A Delhi Sandwich

Posted on October 26, 2017 under Storytelling with 2 comments

One year ago today, I was flying to India for an adventure of a lifetime. In honor of this anniversary, here’s a story I wrote traveling from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi at Christmas.


Driving me to the airport,  and to the friendly skies.”

Just a Song before I Go . Crosby, Stills and Nash

I have travelled enough in my lifetime to know that getting from A to B can be straightforward or it can be sheer hell. Like most things in life, if you land somewhere in the middle of these conflicting forces, you’re doing pretty well.

Decades ago, I booked some of my flights with the competent and kind, Marie MacFarlane or through a travel agency. As time went on, my wife made all of our travel arrangements as she quickly adapted to the computer age and did all of our bookings on line. Only recently, in retirement, have I had the time ( and courage! ) to make my own travel plans.

And so I booked three flights in one with a discount operator during a recent stay in India. I always feel a bit nervous about this, especially in foreign countries where I have no knowledge of many of the airlines.

I successfully completed the first leg of my mini vacation, spending a glorious week in Abu Dhabi with my good buddy Matt MacDonald. On December 23rd. I grabbed a cab at 2:30 a.m. and headed to the airport for a 4:45 flight to New Delhi. As we neared the terminal, the driver, with the personality of a jilted mollusk, asked me to which terminal I was going . There are three of them in Abu Dhabi. There was no indication on my itinerary and because there was no preregistration.I was at a loss. He seemed enlightened when I told him my destination. “ All flights to India leave from Terminal 2, “ he said.

Terminal 2 is smaller than Stanfield airport in Halifax. I could easily see inside the building as it was mostly glass. I gave the cabbie a healthy tip and he showed his appreciation by remaining glued to his seat without lifting a hand to assist me with my luggage. I almost asked for my money back. When I stepped onto the sidewalk, I stared in horror. The airport was mostly a glass structure and at this time of the night, it was easy to see inside from the curb.

There were men ( not a single woman )  lined up ten abreast from one end of the airport to the other with luggage piled sky high…. I’m guessing about 500 in total. I couldn’t even get inside. They were literally lined to the door. I knew that there was no possible way that I was going to make my flight. I actually wondered if I would make my flight home in April, such was this mass of humanity in front of me. A cab driver approached me. The thought of driving to Delhi seemed appealing even though it would take three days.  “ You’re in the wrong terminal, sir.” This was sort of a “ good news/ bad news” announcement.

Several dirhams later, I arrived at Terminal 1. While the lineup wasn’t as daunting as what I had witnessed moments before, it was still going to be a formidable task to get to my gate on time. Because there was no preregistration or kiosks to speed things up, everyone was in the same boat. I only had carry on bags but this gave me no preferential treatment.

The man in front of me wasn’t amused. Neither would you be if you had partied all night before coming to the airport. When he turned to utter his first of ten complaints, his breath smelled of stale booze and cigarettes. He was fidgety and grabbed his smokes. When he prepared to light up on the spot, I mildly suggested that this would hasten his departure from the airport… except it wouldn’t be on a plane. So, I did what any decent human being would do and babysat his luggage ( several large suitcases on an airport trolley ) while he went outside for a puff. Somehow I managed to push and pull our combined luggage.

I didn’t realize that I was in the presence of a philosopher. He said that he should have kept drinking for another hour and then joined the lineup when it had dwindled to a trickle. As warped as this logic appeared, there was some truth to it. I, for one, would have been happy if he had stayed in the bar.

We became buddies. He grumbled and mumbled as the line moved at the speed of slug. We compared flights and when he realized my urgency, he graciously let me go ahead of him. Now, instead of smelling his fetid breath, he kept bumping his cart into my butt.

I sprinted the length of the airport and got through security. I had fifteen minutes to go before my flight left. I arrived at my gate to discover that the airline, recognizing mass mutiny, delayed the flight departure time by 45 minutes. I paused and collected my thoughts. I messaged Betty. I didn’t have the heart ( even at this joyous time of the year ) to say “ wishing you were here.”

You know how you feel  when you have to get up for a very early international flight. Sleep doesn’t come easily or in abundance. A wave of fatigue hit me as I stepped on to the plane. I meandered down to my seat… a middle seat, with just about enough room for three leprachauns.  The back of my seat felt like the springs would burst through at any moment. I was forced to curl up in the fetal position. I felt ( and probably looked ) like one of the majoulle dates that I had consumed with regularity all week.

I certainly wasn’t thinking about ”peace and goodwill towards all men” as the plane roared down the runway.

The plane wasn’t full and just ahead of me , I spotted the emergency exit row, with enough leg room for an NBA player… and three empty seats. It was an early Christmas gift. It restored my faith in old Saint Nick.  After the seatbelt sign was turned off, I slid out of my seat and luxuriated in my new digs. Later in the flight when I got chilled, I took my carry on suitcase from the overhead bin and had enough room to put on a sweat shirt and warmer footwear. In my previous seat, I didn’t have enough room to change my mind.

We were scarcely at cruising altitude when breakfast was served. A box was dropped on our trays. For a moment, I thought it might be one of Colonel Sander’s “ dinners for one.”  There were four distinctly and slightly unusual items on the menu: plantain chips, a heated croissant stuffed with vegetables, a piece of lemon loaf and half a sandwich. I wondered if my semi stupored friend had planned the menu.

I wish only to comment on the sandwich. It was actually half of a sandwich, cut diagonally with the crusts removed. The bread was white and very stale. Between the covers, there was a slice of processed cheese, nothing more, nothing less.

I had a flashback to some of the bridge parties at 39 Hillcrest Street many decades ago. I could see mom painstakingly removing the crusts from egg salad sandwiches, and on a big night, even a few lobster sandwiches. The sandwiches were cut diagonally in four pieces, with a damp cloth placed over the top of a Tupperware container to keep them fresh and then refrigerated until consumed. If we were well behaved, we got to eat the crusts. I took one bite of the sandwich in my box and concluded that this WAS one of mom’s sandwich that had been misplaced 50 years ago.

A deli sandwich just took on a whole new meaning.


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