Journey

That Place Called Transit

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In transit, you are never sure what time it is. Time is of no great consequence here.

Frankfurt airport, transit lounge B,C, D. Not A.

I traveled back and forth in time. Hours were gained, and then lost. In equal measure, but in different cities, continents. Bit by bit. In transit, you are never sure what time it is. Because you are coming from somewhere, and going someplace else. Time is of no great consequence here. Here, I was. Stuck in transit.

At each mention of Havana, I'd feel stupid. Friends wrote to me saying I should continue, go on, and take that bus from that other town to Havana. In Old Havana, Alberto must be waiting for his toothpaste, and soaps, and me. I imagined an old car, and two men - children of revolution - swinging to Abba, and driving down the beaches. I'd be taking photos. Dancing, drinking rum although I don't like the taste, and maybe smoking a Cuban cigar, and talking about love and freedom, and revolution.

Havana was full of possibilities. That's what Graham Greene wrote.

When I asked them about prostitution, an official had written back saying it was 'secular work.' Talk of possibilities and dignity of work.

In a way, the transit zone was also a possible place. On the screen, destinations would flash. They'd appear, fade out, and another one would be beaming. You could take a flight to Warsaw, or Lisbon, or Prague, or Cancun, or Rio, or Iceland, or to some lonely, forlorn, or forsaken place I have never heard of. I'd stand and look, and wonder what would it be like to live in these places. Were these lonely places as Pico Iyer had said? I'd fallen off the map. And I was in an enclosed space. Glass walls around me. What did Frankfurt air feel like? A breeze, or a blast.

***

Alberto would not get his toothpastes, and body wash, and maybe the Abba CD he had asked me for. Not tonight for sure. I imagined him in my moment of crisis a man with curly hair, and full lips, and a body like Prince, or Queen. They told me he was a queen. I was thinking of him and an old car. He would come to the Convento in Old Havana, pick up the stuff, and take me out to the beach, and show me a place I always imagined. I am always imagining. That's the best way to deal with life.

Alberto, and Igor, the man who wrote me many emails from Havana, and maybe Louis, the journalist, had plans for me. I had my plans. Of wearing the rose-tinted glasses, and looking out on Havana from the roof of an old building, and then to the sea, and think of Ernest Hemingway, and writing. Freedom and love. Both of which Jose Marti wrote about. Libre Amor. I had strung together two words. Here, love must just happen. That's what Pico Iyer wrote about in his book Cuba and the Night. Ricardo sat with Lourdes looking out at the sea, and they had kissed. In the hope of falling in love with the place, I had booked my tickets one afternoon. December wasn't a good month. Death of family, and demise of love. It wasn't even a breakup that I was mourning. I only itched to be in love again. This time, a place would do. They don't run away.

I slept in bits on the flight to Frankfurt. I thought it was in France. Turned out it was Germany. Geography was never my strength. It was too complicated. Places sounded like they would belong to the sea, and ended up someplace else in some ice zone. They had no business of being there with names like that. Like Malta. I thought it was in Africa. A small island by the sea where they would be drinking malted drinks, and singing. But someone said it was in Europe. I never bothered with an Atlas, or a globe. Both of which I found ugly, and demeaning to places that had character. How do you show a happy place, or a melancholic place? They were just markers on some lines. I could not be bothered. One must discover, go there, and find out.

***

"You are stuck," the woman at the info desk at Terminal 1 of Frankfurt Airport looked up and said in an ominous voice.

She looked like the big Hispanic women I had seen at US airports. They smiled a lot. This one was not particularly interested in my Cuban dream, or me as a lone passenger stuck at the Frankfurt transit zone with nobody to claim me because there was an industrial strike in Germany, and as a result hundreds of passengers were stuck in transit at the airport on Feb. 21. They wouldn't give me the German visa. I couldn't exit the airport. I had to avoid all Exit signs.

She seemed like she wasn't particularly interested in being at the info desk at this airport, and would rather be striking than be here in this chaotic transit space where everyone looked morose, and hungover. There were long queues, and children crying, and men getting agitated. At some point, they started distributing nutri bars, and juice, and water.

"For how long?"

"I don't know," she said.

On the screen, the advertisement for Frankfurt said "Great to have you here." A good looking man is in queue for security check, and sees a good looking woman, and they make eye contact, and then there are those stupid little interventions showing how to go through security check. In the end, the man finds her at duty free, and they clang glasses at some airport restaurant that I never saw in real. This played on forever, and everywhere.

But I didn't want to be here. Except for the necessary layover time that my boarding pass from Frankfurt to Havana suggested. Four hours. Europe had never fascinated me. Even with its Hitler, and Napoleon, and Berlin, the city for writers, Germany wasn't a place I'd buy tickets to. Frankfurt, even with an airport introduction, looked like a concrete slum. Grey, and cold, and dashes of blue. Not the lovely Havana I had in my mind. with its reds, and yellows, and rumba, and rum, and love. Here, there was no amor.

But the Condor flight was leaving the runway, and the industrial strike, which a German staff later defined as a legal right, was still on. That meant I was going to miss my flight to Havana, and Alberto would not get his soaps, and creams. And the Madre Superiora at the Convento in Old Havana would not be able to serve me pineapple pie for breakfast. I was at the smoking lounge at Frankfurt Airport. I could see the Condor plane. I could not leave that area of the airport. The exit signs were temptations, and at one point, I had wanted to tear off my passport, and try Frankfurt as a possible live-in place for sometime. Cities are like lovers. They contain you. But only for so long.

A man was telling a woman near the info desk they were going to be here for a long time.

"The Germans are really fucked up. Two hours could be three days," he said, looking at the ticket.

"Oh no," she gasped.

"They aren't providing accommodation, or anything else. Nobody knows what to say," he says, and the couple moved away, muttering what I hoped were abuses.

I didn't have a German visa or an American passport. With the Cuban visa, which I thought made my passport worth so much love, I was not really priority for anyone. I was also Indian. Brown, and from the nether regions of the world. A third world person. They would be rude to me. I couldn't help it. Condor representative hadn't showed up at the counter. Someone would tell me later that they never show up except when they have to usher in the passengers. Their counter was outside the terminal. I couldn't go because I was in transit. I called them up numerous times. They kept telling me to call back in another 15 minutes. After a point, they stopped answering.

Transit zones are like suspended places. There is no sense of time, really. You only take a break while traveling in time. It is never a destination. But it is a halt. And it could hold you back.

***

They had given me 60-minutes of free wi-fi but it seemed to take forever to connect to this freebie. They would be calling my hotel in Old Havana to find out if I made it to the last bastion. My brother, my friends, and Alberto, and Igor, who had once written to me saying they were not a nation of rose pinkies, that they were fighting war to remain sovereign with a powerful nation. Because freedom is important, Marti had argued. Jose Marti was all about freedom. I had written to Igor when the embassy in Delhi denied me the visa. I wrote to him saying I didn't like traveling but this was the only country that I wanted to come to. He wrote back saying he would make a necessary arrangements. I asked him if red light districts existed in Cuba. He wrote back asking what were those? I asked about prostitutes. He said during the revolution, they were given options to educate themselves, and if they chose to carry 'secular work' they are free to. Who wouldn't fall for a country that was so poor it had to drink almost every night to go on, that referred to prostitution as secular work. I was already in love. With an island country that was bedraggled, poor, and dying, and yet I wanted to hold the old dame before she fell. I imagined her like Cesaria Evora, the singer. Strong, and passionate. Curvy, and fragile. Melancholic, and romantic. With a voice that would seep into the soul. Heart was for the meek. Here, in Cuba, they would be about souls. I had carried a small heart in my bag. To give to Fidel Castro if I met him. It was an unreasonable thing to do. But you don't book one-way ticket to Havana on a weekday out of reason. Madness is important.

'Amor Fidel. No amor America'

I had practised this line.

***

What they were generally saying to everyone was "We have no information. It is chaos. There's a strike. Bad timing."

There was a smoker's lounge in C. For lack of anything else to do, I found my way there in the afternoon for sake of conversations like Jenny Diski in Stranger on a Train, and opened the Coke can they had given to me and tried to listen in to conversations.

Later, the lady at the info desk called up the Condor Airlines hotline for me. I was worried about my baggage.

"Are there no other passengers to Havana?"

I wanted to ask. But I didn't. The lady on the other end suggested another route. To some other city. I would get off at 11 pm in this city, and then take a bus to Havana. My friends, romantic writers, suggested I should go on. My brother, on the other hand, wrote to me saying I should just get out of the airport.

"Where is this place?"

"In Cuba," she said. "You will have to take ground transport from there."

It sounded like Bagdogra to me. But that flight would be on Saturday. It was going full. They could try another on Feb. 24. I was feeling fucked up already. There was no coffee, or tea, or anything here. The chances of transition from this transit space seemed even more bleak. Next flight to Havana was on Feb. 26. My journalist visa to Cuba was only for 10 days. My flight to Mexico City was at 6 am on March 2.

It felt like Delhi Railway station. People were sprawled all over the transit zone. The passport control refused to give me a German visa. It could be days until that plane to Havana came. Condor said they would only fly me on their carrier. No other alternatives, they said. Nobody was claiming me. It was like being a ghost here. Unwanted, abandoned, and nowhere to go.

I was going for possibilities. At 34, I was alone, and writing stories to fill time. Perhaps Havana could help me go through life with abandon. But instead, there was this mosaic floor, and no announcements. Nobody seemed to be going anywhere.

I picked up a bottle that contained some sort of jam at the airport. German hospitality for stranded passengers. I ate some of the sweet concoction. But I was bored of its taste. Brushing my teeth in the bathroom with fittings from 17th century gave me a feeling I was going to be spending the night here. Or two nights, or three.

In transit, you realise you have no control. Numerous times, you can go up to the info desk, and speak to them about issues. They would nod. Because their co-workers were fighting for higher wages. Security people were striking. They wanted it upped from 11 Euros to 14. Germany, you'd think, would be good with professionalism. But here, they had distributed a few munchies like nutri bars and were asking the passengers to wait it out. In case of medical emergencies, there would be an ambulance.

Beyond the glass barriers, on the other side men and women were dining with glasses of wine on the table. I felt hungry. I could not eat more Soletti Happy Mix they kept handing out to the passengers.

It was almost like being in prison. Only, there were no proper meals.

There was a man next to me shouting into the laptop the US pattern is expensive. Then, he went on to say Justin is on leave, and that he would be able to board in a bit. Such conversations. About destinations, and mundane things. Things delayed, flights missed, lovers upset.

I was back in the smoking lounge the tenth time, or the eleventh. The skyline looked better. It was evening by now. There was another man. I thought perhaps he was going to Cuba. He had a hat on, and wore anti-fit denims, and looked very cool. It turned out he was headed to Dallas. We struck a conversation. against the fading skies of Frankfurt, and in the backdrop of the Lufthansa airplanes ready for take off. He got here at 5 am. He swore he was never coming back to Frankfurt. In fact, he was never going to come to Germany. This was bizarre, he said.

"I hate traveling, man," he said.

He lit another cigarette, and recounted one time when he was to go to Japan but ended up in Korea, and then again, he was taken to a different airport, and finally reached an airport where the woman was waiting for him with his boarding pass, shouting at him to get in on the plane.

He thought layover would be nice in Frankfurt. Fuck those tales about it being the best airport for lovers, he said. For love could actually go wrong in trying to figure out next destination, and the staff was very rude. All they could say was this was a natural disaster.

"Huh," he shrugged.

They gave him snickers and soda water at the transit area.

"For those that like it, no problem. But what the heck," he said. "I ain't coming back to Germany. Fuck this place. They are rude."

We were standing in an enclosed glass space, a Camel sponsored luxury place. An oasis because here the temperature was better. Towards night, it was starting to get colder at the airport. I had a jacket, and I was feeling feverish already. The skies were orange and blue. I asked him if he knew the time. It was 6 pm, he said. Twelve hours in transit already. But then, life too is spent in transit. Waiting, lighting up, striking conversations that go nowhere, and departing and arriving. When everything else fails, philosophy works. But hunger made me angry, irritable. I had boarded Lufthansa at 3 am in Delhi on Feb. 21, and had asked for water to have my medicine. But I was told there was no water and they would be serving refreshments soon. I swallowed the pill. Because Ernest Hemingway said 'courage is grace under pressure' and he is a lovely writer. He always gave hope. In Paris, looking out at the city, he had written "You have always written before and you will write now."

I kept writing. From the lounge, from the queue. Long notes. There were errors of tense. Narrative was disjointed. In a space where time wasn't linear, this was its best representation, or its reflection. I had stopped editing. Nonlinear narratives. Could there be errors of tense, or grammar here?

The Dallas dude had a flight the next morning to Dallas. He was hungry, and angry. Another man who was on his way to Warsaw could only utter 'tch tch'.

"Six days?" the Dallas dude said to me. "They make it seem like you are going to Xanadu."

"They should pay you a salary for staying at the airport for six days. You will be part of the staff," the dude continued.

"I was only trying to go to Havana," I offered. "I don't know why I wanted to go there. But I have always wanted to go to the last bastion of communism. Something to see, to experience. How is it to live with less, and yet sing and dance."

A Turkish man was there. He asked if I wanted to accompany him to the Lufthansa service centre. I said I needed to get out of this 'hotel bizarre' sort of place. He said he could send me a car in Istanbul if I chose to fly there.

"You married?" he asked.

"No, no," I said. "

"Turkey is very nice," he said. "You must come."

***

Towards evening, a policewoman said to me 'You look okay. You can stay here for a week.' Others have stayed, too. In cases of natural disasters.

"This isn't one," I retorted.

The rude staff, and the other occupants of this transit space. The stillness of it. The dreadful space of being nowhere. A place that doesn't move. Or change. Where time could be whatever you wanted it to be. Because it didn't matter. You were going to be stuck for long.

Then I met Shariq Nasir, an airport official. Near the info desk. He said Germany wasn't this bad. He said his parents were from India and Pakistan, and moved to Germany when he was a young boy. I wanted to ask him how could they put so many people in this transit zone with soda water and snickers, and tell them 'bad timing'. He apologised, and told me he would take me out, show me the city, and help me like it.

The airlines knew. Yet, Lufthansa brought us here. And then they told me they weren't responsible for me. Then, who was? He said he would help me find food, and get me whatever I needed.

He handed me some food coupons so I could get some food. I gave them later to the man who gave me the boarding pass to Kuwait, and to Bombay. Because Nasir had messaged they were only valid in Germany. I couldn't find Mc Donald's. I didn't particularly want to find it. I thought I'd keep the coupons as a keepsake. But I took a photo for memory's sake. That would do. It is not often that you meet strangers in strange countries who want you to eat well, and be well. He insisted he was 'desi' and for a moment I thought this was romance in transit. Transitory.

Romance, or the desire for it, makes you overcome most problems. Perhaps I was delirious. Everything seemed possible. Or nothing.

Nasir messaged later he couldn't come and say goodbye. But I don't believe in farewells. Ambiguity is always best. They contain hope. I hate full stops. I'd always put commas, and colons, and semi-colons trying to stretch my sentences to miles. Then, an editor would chop them off saying they never made sense. Did this make sense? Most things actually didn't really make sense.

Nasir is a transplant. He spoke fluent German, and he was okay with English. It wasn't his choice that his parents chose to stay in Germany. He would tell his story. There is a great faith and hope in stories. They almost never disappoint. He wanted to help the people stranded here. He even fought with his manager. But he couldn't do much. He was pacing up and down, guiding them to the C section in the same terminal where he had put makeshift beds, and asking me to eat a sandwich. I asked him about soda water as he opened one. He said it is not a bad thing at all. It just tastes little weird, I said.

He would walk with me, and we'd stop by at the smoking lounge to talk about him, or Frankfurt, and me. He said I should just pretend to be sick, and that way they would let me out of the airport, and give me a temporary visa and I could stay at his friend's hotel, and meet his mother, and he could show me Frankfurt, his city. Was it really, I wondered. Which of these are our cities?

***

There was me and Nasir. In the lounge that night. A stopover from our way back from what looked like a war moment of sorts with beds, and people sleeping, snoring, or staring into the ceiling. No blankets. Not enough in any case. And no privacy. It reminded of a night shelter I had been to in Nizamuddin. Harsh white lights remained on through the night. Almost like a sanitised space, a mental asylum.

He was smoking a cigarette. He said if you puffed at it too hard, it might break.

"Paper cigarettes," I said.

"Everyone smokes here," he said, while he puffed at his thin, papery cigarette.

I was reminded of an earlier conversation at the same place. A man, a remnant rom the hippie era with his buttons undone, and tattoos crawling all over his hands, and neck, and a hat, was smoking, and telling another how in Cuba, or other such countries that didn't exist for many, they'd be cool enough and let you smoke while you waited it out for your baggage. I was looking at my ticket. It actually said 'nonsmoking'. I assumed then there must be a 'smoking' class, too.

***

At 12:25 am, I was here again. Looking out at the midnight sky. Nothing notable. Skies are mostly same everywhere. Except during the day when they are clearer in developed nations. They give a lot of importance to individual rights. No pollution. No noise. Nonsense, I said. Was I being harsh? But it was all the money that I had saved over months for one-way tickets to Havana, Mexico, and then to Seattle. All gone. In a strike of a hand. A girl walked in, and asked for a light. I remember what Hemingway said "for all those who need a light for the night." Then, two more.

A man walked in and said he has been looking for the lounge for the last half hour. Nasir had left. He messaged on Facebook to say he would see me the next afternoon if I was still around.

"How many hours have you been stuck here?" the man asked the girl.

The girl said she had been stuck here for many hours. She could't even tell.

Forever could be this. It is like a matrix. With steel mesh, and grey skies, and grey mosaic floors. There are blue signs but they don't lead anywhere. The man was going to America and was coming from Bahrian. He was Libyan, and the woman with him was on her way to Tripoli, and her flight had been cancelled. She couldn't speak English or German. They never understood what she said. The Libyan man, who said he was American and even wore a shirt that hailed liberty and America as ultimate virtues, said he was befuddled. But he was American now, he insisted. He would raise hell if they didn't put him on a flight back to the US. He had taken upon himself to help the damsel in distress. She was calling Lufthansa 'garbage' in her language.

We spoke about countries where they cared. Like the US, the man said.

"They call up in cases where there is going to be some problem. I am a US citizen. They will not be rude to me," he said. "But to this woman, they have been extremely rude."

I told her she should get some rest. I was going insane. Sleepless. I eventually popped a sleeping pill. My head was throbbing.

***

I could go on, and spend the next few days loitering around the airport, and striking lame conversations with this one and that one, and take the flight to Havana when it came, and figure out the secret hopes and fears of the people of Cuba.

Why had Alberto asked for toothpaste? And a t-shirt with Sheeba written on it? I thought Sheeeba was his beloved, but he wrote back saying it was some Indian goddess, and asked me if I was from India. Why hadn't I found Sheeba yet?

In the dimly lit corridors of C section of the transit space, I walked aimlessly. Was it betrayal?

***

Maybe Havana should make me yearn even more. To get halfway to it, and return. Why go, when you have to return? Because sometimes, it is important to give love time. Even if that means crossing a continent. Some seas were left between us. I would cross them later. To spend the money, and spend hours at an airport looking for a way out made Havana seem even more remote. I heard someone say 'Cuba' in the queue, and I called out asking if they were going to Havana. They weren't. I kept looking for those that might be going to Havana. There were a few. I never saw any. Condor forgot about the lone passenger stuck in the matrix of transit. I kept calling 28666 in vain. They said they could get me until Varadero. from there, I could take a bus to Havana. I was scared, but I thought of all the wrong things. Yet, it was like meeting a lover. You don't clutter your mind with bad things. Think love, think freedom. I had them both. Yet, it wasn't enough.

A young man offered to stay awake and chat until the dawn broke in Frankfurt. I was telling him how sometimes you just don't reach where you must. He said I should go on. Be more adventurous. But I was tired.

It is never nice when a heart breaks. I told him mine was broken, and tattered in many places. That's why you must love a place. Again, they don't run away.

Such conversations. In transit.

***

I walked back to the corridor with beds, and found an empty one with no blankets or pillows. Or mattress. But when you are so tired, you don't really care. You only want to get over the hours. It looked like a refugee colony almost. With sandwiches, and bottles littered all around. People were sleeping somehow. Or not. A child was playing with his mother. He waved at me. I picked up a sandwich. It had some leaves and tomatoes. I couldn't finish half of it. Yet another snicker. Nasir said I should try and sleep. It was past 1:30 am.

I took out a coat from my bag, and spread it over my feet, and slept until the woman next to me woke me up. She was going. At 3 am to stand in the Lufthansa queue. She didn't want to stay here forever, she said. I said bye, and slept again. I had nowhere to go in any case. Havana seemed even more remote. I later walked to Terminal 1 to try once again. Edwidge Danticat writes that hope is our biggest weapon against us. I still wanted to go to Cuba, but another night in this transit space was not such a nice idea. I needed my medicines. I was coughing. I was cold, and my feet were sore.

Nasir again wrote to me to use the food coupons. Strangers in transit. Like us. Perhaps we would meet again. In his country, or mine. Or maybe in yet another transit. I should try and find coffee. I didn't.

Would I hop on to a flight the next morning and return home? Returning is a journey, too. Go away closer. That was Cuba vis a vis me. It filled my head. This and that. I was looking for Cubans everywhere. A hispanic woman walked past me in sparkly velvet pants and a cropped jacket. Her stomach was exposed, and she was unfettered. The gloss made her lips shine through the night. She swayed, and she looked at me. I wanted to ask her if she was from Havana. But I didn't. The enigma should remain. The only Cubans I have met are the ones at the embassy, and one Miss Foster I met in Utica many years ago. I had written a story on this Miss Foster, and her dreams of returning home, and other things like embargo. My editor Michael Killian had once told me it would be the most spectacular story of all times if they lifted the embargo, and we were there to see. I was hoping to write a story on meeting Fidel Castro. It changed to chronicling the anti-American sentiment in the autumn of the patriarch kind of way. Castro was in hospital. If he died while I was there, I'd be the star. But I didn't want him to die. I hadn't been to Cuba. I didn't know about secret Havana as Lourdes says in Cuba and the Night. But revolution is poetry. It is only possible with heart. You must give it your love. Revolution is a romantic affair.

I slept in one of those makeshift beds. I woke up a few times to look at the clock. I didn't understand time here. Being 'in transit' had made me more resigned. I was ready to miss more flights. I was ready to go anywhere as long as it would be someplace interesting. Kuwait was not really a hot spot. But it could be one of those lonely places. It was my hard-earned money that went in purchasing tickets to Mexico, and to Havana. I cancelled the connection from Havana to Mexico. My brother bought me tickets for return. For $700. To Bombay. I was not in any hurry anymore. I had half a mind to buy a ticket to Havana from Kuwait. But I had maxed out my card. Havana will have to wait. I was still carrying the euros. I'd keep them safe in the yellow packet until next time. Perhaps, I'd go look for the Abba CD and get Alberto a shirt with Sheeba written on it. I will find this goddess. Alberto told me he was there. I would write to him that I would make it to Havana soon.

For those that waited in Havana wrote.

And from those that wait in Havana.

"HI CHINKI ,HOPE THE PROBLE IN GERMANY IS SOLVED SOON AND YOU HAVE THE POSSIBILLTY TO TRAVEL TO OUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY,, THNGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON,,IM SURE YOU WILL BE IN HVANA ,,WISH YOU LUCK IN YOUR TRAVEL,,ANYWAYS WE ARE HERE FOR YOU ANYTIME,, DON’T WORRY THINGS WILL TURN OUT FINE FOR U ,, LET US KNOW AS SOON AS YOU HAVE A NEW NEWS,, LOVE FROM HAVANA,,ALBERT,,"

I wrote back.

"Soon."

***

Somehow the internet worked. Beyond the 60-minute barrier. There were messages from friends. They offered alternative destinations. Like Marek Kubicki,who I met eight years ago during a program at Syracuse University where he was part of the Edward R Murrow program for visiting journalism. At the time he was working with Al Arabiya. He is Polish, and told me he had a twin brother. They came to my house - him, Ehab, and the journalist from Palestine who gave me a little poster of the Al Aqsa mosque and told me how his mother prayed for him when he left every morning. I remember he worked with a radio. I went looking for Palestine when I was in Jerusalem. But I didn't see him. It was one of those romantic notions that you'd bump into each in some street in the other's country, and have coffee.

To go on, or to return?

The woman on the line from Condor Airlines had said she would reach me to my destination. I asked her if she could book me on a flight to Delhi, Seattle, or New York. I had a US visa, I said.

"No, we are supposed to fly you to Havana," she said.

"But I can't stay at the airport for so many days," I answered.

"If you have a medical problem, please call the ambulance. You can stay at the airport. There are showers," she said.

"You can call in another 15 minutes to confirm. The flight to the otter city is full tomorrow. We will try."

"But my baggage is in some other place," I said.

"We will fly you to Havana. Flight is on 26th. If you choose to return to Delhi, it is your call. We can't do anything," she said and hung up. I called many times after. Nobody picked up.

I think being a developed nation takes away the little emotion that is there is us. There are cold answers, and shrugs. Flights were full. Strike continued. Germans were still saying 'bad timing. tch tch'.

Marek told me to come to Poland, and then get back on the sixth day to take the flight to Havana. Someone else suggested Istanbul. The Turkish man was still around. Another person said I should go to Iceland where it is visa on arrival. But that money was meant for Havana. I couldn't spend it on other countries. Besides, I wasn't particularly looking to tell their stories. Although in retrospect I think stories unfold everywhere.

Transit zones in developed countries with their cold, and rude staff look almost the same. You could be anywhere. A homogenous space. Like a landscape with Mc Donald's. Like Frankfurt, or Milan. Hugo Boss, and Armani, and then those large duty free stores. There would be wine, and other exotic things on menu. Mostly bland. Precious for a traveler on a tight budget.

***

But here, on this side, transit zones are different. They bear the mark of the city. It is not grey here. It doesn't look cold. Like a warehouse that Frankfurt looked like. Here, there's character. I could spend the night here. I am sure it wouldn't shut down like the Frankfurt airport. At 11 sharp. Because its inhabitants don't like to be disturbed in sleep. We never had the luxury of silence. It felt alien. My first few nights in United States, I couldn't sleep. I was in suburban America with its manicured lawns, and its guest rooms. When I got to my university, I got a fan. I couldn't sleep in silence. That's what I told Nasir. He said he understood. He also understood why I tossed the sandwich back into the bin.

"No masala," he had said, and winked. "No chutney. No spice."

I could have fallen in love. In transit. It wouldn't go anywhere. It would be a love you could write about. He would find me on some chair in the corridor, wave to me, and we would walk to the smoking lounge, and he would ask me questions. Maybe, I would feign illness and get out, he said, and he could show me his city. But Frankfurt would not hold me in. In stress, and the compounding loneliness of transit zones because everyone is getting out in bunches, love was easy. It could kill time. It was full of possibilities.

He asked what I wrote about. I said nothing in particular. He told me I could call him from one of the phones here, and reached in his pocket for change. I said I had money. He called my brother for me. An embassy person called his phone to try and get me out of there. He showed me around the corridors, and the Frankfurt skyline. When one is looking for romance, it presents itself in strange spaces. This was a stranded affair. It was either skies, or closed spaces. A violent contrast. That's how we transit. In contrasts.

But I will remember him. Because he was so nice. He said he would come to Delhi. When he does, I can repay some of the kindness back.

In the dimly lit corridors of C section of the transit space, I walked aimlessly. Was it betrayal?

I wrote a hurried note to my brother, who booked my tickets out of Frankfurt.

"You need to get out of there," he wrote. "Stop being stupid. You don't think about money. Not now."

I was grateful. Because love is so underrated. The love of a sibling is precious. It comes to you in your dark hours. I knew he would get me out. That's love. Absolute. Unconditional. I was booked on a flight to Bombay via Kuwait. The only flight option for Saturday. Air India had kept a seat but I couldn't find the terminal in the morning.

A cousin would send his driver in Bombay, and ask his cook to make me food when I get to Bombay. He wasn't there. But I could stay, and rest. At 4 am, when I exit the airport, I would be glad I returned. If I returned at all. Alberto wrote back saying he would wait for me. The Cuban embassy wrote they would hope Condor refunded my money so I could come to Havana. I said 'inshallah'.

***

Where am I? I look at the beautiful men and made up women in Kuwait and remember that places never cease to make you marvel. Their abayas flow, and I remember from history the burning oil fields of Kuwait. Here, by chance. But I know I must return to find out if it was the desert I saw or the sea surrounding the island of lights from the window when I looked out at Kuwait.

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