This evening, fate put its final seal of approval on two of my beliefs, both related to plane journeys: one, my luggage comes the last on the conveyor belt; and two, I will never have a woman sitting next to me. This evening another plane ride ended: plane load of women, but none next to me.
It's one thing to take a woman along on a trip, but quite another to find one -- a total stranger -- sitting next to you. Eyes meet, elbows touch, conversation happens; and if you are in luck, she might even ask for your card. Even if she doesn't, and just says goodbye at the end of the journey, you have at least had a good time. At least you don't pay attention to the jerks and jolts during the take-off or landing or when the plan hits an air pocket.
The absence of a woman companion doesn't pinch you so hard during the onward journey, as it does on the return. Because during the onward journey, there is still some hope that you might find someone on the return flight. But when a puzzled-looking man's hunt for his seat ends on the empty seat next to yours, that hope is killed too. You feel like tearing your hair.
That is why I was in a sour mood on the flight from Colombo this evening. The problem, for me, is not just the lack of women. Interesting men can often make up for that. But by some strange twist of fate, I am invariably saddled with men who barely make conversation, the reason for which becomes clear shortly before landing: they shyly push their disembarkment form towards me and ask me to fill it for them. This -- let me admit it -- makes me feel as smug as a woman's company would have. This is my destiny, in any case.
Now a little about how I almost missed the flight. Rather how I thought I would miss the flight. Bentota, a sea-side town where I spent two nights, is about three hours away from Colombo airport, which itself is a good hour and a half from Colombo, the city. So I started from Bentota at 1.30 pm in order to be in time for the 7 pm flight. The taxi breezed through various small towns -- Kaluthara, Mt Lavinia and so on -- but when it hit Colombo, it began to move at a snail's pace. Traffic was thick and refused to move. 3.30 pm already and, ideally, I was supposed to report by 4. The airport was still 20 km away.
I began to have visions of spending yet another night in Sri Lanka, this time not in the comfort of the Taj hotel, but maybe in the airport itself, provided they booked me in the next flight and allowed me to hang around for the night. Worse, the local ATMs showed PIN error whenever I inserted my card, so not much money either. But luck knows how to compensate: I was in the airport at 4.20 sharp. I was one of the first passengers to report.
In hindsight, I could have saved those 20 extra minutes and prevented myself from building up to a near-heart attack. Only if I had not taken that detour in Colombo.
Before going for lunch at the hotel restaurant in Bentota, I thought of pouring myself a drink. A drink is what I wanted after a rejuvenating Ayurvedic massage. One drink led to another, then another, and yet another. Then a quick lunch and a goodbye to the hotel staff. But they wouldn't let me off without a glass of the king coconut water.
We were barely out of Bentota when I could feel my bladder filling up. I mentioned my condition to the driver but his English was no better than my Sinhala. He just grinned. In India, when you drive a distance of 65 km or so, you are bound to come across open spaces or at least unattended walls on which you can relieve yourself. But here there were none. One town led to another, and whatever walls you drove past belonged to either some shop or a respectable insititution. Had I been in India, I would have considered it my birthright to ask the driver to stop by one of these walls so that I could get lighter. But I saw not a single soul facing these walls with one hand invisible -- a common sight in India even in the heart of a city.
Finally, I decided to be more explicit. "Please stop at a toilet," I told the driver, raising my little finger. He finally seemed to understand because he grinned and nodded. But he didn't stop: there was no place to stop. I gritted my teeth and kept shifting on my seat. At last we hit Colombo, and the driver turned left from the highway into a lane. The lane opened up to the sparkling blue waters Indian Ocean. But between the ocean and the end of the lane are a pair of rail tracks, and I thought the driver would say, "Do it on the rail tracks." I was mentally preparing myself to do it on the rail tracks when I noticed a few lovebirds walking on those tracks, hand in hand.
No, no -- I told myself -- I can't spoil the scene for them, especially in a country where nobody seems to be peeing in public. Even the driver didn't want me to do that, for he directed me, "Cross the tracks, cross the tracks, do it in the ocean." Ocean: The word sounded so mighty!
I climbed up the shrubby elevation, crossed the two tracks, and reached the sandy stretch wetted moments ago by furious waves. There, I relieved myself -- an exercise that seemed to last forever. When I zipped up and began to return, I recalled the adage: Each drop makes the ocean. Maybe now I know why it is called the Indian Ocean. It takes an Indian to make that ocean. Sri Lankans, who are the ones to be truly surrounded by the Indian Ocean, are too shy and sophisticated to contribute to its volume.