I’m to be seated aboard my Lufthansa flight by three thirty am, when I am told it is inordinately delayed by three hours. It hurts. A flight that is already slated to take off at a god forsaken hour, gets embroiled in some mess-up and I, the passenger, is the sufferer. Yet I am now able to grab an hour’s extra sleep before heading out of my home on a winter’s night. So all is not lost and it isn’t that bad after all, is it, I tell myself. As promised the delayed flight, gets further delayed and my thoughts are focused only on my onward flight to New York, which I absolutely must mount at Frankfurt airport. Wonder of wonders, my first flight out- manages to make up lost time and is only delayed by half an hour, we are told as we descend with nearly two hours to spare. Blessed luck!
SO I leap out of my airplane with great joy, after an uneventful flight between New Delhi and Frankfurt. I had a very quiet companion by my side but not quiet enough to withhold information about himself; with an hour left to descend, we get chatty propelled by some unknown kinship. He is a young man in his late twenties, headed to the Arctic Circle, no less. When I complain about having to change flights, and that I am forced to travel so many long hours to reach my daughter, he divulges that he is an arctic engineer with some very special skills. He lives in Sweden for the most part, and had chosen this career on a whim. Woah! He has already spent some eight years working in unimaginable conditions that range between minus 30- minus 45 degrees celcius! O boy! I suddenly feel I have a really, really good life, with a very short distance left to traverse in order to reach my beautiful child. He says he is getting a bit ‘bored’ of it all. To my mind it had sounded pretty exciting, but who am I to judge the quality of life chosen. And then we land. We smile at each other as we wave good bye, and I realize he has not asked me one word on my life, what I am, what I was, and who I might be, if anything at all, apart from a curious co-traveller. Well, some one-sided conversations are rich enough for two I say!
At Frankfurt airport, the first thing that hits me is the very disorderly queue, if one might call it that, queerly assembled under couple of escalators. There is a large lady, shouting out curt instructions to the lot of us travellers, asking us to be patient and that we would get our turn to climb the escalators, in order to catch the train that would then reach us to our destination. All right! I take a deep breath, and inhale some very sweaty and smelly fumes emanating from the proximity I find myself in, to a number of folk I would usually not allow myself to be thus intimate with. Here, I do admit, I have no choice, except to not breathe as deeply, and best option would be to hold my breath for as long as possible. Ultimately, I am pushed along and I reach the top of the escalator. From escalator to train is a neat queue that forms magically. I am only able to get onto the third train, having missed the previous two to other faster walkers ahead of me in the line.
Now once I am out of the train, I walk, what seems to my knees and legs, miles and miles. The painful walking ends in another large cauldron of people waiting their turn to join other queues for security clearance. I am living the nightmare. I am overdressed, fearing cold weather at my final destination, New York. I begin unpeeling, and I notice others following suit. An hour has passed by, and I have 45 minutes in which to clear security and get aboard my onward flight. Easy peasy.
After half an hour of shifting uncomfortably in fairly high temperatures, and more than just a sense of intimacy with strangers’ breaths upon my shoulders, and down my neck, I gradually reach for my panic button. We’ve hardly budged. So I shout out to an airport attendant I spy, in German, explaining that I have a flight to catch. He retorts with a “so does everyone else!” Miffed, I tell myself that my flight shan’t leave without me. I relax just a little.
After another ten minutes I notice people calling upon attendants to tell them the same. He does allow them to leave the queue and surge ahead, much to my irritation. The panic switch is now on. I shout out again, and sound firmer. He lets me go ahead. Phew!
I am now in the security area, and have put my unpeeled clothes, laptop, Kindle, handbag, the works, and pranced ahead, ready to run. That’s when Hitler’s niece catches me. “Nein, Halt!” I freeze. Whatever could the matter be!?
Ah! there was an inch of water in a plastic bottle left in my handbag, I faintly recall. Was that it?
Now I am in yet another queue, with an Indian lady ahead of me. The whole process of searching a bag for incriminating items such as guns, pistols, knives and cooked and raw food is depleting to watch, and I am near to tears. I have ten minutes in which to run miles to reach my gate. My legs hurt, my eyes sting, and my ears burn. WHY and HOW could I forget where I was and swallow the water!
I plead with the buxom Hitler’s Niece to let me go earlier than the lady, and the look she gives me is like a knife cutting right through my brain. I daren’t open my mouth again. A gentleman, who sits quietly at the machine that x rays bags, tells me, with his eyes, that I had best remain silent, it might expedite matters.
The lady whose bag is now being turned inside out has carried her homeland with her. I watch as a box of mangoes, peeled and cubed, emerges, then diligently thrown by Hitler’s niece; out next comes a gooey sweet, that she announces is her mother’s homemade ghee pie; then I see some vegetable I do not recognize (locally grown in Kerala), then come crayons, lipsticks, eye-shadows, safety-pins, napkins and a wallet bulging with notes. My ten minutes are up, and I have given up on making the flight. What else can I do, as helpless as I am.
My turn finally, and my purse is turned inside out and thence emerges the bottle that had screwed up my case. Everything else goes back in, I breathe easy. Then she gives me the look, her sweaty fingers, gloved tight, having fingered every item in my bag. I wince. She displays no emotion- just a cold, cold shoulder.
Hitler’s niece takes her own sweet time to put my wares back in my bag, torturing me further, then says nonchalantly, “What an idiot for carrying so much water and delaying yourself.” I have never been more humiliated in my entire life. She then flings the bag upon the table to be humbly picked up by me. I run like never before. I can see no one at our gate, and slow my pace. And then I spy the flight number, it is mine. I run to the hostess at the entry- “LH 887 to New York?”
“Ya, hurrrry up Madam!” and I buckle with relief, breathless.
But the hardened expression on that mien, unrelenting and torturous, was not to be easily forgotten. It had been an encounter with Hitler’s niece for sure, and I am certain I will not be crossing many such characters in my life. Well, as long as I avoid traveling by Lufthansa, in peak season, I don’t imagine I shall. Needless to say, I must not forget to drink up!