If half a day is lost in travelling eastward over the date line, does it count as one day? As my dad might’ve said, “You tell me and we’ll both know.”
Our early December fourteen hour Houston-Dubai flight drags on...The traveller in front of me leans back, putting the screen too close for me to pass time with a movie. I doze. Chat with Indian nurse in next seat. Eat. Walk the aisles to limber up. Doze. Eat. Muscles cramp. 'Can’t wait to arrive in Dubai.
Our pilot tips the plane this way and that for a dark-night view of the Dubai’s Palm Island, a glittering fairytale work of urban art inscribed on the ocean. The air is clear and city lights lend a soft glow to ultra modern skyscrapers and more modest whitewashed neighborhoods. In a group of older passengers, we are shepherded through security at the huge shiny airport, while young men recheck endless lists and tickets, and deliver passengers to various gates along the way to ours. It appears that we are a practice batch for young airport personnel.
The three and a half hour Dubai-Hyderabad flight is more bearable. My seatmate is a tall man with remarkably long and slender hands. I ask politely about his destination. Impassive, he does not reply. He checks out flight information, murmurs something to a portly passenger by the window, but most of the time sits quietly, hands folded in his lap. I guess that he might be a musician or artist. He seems to own the arm rest between us. I lean toward the aisle, and watch “A Walk in the Woods” and part of the Hindi movie, “Bajrang Bhai Jaan.” ‘Sorry the flight ends before the movie, I make a note to see it later. Our nieces have said it’s a must-see.
Claiming luggage among our airbus crowd after quick immigration and customs clearance at 3 a.m. in Hyderabad's modern Rajeev Gandhi International Airport is predictably chaotic but polite. Everyone has too many overloaded bags, too many look alike. Cell phones are out, for those lucky enough to have prior connectivity to local lines. Luggage carts and attentive porters help everybody sort things out, and soon we are claiming three hours’ respite and breakfast at a tiny, dimly lit, tranquil transit hotel in a lower level of the airport. (The bed fills our room, the bathroom is barely more than a pocket, but it's quiet!, clean, and more than adequate.) Time flies. The phone alarm seems to ring even before I've fallen asleep.
I want to stay longer, but my husband, understandably eager to reach home, hires a government licensed airport taxi, a red SUV, for the five hour drive to Guntur. Most of this trip is along a six lane national highway, with new bougainvillea plantings in the center of the black and white striped medians, periodic truck stops, toll booths, international brand gas stations and bucolic, “meals-hotels” (we lunch at one) along the way. Heavy traffic and congested, restricted lanes in the nearby city of Vijayawada, on the banks of the Krishna River, take an extra hour, but we know Guntur is close by, and we are glad.
Dusk falls as we reach our gate. Old and new apartment staff greet us warmly, and whisk our luggage up in the elevator. Everything in our quarters is as we left it last spring. Tickled to be at home, but surprised by unprecedented surround-sound of nearby building construction, we laugh and shrug at the ironies of ‘progress.’ Smiling relatives who have apartments in the building drop in to say hello, and bring us a bit to eat. before we drop into exhausted but sound and satisfying sleep.
Evening and morning, and that’s the first day.