My mother joined me for my last week in England. It was the first time in years we’d holidayed together and it was surprisingly wonderful because apart from occasional squabbles (usually very loud and in public) we get on very well together. We saw plays and went to art galleries and became slightly addicted to white wine spritzers and blueberries. I remember we went to the National Portrait Gallery and I got very excited when I discovered the Tudor wing. I shared the history of each and every portrait with her, sometimes getting a little carried away. She didn’t really listen to me but that never stops me from talking, so I talked anyway. And looked. And absorbed. It was heavenly.
The last week passed slowly. I remember it well – how could I not – but I won’t go into detail.
This post is about the journey home.
Getting to the airport was slightly hilarious. My uncle was flying to Hong Kong the same evening – our flights were only an hour apart – and he is paranoid about getting to airports on time. My mother on the other hand, is paranoid about getting to airports too early; she can’t bear it. Besides, she has a natural penchant for always being late.
Five minutes after we’re supposed to leave. Uncle paces up and down. No sign of my mother. Sue, Pria and I are ready and shuffling around because we know what is going to happen. And it happens.
Uncle: *banging on door* MIMI! MIMI! MEEEEEEEEEEMEEEEEEE!
Uncle: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WE HAVE TO LEAVE!
Mother: I’M DRYING MY HAIR!
Uncle: YOU HAVE NO HAIR!
Mother: OH GO AWAY. I’LL BE OUT IN FIVE MINUTES.
*Uncle goes away. Seven minutes pass. Uncle returns*
Uncle: *banging on door* MIMI! THIS IS RIDICULOUS. DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG IT TAKES TO GET THERE? YOU HAVE TO GET THERE THREE HOURS BEFORE TAKEOFF.
Mother: STOP BEING SO PARANOID. LEAVE ME ALONE.
Uncle: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
Mother: I’M DOING MY MAKEUP.
Uncle: *speechless for a second* Makeup? (He even forgot to shout).
Mother: *thinking he’s calmed down* Yes.
Uncle: YOU’RE GOING TO BE SITTING ON A BLOODY PLANE. WHAT DO YOU NEED TO PUT YOUR MAKEUP ON FOR?
Mother: I’M NOT LEAVING THE HOUSE WITHOUT ANY MAKEUP!
Uncle: *clomps off, unable to think of a reply*
Another five minutes later.
Uncle: *bangs on door again* MIMI!
Mother: I’M SORTING OUT MY JEWELLERY!
Uncle: WHY DIDN’T YOU SORT IT OUT EARLIER?
Mother: I WAS PACKING EARLIER!
Uncle: WHY DIDN’T YOU PACK LAST NIGHT?
Mother: I WAS BUSY LAST NIGHT.
Uncle: BUSY? YOU WERE LOLLING AROUND WATCHING TELEVISION! *bangs on door harder. Door opens*
Mother: *shoves a bag at him* I’m ready.
We drag our suitcases to the car. Uncle flips out again once he realises there isn’t enough room for all the luggage.
Uncle: YOU CAME FOR ONE BLOODY WEEK. WHAT’S IN THESE BAGS?
Mother: THEY’RE NOT THAT BIG.
Uncle: THEY DON’T FIT INTO THE BLOODY CAR.
Mother: THAT’S BECAUSE OF YOUR LUGGAGE.
(My uncle has only one small roller and a backpack).
Sue, unlike those warring siblings, possesses that rare (in our family at least) quality: common sense. While they were fighting, she motioned to me and Pria and we quietly stacked the suitcases on top of one another.
Mother: Oh wait. Where are the tickets? The passports? The –
We got in the car eventually.
At Heathrow, we said our goodbyes (my uncle looked relieved) and walked through security. There, when we were waiting to put our bags through the X ray, we realised we needed transparent little plastic bags that were being handed out to passengers outside, and which we’d ignored. Why did we need it? For my mother’s various lotions.
“Run outside and get one,” my mother said to me.
“But I’ll have to go all the way through security again,” I whined, “and they’ll make me take my sneakers off. I don’t want to take my sneakers off. I don’t like airports. I want to be on the plane. I’m hungry. I’m really hungry. And-“
At this point, a man kindly gave my mother a spare bag and a pitying look.
We went through security. My mother had to take her shoes off as well.
“But this floor’s so dirty,” she said in disgust.
“You’ve got socks on,” I said, not unreasonably.
“I don’t want to get my socks dirty,”
I looked at the floor. Pristine blue carpet. Then I adopted the wisest policy, and ignored her.
We got to the area where all the shops and things are. I saw my mother’s eyes light up. Duty Free is one of her hobbies.
“I’m glad your uncle is such a pain. We have time to shop now,” she said.
“I want to eat first,” I said, and I dragged her off to a coffee shop.
Now, before we’d left the house, Sue gave us some really delicious biscuit-tart things which my mother had in her bag. We ordered our coffee and looked at the menu. I got a sandwich.
“I feel like nibbling something,” she said, and took the bag out.
“You can’t eat that stuff here,” I hissed. We were sitting at the counter, not tucked away in a corner of the shop.
“Why not?” She said aggressively. “I’m not going to pay for food when I have my own. I ordered coffee didn’t I? It’s not like I’ve just wandered in for no reason.”
“But it’s embarrassing. Why are you so embarrassing? What did I ever do to you?”
“Oh, stop being so self conscious. You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.”
But she didn’t, I noticed, put the bag on the counter itself. She kept it on her lap and surreptitiously broke off a piece now and then.
“Why are you eating it like that?” I asked curiously, leaning over and helping myself to some.
She shot me a pained glance. “It’s embarrassing.”
Then we attacked Duty Free. I knew exactly what I wanted and so I bought the necessary stuff and sloped off to find a bookshop. Found a WH Smith – a small one – specialising in history books. There were three shelves filled with Tudor biographies. Bought four books, blowing up all my money, and then trudged back to my mother who’d moved from makeup to alcohol and was now busy buying bottles of whiskey and wine. She very kindly got me a bottle of port and then we realised that our flight had started boarding long ago and so, lugging bags and books and whiskey and wine and makeup and perfume, we ran. Or at least, waddled very quickly.
Usually I get a bit wary (terrified) when a plane’s about to takeoff and I usually fly alone which makes it a little more difficult. This time, I was feeling better because my mother was next to me and I thought she’d provide moral support.
The plane took off and began slanting upwards which is the bit I always hate. I grabbed her hand.
“What?” she said.
“I don’t like this bit,” I replied.
“DO YOU MIND? YOU KNOW I DON’T LIKE FLYING!” I snapped.
“You’re hurting me,”
Later, at some point over Russia, there was quite a lot of turbulence and I became convinced that the plane was going to crash.
“I’m telling you, it’s going to crash,”
“It’s NOT going to crash.”
“Why is it jumping around? What’s its problem? Make it stop jumping around.”
“I can’t solve everything.”
“What do I do?”
My mother reached across and slammed shut the shutter of my window so I couldn’t see the darkness and the lightning.
“THAT DOESN'T HELP. I CAN STILL FEEL IT JUMPING!”
“GO TO SLEEP!”
“Can I hold your hand?”
“NO. They’re going to serve dinner now and I need my hands to EAT.”
Eventually we reached Delhi. Had the afternoon. Spent it with my aunt. Her mother, my grandmother’s younger sister, was in hospital then because she’d been ill and both Mama and I decided that we’d stop by the hospital on our way to the airport where our flight to Calcutta was waiting for us.
We took two cars (various relatives were going to the hospital) and put our suitcases in an uncle’s car. One of them went in my aunt’s car. I don’t know why. It’s not like there was no room and we could have been spared a whole lot of misery and trauma but that’s the way the boat floats.
Went to hospital, saw Mashi, gave her a big hug and then Andy (the uncle) offered to drop us to the airport because my aunt (they’re all cousins, not siblings. I don’t know why I find it necessary to point that out but anyway) wanted to stay on for a bit. My mother, who is a suspicious sort of person, looked at Andy dubiously.
“Come on,” he said encouragingly.
“Alright,” she said, with ill grace. Andy looked pleased, as if she’d done him a great favour by allowing him to drop her to the airport.
We got into his car and went. As we were nearing the airport, my mother told me to check and make sure all three of our bags were there.
“Uh, did you say two?” I said.
“There are two here,”
And then she let out a shriek, a shriek that caused Andy to lose control of the car which swerved dangerously close to a big bus. I closed my eyes, waiting for death, but since divine music did not replace my mother’s loud voice, I reluctantly opened them again.
“I must have left them in Billie’s car,” she was groaning.
“ANDY!” She said suddenly, giving him a deathly glare. “YOU should have reminded me?
“Me?” He said.
“Him?” I said.
“YOU KNEW HOW DISTRACTED I WAS. YOU’RE THE ONE WHO PUT THE OTHER SUITCASE IN BILLIE’S CAR. YOU SHOULD HAVE CHECKED, ANDY. HOW COULD YOU BE SO CARELESS?”
“I’m sorry,” he said meekly.
I sat back, marvelling at the talent my family has for producing such spectacular idiots.
To cut a long story short, my poor Billie Mashi was forced to leave her mother’s bedside and drive all the way to the airport with our lost suitcase. We got it, said our goodbyes (poor Andy was still apologising profusely to my mother who eventually condescended to coldly forgive him), and got on the plane.
I didn’t try holding her hand this time, but when it took off, she reached across and took it anyway, holding it comfortingly until the plane was level in the sky.
Got to Calcutta late that night, staggered into my room, and went to sleep.
And that is the end of my Great England Trip.
I was telling Mama the other day how it was going to take me a year to recover.
“Good,” she said, unsympathetically (unsympathetic, unsympathetic. Why is my family so unsympathetic?).
“That means you’ll have recovered by the next time we go.”
“When’s that?” I said, surprised.