With some rather long flights coming up in a few days, my senses have switched into travel mode - my mind breaking down the trip, assessing the possibilities of its various components, remembering discrete episodes from prior trips.
The least desirable component of any long flight has got to be the layover. I am not a huge fan of long layovers, but when presented with one I know there are myriad ways in which to occupy myself and the kids. I am reminded of one particular layover a few years ago when C was about five and a half years old and D wasn't born yet.
C and I were traveling from Bangalore to Prague. The husband had already gone ahead for a meeting. The flight from Bangalore to Frankfurt was uneventful. Once at the Frankfurt airport, though, we were faced with a six-hour layover. Apparently the Bangalore - Frankfurt - Prague route is not very popular. We got in early in the morning and had to wait until early afternoon for our flight, until the airline could pool enough Prague passengers to justify a flight. To their credit, I must say they succeeded in flying a full flight that day.
But back to the layover.
C and I did the usual things - we cleaned up, wandered around, walked into a few shops, pored over magazines, looked at toys and perfumes and chocolates. Around breakfast time we went into a restaurant with large windows offering an unhindered view of the planes taking off and landing. We had just ordered our food, C was waiting for his cup of hot chocolate to cool somewhat and I was sipping on my coffee when C's eyes suddenly widened.
"Mama, look! There, behind you!"
"What? What happened?" I turned my head to look, expecting a minor disaster.
"Don't you see? There's Bill Bryson, right there!"
I turned again, excitedly this time. Wow! Bill Bryson? But I couldn't see anyone even remotely resembling his mug shot on his books. I was about to ask C to point this time (although he's told regularly never to point at people while talking about them, this was obviously an exception) but I saw his hand hiding his face. He was trying to stifle a desperate giggle.
"Tricked you! Ha ha ha!"
The kid had my number.
No matter what the time of day, inside the Frankfurt Am Main airport, it's the shopping hour. The foot traffic is a mall's dream come true, never mind that the feet are tired, the eyes are glazing over and shoulders sagging under jet lag and carry on luggage. An unending stream of people coming and going from all directions. Just as one plane takes off, another lands, replenishing the airport with a fresh supply of potential customers. After a while the crowds got stifling, so when we chanced on an empty lounge near one of the departure/arrival gates, we found a corner and sprawled on the seats. C settled himself down on the floor, opened his backpack and took out his collection of animals and cars.
Soon another mother and her son, about C's age, walked through the gate into the lounge. From her dress, I guessed she was from the Middle East. They found a quiet space a few feet away from us and settled down just as we did.
For a time we stayed separate. Two little units. Two mothers and two boys. Coming from different places, possibly going to different places. Separated by language, culture, and custom. Connected by nothing but chance. For a short while we happened to be in the same boat, both waiting for when it was time to leave.
Soon, the prospect of having a playmate for however brief a time must have tempted the two boys. Both seemed to have the same idea. As both mothers watched, they exchanged sidelong glances, then looked fully at what the other was doing, laughing at each other's antics. Then, wordlessly, they inched closer. C said something to the other boy in English. He shook his head and looked at his mother. "No English," she said. The boys assessed the situation for the briefest of moments and continued right where they left off. Each one imitated the other, gesturing when one wanted the other to do something different.
Cars crashed into each other, animals flew, cars crashed into the animals, animals jumped over cars, cars chased animals, animals chased cars. Eventually they abandoned their toys and chased each other around the chairs and pillars.
The other mother and I looked at each other and smiled, grateful for this interlude for the boys. After a good while, people started filing into the gate. Ticketing agents lined up behind the counter. The lounge was empty no more.
Still mute, our words unable to bridge the gap between us, all four of us put our things back in, packed up and walked out the gate. As one. Now we shared a common purpose. We walked towards another empty lounge and set up shop. Just as before. Soon, we, the two mothers, engrossed ourselves in our magazines and the boys promptly turned another lounge into their playground.
You Really Should Not Read Bill Bryson in Public Places
Prague: A Little City with a Big Heart