In the beginning it felt like it was never going to happen, like passing by that new Chinese restaurant everyday and telling yourself you will go there someday. It didn’t feel like it was really happening even when I was packing or even when I was on my way to the airport. Strangely enough, it felt like it was happening when I missed my flight. It felt like somebody was standing in the way and I had to get past them no matter what. I felt a strange stubbornness, something I thought only my family was capable of provoking. That’s when I realised that it was happening. I fought with the management, got another flight booked, all because for weeks now I had seen myself in another city. I sat in the airport for 3 hours being mad at everyone for having missed my flight but secretly relishing the idea that it was happening and now nobody could stop me. It was a long wait at the airport punctured now and then with moments of fury and joy and with laughing young boys who gave me peppermint and ran off to their mothers.
I sat with my copy of On Beauty, my brown coat that I had decided long ago to wear on my travels alone because it looked like independent and strong women wore them, my phone that was running out of charge and my little duffle bag that can’t hold a lot but I am really fond of because I have taken it to all my travels. So many times, I had pictured this scene in my head. I played the scene in my head over and over again, wondering if the details matched, if I was sitting the way I sat in my head, if I was actually reading Zadie Smith or just moving my eyes left to right, not registering a single word because I was so darned excited. I noticed that in my head, I had a fancy watch. As I looked at the empty space on my wrist, I made a mental note to myself to buy a good watch because it makes the picture perfect.
I will tell you the truth, the picture is way better in the head only and only because it does not carry the burden of waiting. The real picture was perfect, except, I didn’t know that waiting would be hard. I tried to keep away thoughts that were worrying me about my regular life.
In another city, I wanted to be lost in newer and real worries. I realised that I didn’t have to try hard because all around me were characters who were now going to be a part of my story. Like the angry white man sitting next to me on the plane who kept cursing everytime the airhostess told him to please shut the laptop during take –off. Or like the absence of screaming babies on the plane and how much I didn’t miss it.
I couldn’t read on the plane. I slept and when I finally got there, I was surprised at how easy it was to be alone. I thought I would feel different while I travel alone. But it’s pretty much the same. Like the little journey you make from the bedroom to the bathroom. Only, it’s a happier journey.
I felt alone in moments. Like when a group of noisy people sitting next to my table would leave. Their departure would seem severe and sudden to me. I wondered why they were leaving me. I wondered if I was going to cry because it grew really quiet suddenly. Then I would smile and go back to eating my prawn. It’s quite something, travelling alone. It made me feel better, like a newer version of me that was so much fun to be with.
And then there were other happy moments. Like smiling at another lone woman traveller who was sitting by the beach, watching the sunset and smiling. We had a moment. We looked at each other and smiled. I held my gaze a little longer hoping she would talk to me. She turned away quickly maybe because she didn’t want to miss the sunset. Maybe because she didn’t want a face she smiled at to become familiar in her story.
So many faces I don’t remember now but they are all a part of my story. Like the nice waiter who made sure I didn’t drink much, like the guy who sold me petrol for 80 bucks, like the woman who gave me directions to a famous restaurant 30 Km away.
The city made sure I was scared enough to not get comfortable in my cottage. I wanted to run out and explore, go out and see the city I had seen so many times before. Only now, I would see it my way. This is the great thing about travelling alone. You have nowhere to be yet there is everywhere you want to be. You have nobody waiting for you or hurrying you.
I am going out for lunch. On my way, I see a store selling I don’t know what but nice things. I wanted to stop and it gave me mad joy that I could. That was liberating in so many languages, I wish I could tell you more clearly. When I travelled with my parents, my face hanging out the window, I would see places and bookmark them. Little cottages decorated with fairy lights, big black boards showing off English breakfast and Jumbo prawns. I was pleased to see that my bookmarking was eventually paying off.
In a couple of hours, the two -wheeler that I rented, 3020 became more familiar to me than 3211, the one I ride back home. Routes became trademarks of achievements that I think I am going to be proud of for the rest of my life. I left bang in the middle of noon one day to see a church I had seen long ago with my parents. It was the first time I was riding on the highway. I got lost, got scared; thought I was going to get hit by a truck but it was all ok when I finally saw the church. The church was pointless really because my journey was more interesting. I looked at old huts and houses planted on either sides of the road. I liked imagining who lived there and what their lives were like. Honestly, this was all I did.
When I think of that city now, I think of these houses, some vague faces, sand, prawn and the bottle of pepper spray that I didn’t have to use.