I say 24th because it was close to midnight by the time we got home, and started researching the Indian Consulate website. No, there were no last minute miracles where they asked me to board the flight after all. I spoke to R when I got home, and he was on the flight, with another 20 minutes to takeoff. He put Winkie on the phone and never had his voice sounded sweeter. I could hear the catch in his voice as he told me he missed me. Thambi came on next. He heard my voice and the piteous sound of amma...amma...amma...filled the line. R told me that his face had fallen when he heard my voice and it registered that I was not there with him. He kept going in that same vein for awhile, when R finally pulled the phone away and we said goodbyes and good-lucks. He was going to switch off the cellphone after that.
A being there was a huge boost to my spirits at this point. He checked out all the fine print with a thorough eye and shortlisted the things we would need to get done first thing in the morning. In the meantime, I spent some time gathering all the documents I would need to take to the Consulate the next day. It was very hard at that point to focus and be practical for the next step, rather than lapse into a staggering thought process filled with emotions and disbelief. But it was good to have a purpose in life just then. And to know that there was a sliver of hope. When you know that one door has interminably closed, you focus on that one window that could still be open for you, isn't it?
Another 1/2 hour later, we were done. The plan was to wake up at 7:00, leave the house by 8, get to Kinko's, make the copies and get to the Consulate in downtown Chicago by 11:00 sharp. With that decided, we retired for the night. Trying to sleep in the bedroom which was full of the life and spirit of my travelling family was a bit agonising at first. I noticed all the little things that can pinch one's heart....toys that were played with until the last minute, lying around on the floor. Thambi's blanket, still laying open and unfolded from his afternoon nap. A cup of milk we had forgotten to deposit in the kitchen sink. And most of all...that chair. R had been working there all day, and now it sat vacant. By its side were 2 little kid sized chairs, arranged neatly alongside. The boys had occupied one each, and Winkie had been reading to Thambi as usual. All the chairs lay in the exact same position of their last use. Seeing that was gut wrenching. I got inside the covers and tried to distract myself...thinking positively...that this was one night I could sleep without any distractions...without having to pat another little body back to sleep, or take another to the bathroom. The whole night was mine...to rest!
It worked for a bit, and then I called up the friend who had been doing all the initial research. We talked for a bit, and she knew all my feelings...the ones I didn't spell out. She told me it was brave of me to send the boys off like that. Looking back, it didn't feel like there was any other choice. :) I finally slept, though it was not restful. I woke up every few hours remembering that I was alone, and that my family had gone.
When the early light of morning streaked in through the blinds, I jumped out of bed gratefully. It was time for action again, and I wanted action. Had a quick shower, and quickly got dressed by which time A was ready too. Prayed briefly in front of the altar, where I had left all my papers, and we left the house at 8:00 AM. We reached Kinko's only to realise that it would open only at 9:00 AM. So we decided to take the time to have a proper breakfast. From the time this whole thing began, breakfast was the first time I actually began to lighten up. The morning was like a cool balm of sense and perspective that I could apply to my situation and see that all was not lost after all. There was still so much left to be thankful for and smile about. Having the company of a good friend was surely one of those things. Having the love and thoughts of my family showing up in caring sms'es gave my day some very positive vibes. My brother's voice on the phone as he spoke his concern, my sister's I love you message on my phone, just as I was finishing breakfast, the bride-to-be's message of support that she was praying for me, A's light and cheery conversation, the wonderful and warm breakfast on that cold morning, the amazing cups of coffee that I downed liberally...everything was such a blessing, and I was more keenly aware of this bountiful energy now that I was coming out of the fog of my disappointments! I actually began to accept my situation and began making plans for what I would do for the next 2 weeks if I had to spend it alone here. Watching Slumdog Millionaire was definitely a part of it! :) Life was good!
And thus, with the renewed sense of purpose and a lighter heart, I finished my work at Kinko's and we headed to downtown. We reached the Embassy doors about 5 minutes before 11:00. It was locked, and there were no lights inside. My spirits took a quick dip again. How much of a yoyo of emotions we subject ourselves to! We tried the help no. that had been listed. No answer. We decided to wait it out and see. Sure enough, within 5 minutes, a casually dressed gentleman walked out of the elevators, looked at us disinterestedly, unlocked the doors and walked in, while signalling for us to wait. Once he had switched on all the lights inside, he motioned us to enter. And while he was doing all this, I tried to calm my wildly beating heart and briefly did my own simplified version of the the jyothi meditation. I had taken to doing it lately, and it also gave me some measure of peace and a sense of control in a situation...that even if everything else was beyond my control, this was still the one thing I could do, and do well....wherein I close my eyes, and mentally picture the divine light within my heart, which grows bigger and bigger with concentration, and then radiates out of me touches everything around me, till all is engulfed in this bright radiant light of love, and any sparks of ignorance is completely annihilated with the energy of my thought. I love this form of prayer, because it releases me from asking anything specific and thus imposing my will on God. Rather, by spreading light, you submit to the glory of God and His Will. And thus, while that gentleman was opening doors and switching on lights, the brightest of lights that I could envision in my mind's eye, spread throughout that room and everywhere around, through the channel of thought. And now, it was time to go in...
We briefly explained my situation to him. His face was inscrutable as he replied that they were visa officers and the office was open for emergency visas, not passports. Still, there was no note of finality in his voice...it was open ended as if saying....let's see what can be done. That was my first real glimmer of hope. Another gentleman walked in and they discussed it together. He took my passport in to show a senior officer. The rest of the exact details are blurry now. They put me on the phone with another senior officer who said he would do what he could. The main problem was they could not issue me a fresh passport at that point because the lady handling it was not on duty, and it was a lengthy process anyways. What was obvious right from the start though was that whey were very open to hearing out my plight and helping my situation. That was the kindest thing of all. How much of a difference it makes when you have a sympathetic ear at the official end of things. It took the whole 2 hours, for them to offer me a viable solution. They gave me options, to come back on Tuesday and get a full 10 year passport, since the wedding was only on Feb 1st. But then I had all these plans for reunions for all those days before the wedding. So given my urgency to travel, they gave me the last option....an emergency extension for 3 months on my passport, enabling me to travel out and in for these 2 weeks and a chance to renew my passport properly after I came back. I took it!
Looking back, this whole thing was a miracle. It could have completely gone the other way where they showed scorn at my lapse, and refused to accommodate my desire to travel asap. They could have dismissed me and asked me to come back the next working day when passport services were open. But they didn't. Those 2 gentlemen got on the phone with the passport officer, followed all her instructions, hunted around for the right stamps and made the comment in my passport and legally sanctioned my travel. What a huuu...uuuge blessing. I am forever grateful to those 2 men for the extra lengths they went through, and it is clear that the love of the divine opened their hearts as well and facilitated the process smoothly. I folded my hands in grateful supplication, and one of them shook my hands warmly and wished me luck. We left the Consulate. It was now time to call the Airlines.
I called them on our drive back home. There was an available seat on that day's flight at 6:45 PM. It was earlier than the flight I was initially supposed to take. It was already 2 PM. I would still have to get home, get my bags and head back to the airport at least by 4:00. I asked them to book me in and en route, called up a neighbour friend of mine and requested her to print out my e-ticket and drop it in my mailbox to save on time. She did. We picked up a burger at a drive in on the way and got home by 2:45, I should think. While I was checking the mailbox, A walked in and tried to disarm the security system with the code I had given him. Only, I had not given him the right code. The strain of all the recent events had taken its toll on my memory and presence of mind and I gave him the wrong numbers to punch in. The system did not disarm, and I punched in more possible nos. none of which were right. The alarm went off in a deafening roar, and the system locked us out. Calls came in from the security company, and we tried to reset the system above the din of that horrible noise. It took well over half an hour to set things right again. By this time, my patience was stretched to the limit and I just wanted to give up on the whole fight.
Somehow, we managed to get out by 3:15, and got to the airport by 4:00. Ample time to check in and report to the gate. A did a couple of rounds of the airport, while I checked in. Once I was well and truly through he made his way back home, mission accomplished.
Me, I was in a huge state of relief and exhaustion. But the adrenalin rushes kept me going. It has always been a dream of mine to travel alone. Ever since I had the kids, I had forgotten the pleasures of travelling with a single bag, with the least no. of things thrown in, watching the movies to my satisfaction, sleeping whenever I chose and not worrying about diaper changes in the bathroom. In fact, as recent as 2 weeks back, I had been telling a friend how wonderful it would be to travel alone. You know what they say about being careful what you wish for, for it might just come true. It proved so in my case.
When I got on the flight, I made a series of calls...to the folks in Mumbai who were to pick me up, to my father, my in-laws. Everyone was delighted, amazed and relieved that the tension was over. When I spoke to my in-laws I was told of the intense prayers of a grand-aunt, who had been unable to sleep all night, thinking of me. When I spoke to father, I heard the happy relief in his voice as he contemplated seeing me again. When I spoke to the bride's side in Mumbai, they put me on the phone with R who had just landed.
I will digress with a small narration at this point. After R had switched off his cellphone after talking to me, he was still very tense about how things were going to shape up. How would he manage the kids by himself? How would it go for me the next day? All these thoughts bogged him down, and as he looked around quietly, he noticed a flight attendant some 3 seats ahead of him, standing in the aisle, talking to one of the passengers. In her hands, she held a magazine, the cover of which now became visible to him. And there on that cover, in a corner was the unmistakable picture of Sathya Sai Baba. He does not remember any vivid details about it, just that His face was on it, and looking directly at him. This was the highest sign of benediction for him at that point. In that frazzled state, that pictured conveyed all the blessing and all the strength. And immediately, all worry left him. He knew that everything would be fine. We all were being taken care of, so what more need to worry??? The rest of his flight went off very well. The kids didn't sleep much, but neither did they trouble him. They remained in cheerful spirits, and R was labelled the hero of the flight....the only single father to fly unaided, with 2 young kids!! This story, he told me much later, but the blessing of which he was reminded of, when he landed and the first thing he heard was that I was already on the next flight out.
With all the necessary calls made, I switched on my walkman and settled back to relax. I was really going to enjoy my solo travel status to the full. It was a very rare opportunity. :) But thoughts still swam in my head. To me, this coming trip was meant to be about celebrating friendships, and the bonds forged in childhood. It was to be about family and reuniting with the dear ones. And in all these aspects and more, I was already finding fulfilment through the events that had unfolded. Already, it was the celebration of friendship, through the lovely souls who gave me the support I needed. It was a complete celebration of family...through the emptiness I felt without the presence of those who have always completed me...through the love across the miles that made its warmth known. In all essences, the object of my trip was already fulfilled. Now, only the specifics remained...
The journey was uneventful and smooth. I even managed to take some pictures on the plane...of a beautiful dawn just breaking on a clear blue sky, and a sea of milky white clouds frothing beneath. And even though I was travelling alone, I always managed to gravitate to those moms who were travelling alone with babies. It was a wonderful feeling to carry the bags of one of them as she struggled with a handful toddler in the transit lounge. I guess I could have stayed well out of everyone's way, and kept to myself and enjoyed the peace. But, once a mother...always a mother. And she was so grateful for the extra pair of hands. And that's the power of blessings....when they are showered on you, you just have to shower them on another....it is very hard to keep it contained.
The last few hours of the flight stretched a little, but we were finally in Mumbai at midnight on the night of the 25th. I was back in my homeland to usher in the new Republic Day...the one day that could have delayed my entire journey, had it not been for that spark of divine light that moved the mountains for me...