This was right after lunch. The airport was in the opposite direction, about an hour away. His watch announced that it 2pm. Mine grumpily said 2:20pm. My flight was at 4pm.
“There will be time,” so Sean, my chauffeur for that day (and friend too, of course) nevertheless insisted. “Tullamarine is not far now. 14 minutes away.”
Princes Highway, Bolte Bridge, the Yarra, and Melbourne City whizzing past. We sped down the highway at 110km/h; I peeked at the speedometer and checked surreptitiously for the speed limits plastered at near every lamp post. (It certainly would embarrass me greatly should he receive a speeding ticket, even if I did miss my flight back home.) Melbourne’s freeways are certainly confusing, especially the horrifying part where he explained we needed to take a highway, get off it when we hit the city, and then get onto a totally different highway once more that will finally bring us to the airport, located in the north of Melbourne. The optimist in me agreed with him when he cheerily pointed out that the highways at least had names and are not incognito and dehumanised with mere alphabets and numbers.
God forbid should there be a transport system that demanded “Now, you get onto the YUCK235, exit at 330Mwuak, and re-enter the GROAN110A before exiting again at GEEZ3209 Southwest”.
Thank goodness. We managed to reach the cooperative counter before it folded its arms and refused to eat any more passengers’ luggage and granted boarding passes.
It was peak period, definitely, the middle of June, where most Asian students returned home after their exams. The flight was full, as I was discovering. It was fun, however, standing in queue picking out characters with bad hair (yellow, red and black – either an imitation of McDonalds or the German Flag), bad fashion sense and the wrong type of dressing that only reveals itself when the humid Singapore climate blows one in the face.
Hey, my fashion sense (if it even exists) is not stellar, so we are truly in good company.
“You can go in at 3.30,” Sean said. This time I was no longer very anxious. The boarding pass was reassuringly tucked in the passport, the luggage had been rightfully swallowed up and my hands were finally free, save for a huge pillow I decided to bring on board.
“Everyone will be envious when you carry that pillow in.” Sean told me again.
The automatic doors that opened and closed into the restricted passenger area were silver and unfriendly. When I finally did get in, boarding time was nearly over.
With greatest chagrin I found myself sitting next to a man who wore a mismatched suit, who breathed dragon breath out his mouth with every exhale, who drank only red wine throughout, who snored loudly, who never got up once during the 7 hours, who fumbled with the headset a couple of times, before deciding to only put on the right side.
Moving out from the window seat to the toilet took skill, patience, and a lot of apologies when it once resulted in spilt coffee on the carpet. The toilet light, as I trivially noted, had an uncanny ability to highlight all the white in my hair, in places so obvious that I had missed all these years. The temptation to search through whole head was great, but that meant an extended amount of time in cramped space, hindering others who would have used their plastic food knives to slit my throat for hogging a precious lavatory. Still, it gladdened my heart and relieved my hormones that know I found and successfully plucked out 4 silver ones.
The back of the plane had become a meeting place for passengers who ironically huddled together while attempting to stretch their legs and bodies. Poses from yoga, basketball, pilates and post-natal stretching came colourfully on display. There was a woman who stayed there as long as I could remember, chatting up every bewildered passer-by who got accosted by her whenever they needed to use the bathroom.
She beat me to it.
The plane rattled, shook and groaned under the weight of everyone, rocked a bit in the turbulences throughout and the seatbelt sign came on but naught.
The smile and the cool of the famed woman dressed in a Kebaya never faltered once.
Oh, we did have an extravagantly printed menu on quality paper when it came to mealtimes. But it can be summed up, as in most airlines, “Would you like chicken, or fish please?”. For refreshment, it was sandwich with either tuna or greens with meat.
Essentially, it was chicken or fish again.
I do not know whether to be overjoyed or saddened that the vacation is over. The bright and mildly satisfying point, nonetheless, was seeing the sour looks on people who had loved Melbourne weather; everyone took large gulps of the heated, frizzled night air, wishing they had also changed into shorts and T-shirts.