Wait, I’m Not There Yet

December 15

New York is expensive. I just bought a 15 oz. bottled smoothie for $4.69! That’s how much Steak ‘n’ Shake in St Louis charges for a full meal – grilled cheese and fries, that is. Probably a gigantic soda too.

Airports can be lonely. Especially when one is bogged down with too many bags and every step – with backpack, big trolley, small trolley, camera bag and jacket because for one it is actually too warm inside – belongs to the geeky, awkward boy in a chick flick before he transitions into a geeky-but-now-in-an-endearing-way boy. There are too many families, siblings arguing (I just straightened my bangs in the airport bathroom and two Hispanic ladies followed suit, chattering amicably to one another. I bet they were sisters. There was that affectionately argumentative tone to their Spanish that is prone to ordinary sister-talk), couples holding hands, babies running amok with harried parents in tow – it makes one feel sad to be bogged down alone. Buying that smoothie, by the way, was like the last Lego you add to an already teetering tower – I had to find a place to sit quick before I collapsed in a pile of luggage and blueberry.

After 9/11 though, airports have also become stressful places. I guess I am not the most laid back traveler, but I like to think I have a pretty calm head. But I am always nervous about getting into trouble at airports. Am I allowed to go to the restaurants before I have my boarding card? Can I leave this enormous bag outside the bathroom cubicle? Will I be able to sit here for a couple hours before check-in opens? Comes with the South Asian color and the Arabic name I guess. Oh well.    

I am glad to be heading home, but after one plane ride, I still have two more to go. Not to mention the 14 hour one above the Atlantic. Till I have my boarding card, my shoulders are going to be a little tense.

St Louis is an erratic city. It was raining at 3 am, light but persistent, as if it would never stop, which is why I decided to call a cab rather than walk in the rain to the metro and then to the airport. But when I left my house, it had stopped. The asphalt was shiny and lakes for fairies to waft by in little leaf boats had appeared. The myriad Christmas lights were mirrored on the puddles, their colors a little smeared.

I think back to my panic attacks more than a year ago, as I was headed to this strange city. Don’t get me wrong, I still find the city absurd, but in a more this belongs to me and I like it kind of way.
I don’t think there are many other places where a random man outside a restaurant has called out to me “Hey! You’re gorgeous!”. Or where I have a tree outside my window that is home to seven different kinds of birds. Where cab drivers talk of how their friend’s girlfriend shot the friend – twice, or where the bus driver stops the entire bus at a gas station so she can buy soda, where a stranger will hold the train door open for you so you don’t miss it, where a young man walks tiny kittens on leashes, or where the neighbors chase after a lost dog and hold him for half an hour before they find out who the owner is.

When I’m flying back to you, St Louis, I won’t be fighting hysteria again, instead, I’ll be thinking of making the most of the last few months I will have to overhear ridiculous conversations and discover the hidden and not-so-hidden jewels in the city. 


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