Terminal nights

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on March 09, 2018

Friday, March 2, I board a Lufthansa flight to Boston. We land in Frankfurt punctually at 7.35 am, but the onward flight is cancelled. The US is being raked by a “bomb cyclone” even as northern Europe enters a New Ice Age with dozens of airports ice-bound. I am one of the thousands of passengers stranded.

I trot off to the Lufthansa Service Counter at Z12 feeling unconcerned: I can afford the hiccup in my schedule. I’ve met my deadlines and don’t have plants or animals that might starve to death if I don’t get home in time. There’s already a long queue at the counter. An elderly man with curly grey hair and beard is snarling into a cell phone: “I’m a RELIGIOUS JEW! I MUST arrive in New York before FIVE PM TONIGHT!”

But the rest of us remain calm. We all know there’s no real option. Counters all over the airport are processing desperate passengers. The area I’m in is dedicated to transit passengers who must either be flown out or spend the night at the airport. I’m in touch with Bins and my sisters — one in Chennai, one in Hartford, US — via the airport’s free Wi-Fi. My iPhone and iPad are both losing battery power however. I write: “...first confirmed flt out is Monday!!” I promise to write again when I’ve recharged.

Eight hours later, I’m amongst the last passengers to leave that queue. A snack-trolley has kept us alive. We’ve all been leaving the line to sit down or visit restrooms. Friendships have sprung up. I’ve bonded with five others who will also overnight in the airport: a charming businesswoman, a retired lady banker, a tall, handsome sardar software engineer, a cheerful inventor-entrepreneur and a tall, taciturn Russian seaman. He’s the only non-Indian. I’m the only one doomed to stay two nights.

We find our way to Terminal B, with meal tickets, shower vouchers, blankets, pillows and toilette-kits. In a secluded waiting area we joke about the movie Terminal while setting up our refugee camp on hard, four-seater benches. We enjoy a proper meal, return to camp and charge our electronic devices. Finally I can communicate with my anxiously waiting family. Chennai informs me that cannibalism is an acceptable survival tactic when food runs out in the subarctic. “Dearie me!” I say, “as the oldest survivor, I’d have to sacrifice myself first, haha!” The next morning my little group disbands. We take selfies and exchange addresses, vowing to remain forever bonded. I spend the day reading The Front Page Murders, a thrilling true story about a serial killer in Mumbai.

At night I bond with a friendly Chinese lady fellow-passenger, who notices a tiny rest area containing eight dinky sleep-cocoons. At 7 am we board our flight. Twelve hours later, Sunday night, Muriel collects me from the bus-station in Elsewhere. Home at last! Sound of mind and body, in good humour, with luggage intact! Praise be.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on March 09, 2018
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