda bound friend.
He comes forward, the young, faithful brave man and shakes Big Bro’s hand. I think Baba has told him about Sibtain.
I look around. Something is wrong. There are supposed to be two people picking me up from the airport.
Big Bro sees my puzzlement and smiles knowingly.
And then there he is.
Suddenly I am wishing I had put on the rouge and some eyeliner.
He towers over all three of us, smiles shyly and nods. He takes the luggage trolley from my friend, thanks him; shows him where he can get his connecting flight.
Now the butterflies that had sat calmly in my stomach start to fly around. My friend was leaving. This was happening. This is real.
I lag behind a little. Big Bro falls in step with me, envelops me in a hug. “let’s go call Baba,” he says.
They wait for me as I make the call. All the while I try not to look in the direction of the young man whose eyes are on me but who looks quickly away when he notices I have noticed.
He looks at me in the car, looks at me when I step out of the gas station’s ladies room as the two of them stand guard- this is New York after all. He looks at me as I try to eat the giant sized muffin- everything here is supersized it seems.
He doesn’t say much leaving the talking to Big Bro. I fall asleep in the backseat, months of exhaustion finally catching up with me. I miss Mama, Baba and my siblings. I miss my nephew and my nieces.
Later, after too short a nap, I ask for a cup of tea as they put curlers in my hair, lay out my dress and choose the jewellery to go with it. The ladies smile and chatter and say I look beautiful. I nod, half asleep still.
And then I am ready, they tell me.
And there looking wonderfully handsome, a shy smile playing on his lips, a blush visible on his face is the tall young man from the airport.
He puts his hand on my covered head, says a prayer and it is done. The girl he has married three weeks earlier has finally come home to him.
“And that…,” I say to our three kids, “….is how i met your Dad.”