The door bell rings but none of us want to open the door. The rule is, the person who opens the door is expected to pay for the pizza. A rule that clearly was not well thought out because someone banging on the door and impatiently pressing your poor little door bell, while you wait for someone else to answer, can be very irritating.
“I paid last time around.” I shout out from my bedroom, where I was dusting off the red Matharan soil off my boots. T-shirts, jeans, my passport, and camera were lying on the bed, next to my green rucksack. On my laptop, “Miles Away” by “Years Around The Sun” was playing, rather loudly to drown out everything else.
“C’mon! It’s your apartment. And you just moved in.” My friend Rakesh, shouts back. He was sitting in the living room, choosing his next Facebook profile picture on his laptop.
“Then this can be my housewarming gift from you”
There were two loud bangs on the door. The pizza guy was getting irritated, and by the sound of it, he just kicked the door.
“See! Now you don’t even have to pay him any tip.”
I could hear Rakesh, grumpily get up from the couch and open the door. Few moments later, I hear the door slam shut.
“The pizza is on me, tonight. You are not going to come back alive anyway.”
He was talking about the trip that I was packing for. Even though, Middle East is not the safest place on Earth, but still I thought his comment was a bit too harsh.
“Darr Ke Aagey Jeet Hai.” I cry out, heroically.
I have a flight early next morning, and planned on spending most of the night at the Mumbai airport.
The year was 2011, and my flight was at 5.30 AM. I was staying in Kolkata at the time and was flying home to Delhi for a week, and was really looking forward to it. Either I overslept or the alarm didn’t ring, but I got up at 4.15 am. I somehow put on a pair of jeans and a shirt, picked up my bag, and scrammed.
All through the taxi ride to the airport, I kept wondering if I would make it to the airport in time or if I locked my apartment properly or if I turned off the TV. From that day onwards, every time I have an early flight, and there is no one at home to wake me up in case the alarm doesn’t ring, I spend the night at the airport.
Going through all that again, is the last thing I want to do.
“But I am here. I’ll give a call at 3.30 am.. Promise.” Rakesh had generously offered the previous night, while we were sitting in a bar.
But, I did not want to rest the fate of my trip in the bleary eyes of a mortal.
Rakesh lets out a loud sigh from the living room. The kind of sound a hungry lion would make while devouring a helpless fawn. The pizza box had opened and dinner had started. I had to hurry up, if I cared for food.
“Why are you going to there, anyway? Why not somewhere safer?” He had asked the same night.
“Can you really not find a reason to go there?”
“Yes…” He nodded and took a gulp out of his bottle. “Arab Spring… Arab Fucking Spring, dude.”
“The worst is over. It’s safe again.”
“Worst maybe over but it is still not safe. Bombs still go off every now and then, killing people. You see it on the news every other day.”
“Bombs go off here too, right?”
My partners for this trip will be the usual crew. My Camera, iPod, a nice novel- judging from its covers, even though I know I shouldn’t do that-, sunglasses, t-shirts, shorts and jeans, and of course, my boots.
It has been seven years and my boots have literally been through hell, and I always wonder how much longer they can go on. They have been with me since college, those crappy years when I would run from my classes to the canteen and from the canteen to my classes. They had moved with me to Kolkata, Mumbai, Dehradun, Roorkee, and Shamli. They had travelled with me all through South East and East Asia. They were guarding my feet, while I was lost in the beauty of Angkor Wat, and Taj Mahal, or hiking in Jeju Island or sailing through Ha Long Bay.
I feel a bit sad looking at them now. They look tired and worn down. They look so old!
“One gone, five to go!” Rakesh shouts out.
I quickly stuff everything in my rucksack, hurry to the living room and grab the biggest piece left in the box.
“Idiot, that was mine!”
“Get lost..” I reply with a mouthful of pizza.
We ate happily, for the next few minutes. Rakesh was multitasking between eating and uploading pictures of his cousin’s birthday party, while I peeked over his shoulders to make idiotic comments like
“You should have ordered a chocolate cake. This cake looks disgusting” and “In this picture, you look like Prem Chopra.”
He finally looks up from his laptop.
“How are you getting to your hostel from the airport?”
“I mailed them for a pickup. They didn’t reply. I’ll probably take a bus or something.” I say quickly before moving onto another slice.
“You are so fucking dead. You will not even make it to the hotel.” He starts to laugh loudly. Disgusting half chewed pieces of pizza flew out of his mouth and landed on my left arm.
Washing my arm thoroughly on the kitchen sink, I realise that I had lost my appetite for the night.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to.”
I return to my bedroom, where “Miles Away” was playing on a loop.
It feels bad, looking at my laptop, sitting all alone on the bed side table. The laptop has given me company on every trip till now, but somehow, I just don’t see the reason in carrying it along anymore.
It’s 11 PM and the rucksack is packed, finally. Two more hours till the taxi shows up and I leave for the airport.
“I should get some sleep like an hour or so. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.” I advise myself, knowing quite well that all I would do is lie on my bed with my eyes closed and think about the trip.
My bedroom door opens and Rakesh comes in.
“Ready?” He asks.
He looks around the room very closely. At the clothes laying around on the bed, at the USB cables and wires that lay on the table along with some stray paper and books, at the empty packet of chips on the floor.
“Man! I thought my room was a mess.” He finally said, smiling.
“I just moved in.”
An Excuse. A bad one.
“I have to go. Have a great trip. Bring me a hukka.”
I let him out of the apartment, after a quick handshake.
I look at the watch and do a quick math.
105 minutes till the taxi arrives.
5 minutes to put on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
5 minutes to re-check the tickets, passport and cards.
5 minutes to make a big glass of Iced Tea.
20 minutes to drink it leisurely and practice the two Arabic phrases that I have learnt. “La Shukran” (No Thanks) and “As-Salaam-Alaykum” (Hello)
5 minutes to lock all the doors.
5 minutes to go downstairs and get in the cab.
That leaves me with 60 minutes.
I set an alarm for 60 minute later, put on my favourite playlist and turn on the sound a bit louder.
It was time for a relaxing hour long shower.
I was in the middle of my Iced Tea, when I got a phone call from the gates of my housing complex.
“Sahab, did you call a taxi?”
“Yes, let him in, please.”
It was time. Everything was going according to plan.
But, I had to take an extra five minutes to do something else. Pack my laptop. I just couldn’t leave my faithful friend behind. No matter how heavy and obsolete it is.
As my black and yellow Mumbai taxi sped through the roads of the city, with cool breeze coming in through its half open window and some Hindi song playing on the radio, it finally hit me.
I am going to see the Pyramids, one of the ancient wonders of the world. A land of Pharaohs and Mummies. A land of rich history, culture and medieval curses. The deep blue waters of Nile and the endless sand dunes of the great Sahara.
And I am doing it alone, with no plans other than just to get there and explore.
I am finally going to Egypt.