TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

Chapter Twenty Seven

I wake early the next morning with sunshine spilling over my bed, swaddling me in a warm glow that seems to be whispering everything’s going to be all right. I lay perfectly still for a few moments, watching the dust motes dance about in the sunshine as I try to come to grips with all that’s gone on these past 24 hours.

I’ve helped a woman save her children.

I’ve quit my job.

I’ve made peace with David.

I’m going home.

I’m going home!

I check my phone, then leap out of bed and start furiously chucking things into my increasingly tatty wheelie suitcase. The taxi I ordered last night will be here in 20 minutes.

I splash a few cold buckets of water over my goose-bumped body and throw on some black plane clothes. Just as I’m about to head out of the room, I spy the white envelope holding my letter to David. I quickly grab it and shove it into the outer left pocket of my backpack. Thank God I didn’t forget that. Then I head down to the reception area, empty at this time of the morning.

I make myself a herbal tea, then sit and wait for my cab.

Five minutes pass. Then ten.

I start to wonder where it might be.

After twenty minutes, wonder turns to panic. Luckily, Vivek’s mobile number is pasted up on the noticeboard, and as I drain my herbal tea I decide that although it’s 6 in the morning, this just cannot wait any longer.

“Vivek hi, it’s Margaux from the ashram?” I say, wincing slightly at the sleep-infused note in the hello he’s just given me. “I’m sorry for calling you so early, but the taxi you booked me last night, it hasn’t arrived?”

“Yes madam, your taxi,” he croaks. “Your flight is when?”

“In just over an hour Vivek, I’m starting to get a little worried. I have to make that flight you see, I have an international connection once I get to Delhi…”

“Nooo problem madam, nooo problem. Give me few minutes, ok?”

I say ok, even thought it’s not really ok but what choice do I have. I hang up the phone and I wait.

A few minutes later, the noisiest motorbike I’ve ever heard careers around the corner at breakneck speed, sending stones skittering and dust flying. On the back sits a smiling, rumple-haired Vivek.

“Get on!” he yells excitedly over the chug-chugging of the idling bike engine.

“But… what am I going to do with this?” I yell back, motioning to the suitcase, backpack, yoga mat and laptop surrounding me.

Vivek surveys the scene for a moment, then appears to make a decision. “You put in between! Come on, you will be late!”

The truth is, I’ve never been on a motorbike before. I’m scared shitless of getting on the thing. But then again, I’m scared shitless of missing this flight, too. I take a deep breath, chuck my suitcase on behind Vivek, sling the pack on my back, then squish the yoga mat and laptop on behind that. I hop on last, sans helmet, managing to only just wrap my arms all the way around the luggage to clutch on to the sides of Vivek’s t-shirt.

“Ok, we…” I don’t get to finish my sentence. Vivek’s off like – well, like an Indian out of an ashram, chugging up the steep hill next to the Ayurvedic doctor’s place, then weaving his way through rocky, dusty laneways until we finally hit a proper asphalt road. My knuckles are turning white with the strain of holding all my luggage squished in together and there’s a muscle in my foot that’s on the brink of spasming with the effort of keeping my sandals from slipping off my feet.

But after about ten minutes and a few deep breathing exercises, I manage to put all of that out of my mind and actually start to enjoy the wind whipping through my hair, the thrum of the bike vibrating beneath me and the lush Himalayan foothills sliding by beside me. I close my eyes and let the wind envelop me.

So this is what it feels like to be free.

Suddenly, my left hand releases the vice-like grip it had on Vivek’s flimsy cotton shirt, and I manoeuvre it into the outer left pocket of my backpack. I grab hold of the crisp envelope in there, then thrust it out into the wind. I hold it hostage there for a few moments, and then I release it.

I turn my head to look out behind the bike and watch the small white square disappear into the cloud of dust behind us. A smile slides on to my face.

That letter was never for David anyway.

It was for me.

***

24 hours later I touch down at Sydney Airport. The flight wasn’t exactly what you’d call smooth, but I was still exhausted from the efforts with the flood and so slept like a baby almost the entire way. I’m feeling refreshed now, but I’m nervous. I’m nervous as hell, actually. My palms are sweating and I’m trembling slightly. The crisp optimism I felt yesterday is wilting by the second, and catastrophic thoughts are starting to worm their way into my brain.

What if I get home and Ryan’s there with his new lover, whose name is Carmella and who’s all busty and dark and Italian and mysterious and nothing at all like me. I mean, what did I really expect? That after having disappeared for almost a month, after having not even tried to explain how I was feeling to my husband before I left him high and dry, that he would just turn around and forgive me? Ha! What a clown. Oh well, it’s my fault if it all goes to shit. It’s my fault if Carmella won’t even let me see Ryan anymore.

By the time I make it through customs and hop into a cab, I’m feeling like there’s a very good chance I might vomit. I can’t do this. I just can’t face it right now. I need to get out of here, I need to…

“You alright love?” asks the taxi driver, and I realize I’ve been muttering to myself.

“Sorry, yes, I’m fine. I… I need to go Paddington, please.”

Yes. That’s precisely what I need to do. I came back to face things head on, to stop hiding from reality, and that’s what I’m going to do, Carmella or no Carmella. I press my forehead against the cool glass of the cab window and watch the world slide by as we pull away from the curb. We cruise past an African family, smiles wide and bright, laughing and embracing one another on the sidewalk, then past a greasy-haired teenage couple making out by the sliding glass exit doors, pawing each other with a desperation only extensive absences can incite. As we idle at a zebra crossing, I watch a guy in a hoodie – a red and white striped one that looks exactly the same as Ryan’s favourite hoodie – striding determinedly across the crossing holding a ridiculously large box that’s covering his entire face. The sight of the hoodie causes a painful stab in my belly and I close my eyes for a moment, trying to stay composed. Everything will be ok. Even though Ryan never wrote back to my email. Even though he didn’t try to call me the whole time I was away. Even though he’s acting like he doesn’t want to know me anymore. I feel slight flurries of panic and the catastrophising starts up again.

How can everything be over? How can he have just up and left with Carmella without even trying to talk things through with me first? How can he just have… forgotten me so quickly?

My eyes are starting to blur with tears again and I furiously blink them away. I can’t cry. I’m strong. I love myself now, remember? And that’s all I need, remember?

Only it’s not all I need. Not at all. I need Ryan.

Trying to get a grip on myself, I look back out the side window again just as the cab starts moving.

And then everything seems to freeze.

It’s Ryan. The guy with the box is Ryan. From this angle, I can see inside the hoodie and it’s unmistakably him, staring ahead rigidly and walking determinedly towards the doors of the terminal. Where the hell is he going?

We start pulling away, faster now.

“Ryan!” I try to shout, then realise the window’s closed. I push the button to lower it but it doesn’t work. The driver must have the child lock on. Ryan’s disappearing into the distance.

“Can you open the window!” I yell frantically at the driver. “Actually, just stop the car, I need to get out!”

“Lady, I can’t stop here, I’ll get fined. Do you know how much…”

“But I have to get out, stop the car. Stop the car!” I’m getting desperate now, and this guy doesn’t seem to even seem be slowing down.

“Look lady, I’m telling you…”

And my left hand’s on the handle, it’s pulling it down while my right hand’s pulling off my seatbelt, and suddenly I’m… I’m throwing myself out of a moving vehicle. And it bloody hurts. I don’t roll elegantly like they do in the movies; I land hard on my left ankle and lurch forward in a loping run, which before long sees me on the ground all fours. People scatter and I hear the taxi driving yelling after me, calling me a crazy you-know-what amongst other nasty things. I just sit there on the pavement, dazed for a moment, until the thud of one of my bags hitting the ground just to my left, and then another just to my right, pulls me back to reality.

“You’re a bloody lunatic!” I hear as my handbag comes tumbling down in front of me, its contents scattering all over the ground.

A little crowd has gathered around me now – they’re all asking if I’m ok and trying to grab the contents of my handbag, but I just need to get away. I need to get back to Ryan before he gets on a plane and leaves me forever.

I push through the crowd and am almost free when a hand grips my arm. I try to wriggle free but it’s holding on pretty tight. I look up to tell them to get the eff off me, when everything freezes again.

It’s him.

For a moment we just stare at each other, our faces blank with disbelief. Then Ryan’s whole face seems to break open in a slow expression of delight. My breaths are coming out quickly and the blood is thudding up into my cheeks. I feel shell-shocked and exhilarated and uncertain all at the same time.

“Where are you going?” I say at last.

“I… I came looking for you.” Ryan looks pretty shell-shocked himself.

“But how did you even know I’d be here? I didn’t tell anyone I was coming home on this flight.”

“I’ve been… waiting here for the past three days,” Ryan says sheepishly, looking down at the ground. “Every day at the same time, 11.15am, when the flight from Delhi comes in. Peace told me that’s where you’d be coming from, she just didn’t know when. Today I was a little late, and I just had this awful feeling that I’d missed you.” I reach out for his hand but he doesn’t take it. I look into his eyes and see that underneath his joy he’s still feeling unsettled.

“I got your email.” He lifts his eyes to mine.

“So?” My arms slip around his waist. As I hold on tight I watch tears spill onto his cheeks. This is where I belong. This is where I fit. In this big bubble of love, that finally feels unpoppable. He looks into my eyes.

“So I’m sorry too. For being pushy, for not listening to you properly, for putting my own wishes first. We can both be better for each other Mags, I know we can. And… well I wanted to give you this.” He leans back and cocks his head to the right. There, inside that huge box he was carrying, sits a little plant with a little gold ribbon tied around its base.

It’s a peace palm. Just sitting there, waiting to welcome me home.

THE END