Sunday, September 27, 2009

The return

He stepped into the airport and as he did so, his feet bent and he almost fell flat on the ground; he didn't realize that his feet were shaking and his whole body seemed to sway left and right like a tree on a windy winter day. For the first time in quite a while, he felt afraid, genuinely frightened and worried.
It was a fairly cool day, and yet there were beads of sweat on his forehead, his palms were sweaty, and despite his olive complexion, he looked flushed and strangely white, almost as if he's seen a ghost. He could barely breathe and he seemed to have trouble swallowing as well; every time he would try to swallow, his Adam's apple would come up and down very slowly and with true difficulty.

Luckily, the airport wasn't very crowded, despite it being a weekend, but he didn't feel like it was a blessing. He wanted the place to be crowded, he needed idiotic families, waiting for the arrival of their children, to annoy him so as to offer some distraction to his raging wondering mind. He craved the anger that crowded places offered just so that he can reclaim his strength, instead of feeling feeble and anxious. He was putting himself on the line and the last time he did so, he regretted it immensely and he still suffers the consequences of that disastrous year, and although he sought revenge for his battered heart and injured ego, the hurt never really went away, chasing him all through his existence and tinting every event of his youth.
He checked the board; he was an hour early, luckily he brought his iPod with him and he made sure to fill it up with all sorts of upbeat shallow songs so as to distract him from his current state. As the iPod played Amy McDowell's "this is the life", he stepped outside the airport, onto which some call a street, but he always thought that those streets inside the airport were make-believe; they were just too empty for the usual streets of Cairo, too clean and the backdrop of these so-called streets was too vacant for the over-crowded metropolitan. No, according to his logic, these were you-are-at-the-airport streets, so as not to be confused by the normal Cairene streets and hence encourage the lingering of people. This was his usual line of thought, but today he can't seem to be capable of one single coherent thought. Every time he would try to focus his thoughts on one single item his brain would go back to the email he got several days ago. He opened it up expecting some funny or cynical forward; the type of emails he was used to getting from her, but this one was different. It started the same way; with her upbeat greeting, but this upbeat manner soon changed into a melancholy cynical sentences and emotionally felt words. He wouldn't have guessed the contents of this email even if his life depended on it. What amazed him is that she started the email with the most important part and then she didn't even give him a chance to process it as she went on describing the reason for such a confession, and even then he wasn't given the chance to comprehend as she continued on with instructions about what he's supposed to do and the fact that nothing was demanded of him, but the act of discretion. In some way, her manner annoyed him; she should have given him an option, a way to respond, a window of opportunity, but alas, she didn't. She was very specific and to the point, but he knew her too well to be fooled with these well-crafted sentences; he knew that behind those lines of comic cynicism lies great sorrow and self-reprimanding.
She was so final all through the email and he knew it wasn't an invitation, but rather a distant farewell and a way to attain closure. Yet, how can one attain closure for something that hasn't been given a chance to even begin, he wondered. She was too proud, that's why there was a great sense of rejection in her words; she was just protecting herself and he understood all that and more. He just wished she would have told him earlier and not in this distant manner. He must have read this email a hundred times or so, going over every sentence, every punctuation, every pause; desperately trying to understand her state of mind as she wrote this blatant confession. He figured that her own logic and obstinate mind guided her to this impersonal, but final solution, as she was a firm believer of the saying, "desperate times call for desperate measures," and she must have been desperate for closure.

She sat there crushed in between two large but quite jolly Scottish gentlemen, who were on their way to Cairo for business. She was really immersed in conversation with one of them about the similarities and differences of the Scottish and Egyptian culture; especially comparing their historic clan system to upper Egypt's tribal one. She was finally letting go of that chip on her shoulder and forgetting that which she must forget. After a while it seemed like the whole plane fell into deep sleep and she was alone with he thoughts and her mp3 player. She distracted herself by singing to the tunes; only inside her head of course so as not to wake the sleeping passengers. Everything was fine until the song "neither one of us" by Gladys Knight started playing. A specific line in this song always gets her; "lord knows that it is only me that I am deceiving." Indeed she was deceiving herself and lying to her whole being, but right now it was the only thing she could muster up and she was to be satisfied with this shaky state until the sands of time pile up on these hurtful memories, burying them under a sea of new unimportant and shallow memories of things she doesn't want to remember. She dreaded the day that will come when she would be incapable of conjuring his image, or laughing at a joke he said, or get annoyed at a smirk yet true remark he's said about her. She kept reminding herself that a sign of growing up was doing that which we must do even if we don't want to.

Her train of thought was interrupted by a sudden jolt of the entire plane, which was successful in waking up the whole plane as well with a sense of great shock, and then before they started to wonder what just happened, the calm voice of the pilot came through the plane's speakers, announcing that they were experiencing some turbulence and asked the passengers to remain calm and seated, restricting trips to the bathroom for utter emergencies. The announcement seemed to cast an air of worry and suspense upon the whole plane, and many people grabbed their seats tightly as if that their firm grips will keep the plane from plummeting to a disastrous end. She observed people around her, registering their reactions and she noticed for the first time during the whole flight, the Scottish gents beside her were in complete silence while being awake. The panic-stricken passengers experienced 20 minutes of this until the pilot's voice came through the speakers, announcing that they were out of the woods and turning off the seat belt sign. Upon hearing the jolly news, the whole plane broke into applause; many of the passengers uttered signs of relief, while others crossed themselves and others said "El Hamd leAllah" in a loud voice and others hugged and kissed their kids. The Scottish gents beside her were laughing their heads off, while the cabin crew distributed complementary drinks to calm every body down. What amazed her the most is that during those nerve-wrecking 20 minutes, she had never considered the option of a crash or her own death, but only one thought remained in her head, that of him. When the friendly flight attendant asked what should would like to drink, she asked for diet coke with ice, a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint, which always seemed to calm her down.

The monitor indicated that there was still two hours and half left for the plane to touch down and so she decided to watch one of the movies available as in-flight entertainment; the choice fell upon "angels and demons", which she failed to watch when it was released. She hadn't seen the previous film "The Da Vinci code" because she had read the novel and feared that she would be disappointed as often blockbusters of famous novels do, but she hadn't read "angels and demons" and so proceeded to watch the movie without fear. As the final credits rolled out, she stretched and yawned; the movie was entertaining enough, but the strange thing was that she knew how the movie would end from the start of it and so the "surprise" ending offered no surprise, which was a bit disappointing. Nonetheless, she enjoyed the film; especially Tom Hank's performance,which never seemed to disappoint. There was still 40 minutes left for the plane to land and she wondered what she would do to waste the time and distract her troubled mind. She had with her a novel; "atonement", which was fairly interesting, but she found that the narration sometimes ran a bit long especially that a big portion of the novel is told from the perspective of one character, constricting the reader to one view of the events, which was a bit disheartening. Since she was annoyed, restless and frustrated, she found the idea of reading to be dissatisfying,and so she decided to bury her conscious mind in the tunes of her mp3 player and try, even if it is in vain, to rest.

Miraculously she slept through these 40 minutes, only to find that the Scottish gent on her right gently tapping her shoulder and telling her that they're about to land. She looked out the window to find the shimmering lights of Cairo shining, framing the urban city with a strangely yellow aura that cast a shadow of mystery upon it and made it interesting to the eyes of the beholder. She has always been amused by the sight of Cairo at night and every time she would find it to be slightly different than the time before, which made it even more amusing and beautiful. Somehow, the sight of her hometown offered some comfort to her wandering soul, and yet at the same time it seemed to conjure an annoying feeling that lodged at the pit of her stomach, sending pain all over her exhausted body. The plane started to travel through the layers of the atmosphere trying to reach solid ground, just like a swimmer diving in the deep end of the swimming pool trying to reach the bottom of the pool. Every stroke of the swimmer's hand and every kick of his legs brought him closer to his goal, but increased the agonizing pressure on his lungs, in an effort to try and force the air out of his lungs. Even though she was in a pressurized plane with plenty of air around her, her lungs were completely constricted and she would have gasped for air if she hadn't noticed that she was comfortably breathing on her own. The sudden jolt of the plane as the wheels touched the hard ground was normal for most passengers, but for her, it shook her whole being and made her heart pound greatly as if sounding out for help.

The "lady in the mike", as he liked to call the airport announcements, announced the arrival of flight BA 145, but he figured that the baggage reclaim will take a bit longer and so he stepped out of the airport for a quick smoke, which took a bit longer and by the time he finished his fourth cigarette, 15 minutes have passed. He reentered the airport and made his way to the arrivals, which has become utterly crowded as passengers of flight BA 145 started to flood out of the initial gate to be greeted by anxious families, bored drivers and weary travel agents. He strained his eyes, stood on his tiptoes, jumped and squeezed himself between the crowds of people trying to find her...

The baggage reclaim has taken her a bit of time and by the time she actually found her bag, people were so piled on the moving belt that it seemed impossible to get it, if not for an elderly gentleman who stepped away to give her way. She got her one bag and wheeled it out to the initial entrance, to be greeted by the ultimate chaos of terminal 2. The trip through the customs was fairly easy, but she was exhausted more mentally than physically and she hoped that she would find him easily. She strained herself as she tried desperately to look through the crowds, examining the faces,looking beyond the converging mess of bystanders, trying to find him...

"7amdellah 3ala El Salama ya mama," he said as he reached for her two bags, she kissed him on the cheeks and held his face for a while. "Thanks hun, how was the drive up here?" she said as she adjusted her veil. "It was fine," he responded half-heartedly as he put her bags in the hood of the car. She got in and immediately looked at herself in the passenger side's mirror, shaking her head left and right, which he noticed, "You look beautiful ya mama," he said. She smiled at him, "You look like there's something wrong, is something the matter?" He sighed as he inserted the key in the ignition and then said, "work stuff" and then they drove away.

"Ya baba," she cried as she saw her father, who,as soon as he saw her, came towards her and took her bag as she hugged him tightly; she hadn't seen him in 15 days and she missed him immensely. "You are not to travel for that long again, your mother has been driving me crazy. She called me 8 times in the last 10 minutes, is she there yet? is she there yet,I..." just then his cellphone rang, he answered, "Yes, she's there, we're on our way, if you can allow me half an hour of driving time," and then he hung up. "You know I have to go back in a month," she said as he started the car. He looked at her and said, "well then, we'll just have to make the best of it then," and he paused for a while and then looked at her again, "You look awfully pale, is something the matter?" she looked at herself in the mirror and thought if only you knew, but responded "I am just tired" and then they drove away.

1 comment:

doniazad79 said...

I really loved the way the story developed, the description of the characters' thought, fears and beliefs made me visualize the whole set of the story. I think the rest of the story will unravel the secrets that the characters are hiding.

I am eagerly waiting for the rest of " The Return" EAGERLY:)

By the way I am a committed reader to one genre of books, but your stories can be the new books that I would be looking for.

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