All by Herself

I sit and write this in a coffee shop in the airport lounge of a distant city that’s not my home. I was here on a business trip, a poised 26-year-old, travelling all by herself, conducting corporate meetings with people twice her age, all by herself. It’s time to head back to the city that has been home for the past three years – a city that has shaped me the way I am today.

Sitting here, I cannot help but wonder at the coincidence. Exactly three years ago, I was this straight out of college kid, who had to take her first flight ever, to report to work. I can still see her, feel her. Her mother and her uncle were there to see her off at the airport. Her mother was proud of her, but a lot concerned as well. It was the first time that her little daughter was going out to face the big world all by herself. This was a small town where she and her late husband had raised her. This was her safe zone. But now that her daughter had been placed at this big firm, the only student in her batch to bag the opportunity, she was caught between extreme sets of emotions. She was proud and scared at the same time! Being her mother, she had promised herself that she wouldn’t chain her child to staying back with her. Her daughter had settled down for a much inferior course being offered in her hometown, over her dream MBA, just to ensure that she could be by her mother’s side through those dark days of immediate widowhood. And as always, her daughter had fared well even there, by being the only one to have bagged the best company that had come to recruit. As her mother, this was her turn to payback. So she stood there, resolute, a bit teary-eyed, waving goodbye to the little petite figure, with curly messy hair, and a rucksack twice her size.

On the other side of the counter was me, the ever over-enthusiastic kid, waving off to my mother, gesturing her to smile and not to worry. This was the first flight that I’d have ever taken, and I had researched the shit out of it. My hometown is a rustic old city with only a small domestic airport which too is shared with the Indian Airforce, and hence the check-in process was so easy and exactly like I had been briefed by friends. This was easier than getting into a train, I told my mom over a call post securing a seat for myself in the waiting lounge. She told me that she was still in the visitor area, just in case I changed my mind and wanted to return home back to her. I laughed it off. Silly her. Why would I do that? This was finally my ticket to living my dreams. To the independent life I had planned all my life. When I confirmed this, she left.

I took out a book and started to read it. Occasionally I would glance at the people around. They were all simply dressed like me, no hint of make-up, just normal usual uncles and aunties, kids and teenagers. I even spotted a few familiar faces, who came over to ask where I was heading and congratulated on being placed. I was on Cloud 9 figuratively, and literally, after a few minutes when the flight finally took off.

Now since there was no direct flight to the city of my posting, I had to get down at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi. That wasn’t a big deal too, I assured myself. If I could manage it back at home, Delhi was going to be no different. Airports are small entities that are so easy to navigate, my home ground had proven to me. Equipped with that new found confidence, I decided to land at the Delhi airport.

And then reality struck.

This was nothing like the world back home. A hundred airports like the one at home could fit into this one. This was huge, with miles to walk around, hundreds of baggage counters and gates. The kids there looked like models, I even spotted a few real models, there were swanky shops, where I realised I didn’t even know how to place a decent order. What had I gotten myself into?

I felt like calling mom and asking if she was still there waiting for me. That whether I could still turn back and run. I was lost in the sea of people, in the bustling airport, which apparently was also a silent one which meant that there would be no flight announcements. What utter bull crap I wondered. At one of the big junctions, I remember standing like a lost puppy, trying to understand the digital board of flight schedules and trying to figure out my gate. I was hungry, I wasn’t dressed up to the mark, my hair frizzy and untamed, not a spot of make-up on my face, a rucksack that was taking a toll on my shoulders and a heart that was beating hard, cracking up the walls of my self-confidence.

That was 3 years ago. My first-hand experience of facing the world all by myself. And I wouldn’t sugar coat it, I was scared to the bones. It felt as if everyone deserved to be there while I didn’t. It felt as if everyone was dressed up for the role, as if everyone knew where they were headed to, everyone had a sense of being, a purpose, a sense of urgency, a sense of style – everyone, except me. I was there maybe by a sheer stroke of luck. In midst of the hustling crowd, I wanted to sit and weep. How was I supposed to do this all by myself? I could still run back home. I was just a call away to booking a ticket back home. Knowing my mum, I was sure she would have arranged for it already, just-in-case.

But I survived. Somehow I did. A man pulling the baggage trolleys helped me figure out my gate, an air hostess (beauty as the books described, unlike the aunty air hostesses whom I had found on my first flight) went out of her way and walked me till my gate, merrily chatting all the way. The uncle who sat next to me took a genuine interest in the book I was pretending to read (come on I wanted to be invisible) and showed his kindle off to me, suggesting I should get one for myself. Such small acts of kindness sailed me through.

And three years later, here I am, having taken both national and international trips, glad that the small town girl in me didn’t back out that day. Glad that she chose to face it all by herself, while the entire universe stood by her side so that I could finally live the life of my dreams today!

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