Home Thoughts from Heathrow
Now that April’s there,And whoever wakes in EnglandSees, some morning, unaware,That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheafRound the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,While the chaffinch sings on the orchard boughIn England—now!-Robert Browning
It was a strange angle for my head to be tilted at, cocked severely to the right and resting uneasily against the cabin window. I woke up because I smelled eggs. The passenger to my left was still asleep. She was a designer for a major retailer. She said you could put Hello Kitty on a pink garbage bag and it would sell. She’s right.
She fell asleep immediately after the flight took off. It was 2am Dubai time, and by my hasty calculations, I had to stay awake for only two and a half more hours before it would be time for Fajr, and then I could sleep. Boy was I wrong. And now I’m surrounded by old ladies.
They’re in varying degrees of old and in need of wheelchair assistance, and we’re all waiting in the special assistance lounge of Heathrow Airport. The western women, invariably, have short white hair, glasses, and cardigans. The Asian ladies have their little old heads covered. The African ladies are seated together in a sparkly, vibrantly-colored group. And then there’s me- a 33 year old “white” woman in a black abaya and a flowery purple scarf. They’re eyeing me curiously.
My calculations were totally off. I did wudu and took a seat, waiting for my two and a half hours to pass before I could pray and get some sleep. I turned on my tiny TV and watched Monsters University. The movie finished and I looked out the window. It was still dark, and in the cloudless sky somewhere over the Arabian peninsula, the big-dipper sparkled. Bright, close, and undimmed by light pollution, it was a beautifully clear reminder of nights outside of my grandmother’s remote house in southern Indiana.
She’s eighty-eight now, and 115 pounds. She is afraid of climbing stairs because the last time she lost her balance she fractured her hip. I haven’t seen her for six years, and it’s frustrating to me that I should be coming so close- all the way to Chicago- only to still be so far. She’s living in the warm, safe care of my aunt in Arizona, hundreds of miles and dollars out of my budget.
My health insurance doesn’t cover the US, so this visit to Chicago to see a neurology specialist will be thousands of dollars out of pocket. Allah is the Best of Providers.
He is also the Best of Planners. Right when my hands starting shaking, and my head started feeling heavier than usual, and HF and I started wondering where the money to fly out and see a doctor would come from- it came. Allah caused an old, nearly forgotten debt to be repaid, and that’s where this trip is from: Allah.
There are a few old men here too, but most of them are just accompanying their wives. There’s even a wheelchair assistant- an employee of Heathrow Airport- that looks like he should be the one being pushed. I wonder how old he is, and if he’s the one who pushes me to the terminal, will he wonder why someone half his age isn’t just walking there?
I catch people looking at me curiously, and the 2.0 in me smiles back, encouraging them to approach. No one has so far, and my guess is that they think I’m an Arab. So the white women keep a distance, the Pakistani women don’t include me in the polite small-talk, and the one real Arab here asked me a question in Arabic earlier that I couldn’t respond to. Sorry, I’m a fake.
Well, I’m not actually. I’m a genuinely tired, shaky, and mobility-challenged person, but I tend to be in denial sometimes, and it doesn’t help that I still look pretty good.
I assume I look pretty good, but my eyes are tired, my scarf feels sideways, and I only managed to sleep for an hour before I was woken by the smell of food and the clatter of the air-crew preparing breakfast in the airplane’s galley. I opened my eyes and turned my severely cocked head to see that the black, star-strewn sky was bordered with a bright-red glow that hinted at a sharp golden line at the very edge of the horizon. It was finally Fajr, six hours into the flight and four hours later than I had planned for.
I did wudu four times for that one prayer. After the first movie finished I stretched, waited, stared out of the window, my sleep-deprived brain searching for a reason why it was still dark. It came up with the original Xcom UFO, where your job was the save the world from an alien invasion. The same world turned before you in VGA-glorious rotation on its axis, turning from night to day and night again. I knew I was flying from the right side of the world to the left, but I couldn’t remember whether I would be flying with the light or flying against it.
I turned on another cartoon. Epic. It wasn’t Epic. It was a mis-labeled attempt to pass 104 more minutes waiting and wondering why it was still dark. I got up for a stretch. I used the bathroom. I did wudu again.
The sink was tiny. The taps were tiny. But the water pressure was tremendous- and the tiny stream of water was blasted into a spray that wet everything in the bathroom except my hands. I did wudu as best as I could, washing my hands, mouth, face, arms, abaya, purse and shoes. Then I did my best to paper-towel things dry before going back to my seat to wait again for Fajr.
I wish my kids were here. When the plane began to descend over London, there was no one for me to share the wonder with. We were preparing to land over a solid terrain composed entirely of clouds, except for where clusters of tall building had broken through, their lights glittering and flashing above a grey ocean. It was the famous London fog, and when the plane began slowing to hit the runway, it was doing so in zero visibility. The sky above the fog was crystal-clear, but within the fog it was non-existent. We had no sky. From where I sat, the plane barely even had wings.
I want to remember these things so I can tell Khalid, Iman and Musfira about them. There were stars- distant white diamonds in a perfectly black sky- no clouds, no lights, no other planes. Then there were the cities, their densely packed lights looking like embers on the dark background of Iraq. I checked the map, that was Iraq.
I was so grateful to be awake. I was afraid that I would miss Fajr, and while I have missed hundreds of Fajr prayers before, most of them were before my hands started to shake. Once laziness made my eyelids heavy, but urgency has made them light and quick to open for prayers now. I was so relieved to have been woken up that I was actually happy to get up and do wudu again- fourth time the charm.
I happily prayed and then turned to watch the horizon glow, just waiting to watch the sun rise.
Except it didn’t rise, becase we were flying away from the dawn and if we had been going any faster it would never have caught up. We would have flown endlessly around the world being chased by day, hiding in perpetual dark, sharing aisles and armrests but refusing each other identities or eye contact until the fuel ran out and the plane crashed and we all died and went back to Allah where we came from.
Iman and I have made a pact- that if she cannot find me, she will come looking for me in Jannah. But if I cannot find her, I will come looking for her in Jannah. It’s a deal. Khalid and I have a deal as well, but it involves him making sure that the hamster has food and water, and he gets dinosaur and train pajamas from the US. Also, Iman wants a Chinese parasol.
I’m now going to be moved from the wheelchair lounge to the boarding gate, and the staff member who came looking for his “disabled” passenger looked at me and said, “Oh, Miss Abez? We have a young lady here. Practically a girl… your limousine is here.”
So it’s time for me to go now. But here I am, sitting halfway across the world, looking forward to returning home before arriving at my destination.
And Allah is the Best of Planners.
And after April, when May follows,And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedgeLeans to the field and scatters on the cloverBlossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,Lest you should think he never could recaptureThe first fine careless rapture!And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,All will be gay when noontide wakes anewThe buttercups, the little children’s dower—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!