The plan was that Suraj, her husband, would join her in the latter half of the holidays and they would return together. Veda remembered the times she had enviously seen off friends who went visiting India. Now she would be the one to wave goodbye.
“Amma, I will be careful. Yes, I will keep all my documents in the pouch, in my handbag and I will not leave it anywhere. Amma, I have another three weeks till my flight!”
Veda smiled exasperatedly at the phone. She was getting used to listening to advice from one and all since she and Suraj had announced their plans to visit India. She knew that Suraj was also waiting for his turn to advise her. As though I would leave my handbag anywhere!
Much to Suraj’s annoyance, she dragged him along to gem shows, sales, purchased gifts, crossing off names in her list, adding some more and started packing her bags.
“We should weigh these before we leave for the airport,” she said as she watched Suraj wrestling with the zips of the suitcase. He mumbled something incoherently about women and shopping.
Veda was taking the flight the following night. She had mixed feelings—a longing to be with her parents, excitement at meeting her friends, but a feeling of sadness at leaving Suraj behind. She had cooked food to last him over a week, given him instructions on the dos and don’ts of the kitchen, backed it up with a sheet of paper stuck to the fridge door. Not to forget all the warnings she gave him to practice restraint during his brief return to bachelorhood!
Suraj was closing the second suitcase when the bell rang. It was Srini, Suraj’s friend. One look at Srini’s hand and Veda did not have to ask. It was a package, a bulky one, to take to India. Oh no!
After taking the package and saying polite goodbyes, Veda turned to give a disbelieving look at her husband.
“In the morning he said that it was a small package and that it was urgent. That’s why I told him it was OK,” stammered Suraj trying to avoid her angry eyes.
“Do you know what is inside this sealed package? I could have spread the items out in the suitcase,” complained Veda.
Knowing how many times they had requested friends to carry packages to India and remembering friends who had brought them stuff from their parents in India, Veda and Suraj knew that it was just their turn! So they began the process of rearranging the boxes. Dresses came out, chocolates came out, Srini’s package went in, some more gift packets came out, dresses went in, this time crumpled and finally they were left with the chocolates.
“We can keep it in the hand baggage. Chocolates are heavy and they may not let you check in such a heavy bag,” he said.
True words! On D-Day, the expressionless clerk at the ticket counter said, “This bag is above the permitted weight. You have to remove some things before I can weigh it again.”
“It’s only an extra 10 pounds! All the things inside are very necessary. Please!” pleaded Veda with her sorriest expression but there was a stony-faced “No.”
It was humiliating as they opened the bag trying to sort through things. Out came a couple of dresses and some packages, which Suraj promised that he would bring. Similarly her hand baggage was relieved of the chocolate to keep it within the weight limits. There were tears in Veda’s eyes threatening to fall. I will not cry now. I am going home. If only Srini had not given …
Veda waved goodbye and walked to the gate feeling lonely. She missed the advice that she had expected from Suraj, who had only stopped himself not wanting to upset her more.
India at last! Waiting by the luggage belt, Veda realized that everyone seemed to have similar black suitcases but thanks to Suraj’s advice, she had tied a red ribbon on the handle to differentiate hers. Still, she bent down and looked at every black suitcase to see if it was hers! Finally armed with the trolley of her suitcases, Veda heaved a sigh of relief.
Just as she had thought everything was done and was waiting to see the smiling faces of her family, Veda was surprised to hear the attendant at the of the x-ray belt, through which her cases were being passed, ask “Is this black suitcase yours?”
Veda stammered “Yes,” and continued to clarify that she was traveling from California to visit her parents and she just had her dresses and some gift items. He asked her to open the suitcase.
Veda could feel her hands tremble as she fumbled with the locks. I should have come with Suraj! Why do these things happen to me?
“What is this package? Open it.”
Veda looked at Srini’s yellow package and angrily opened it. Out came packets of chocolates. Chocolates!
After a cursory glance at the suitcase, she was allowed to go while the attendant continued checking the bags of other travelers. Veda repacked the suitcase and locked it for the umpteenth time!
“You know what? Srini had sent chocolates in that package. Tons of them and you made me remove my stuff for that. I could not bring any chocolates!” she recounted her experience to Suraj over the phone.
“I guess we should not ask anyone to carry our packages. As for carrying other’s packages, let us see how far we can stretch our humanitarianism. Suraj, you think I can take a few chocolates from the yellow package?” She smiled as she heard Suraj advising her yet again.