DING. The announcement sent a collective groan over the crowded cabin.
“We are sorry for the delay, folks. There is a lot of congestion ahead. The good news is we’ve just been cleared for takeoff. But the bad news is we are number 23 on the list. We will do our best to get you out of here, so stay seated with your seat belt secured and folks, please try to relax.”
The passengers shifted in their seats uncomfortably. Some reached up to adjust the overhead fan. The cabin grew stuffy with restlessness. Up ahead a baby released the frustration into a high pitched cry as the plane inched on the runway.
Asha closed her book and removed her glasses. Her eyes strained beneath the cabin light releasing the pain between her temples. She looked out the window into the fading crimson sky. Night was approaching furiously as the plane moved another inch.
The trip had been a last minute scramble set in motion by the phone call earlier. The voice on the other end sounded tired. “Oh, you’re not coming?” her sister had tried to conceal her disappointment. “It’s okay, she won’t know the difference. She’s only two.” The argument had seemed rational, yet there was an unspoken appeal.
DING. Her outlook calendar reminded her of her next meeting and she absently gathered her folders and thoughts into the conference room. The meeting dragged on as each presenter argued their point of view for the new marketing campaign. Asha had hung up the phone feeling conflicted. Her thoughts returned to the toddler.
“Can you say Asha?”
“Aaas-a?” the little girl giggled. “Aaas-a,” she squealed in delight.
“Asha, are you with us?” It was the voice of her manager as she snapped back into the meeting. “We can’t be that boring, now?”
Caught day dreaming, Asha had simply apologized. “I’m sorry, lots on my mind.” That’s when she had decided. She would cancel her weekend plans. She would fly across the country and attend the birthday party.
DING. The captain came on air again. “Folks, there has been an update. We have been moved up on the queue. We are now number 14 for take off. We should be on our way soon. Thank you for your cooperation.”
The person on the next aisle muttered something under his breath. Asha looked at her watch. It was 8PM. She had been on this plane for almost 2 hours now. This whole last minute debacle seemed like a bad idea now. She remembered her friend’s words when she had canceled her plans at the last minute. “You’re insane to miss this concert,” she had chided. “We’ve great seats.”
The reaction was echoed by her boyfriend. “You’re crazy,” he said. “Do you know how much you’re going to shell out for the airfare? It’s not worth it, Asha.” She had already bought the ticket. I’m so impulsive, she had thought to herself. She’s not even going to remember this birthday.
The plane crawled again and stopped. Asha put her headphones on and turned on the music. The beat was familiar and her thoughts wandered back to her family.
“Aunty Aaas-a? dance.” The little one had grabbed her in delight. She had turned on the music very loud and danced around the room like a mad woman. Their laughter and shrieks were only interrupted by little incomprehensible phrases uttered in glee by the child trying to communicate her pleasure. And later they had both fallen asleep in the little bed, utterly exhausted from their play. When she woke up, she had found the tiny fingers still wrapped around hers and wondered if it was possible to feel any more love towards another being than she did at that very moment. “You guys have a bond,” her sister had told her and Asha had felt it.
DING. This time it was her phone. Asha looked at the screen and a smile spread across her face. Looking back at her was the little cherub face covered in pasta sauce. The note read, “mama’s little piggy.” Asha’s smile turned into a low laugh. Her sister was sending her a message. A two year old’s birthday may not be remembered by the two year old, she thought to herself, but it will be remembered by the people who were there. She pictured the child’s face covered in birthday cake and suddenly, the entire trip came into focus.
As if on cue the plane raced off the runway ascending into the indigo night.