I wanted to go to London so much that I jinxed it – this is the only plausible explanation for the traumatic days* that I spent in the city.
Some backstory for you, followed by lessons learned the hard way.
I had not planned much for the trip as the visit was primarily meant for Mulaqaat 2018. My calendar was open and flexible.
I arrived on late Tuesday evening, close to midnight. I took Greater Anglia to Liverpool Station, and then a bus to Kip Hotel near Hackney Central – it was almost 3AM by the time I checked in.
Next day, N’s Khala and Nani came to pick me up. It was a delightful afternoon – I had delicious Pakistani food at Lahori Nihari (oxymoron much? Okay, sorry), experienced a part of Karachi on Green Street, saw Westfield, visited Choti Khala’s place where Bari Khala made me a kickass cuppa chai. I even did a school run to pick up 9-year old Zara (who later taught me Music.ly). Later in the evening, I went to Canary Wharf with Zainub to eat at Bella Cosa (who taught me the right way to wear false eyelashes and recommended a lash glue that actually works). All in all, it was a Wednesday well-spent.
Thursday was all about fixing an outfit and Mulaqaat. I saw Kensington area, as much of Natural Science Museum as I wanted (aka exterior only), had Nando’s, and walked the streets aimlessly. I actually visited a few leicester square bars before going back to the hotel, and I had a great time (even though I was alone!) The bars in London are truly incredible!!
I woke up early on Friday to go to Marks & Spencer across the hotel to buy a little something for N and Khalas, packed, checked out and got on my way to Dagenham. Had an English roast for lunch at The Pipe Major, quick stop at Boots, and back to pick up my luggage. My flight was at 6:55PM, and it was 4:00PM already. Just as I was running through my checklist one last time, my phone slipped into a bowl of water. This is when ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE.
I tried fruitlessly to turn it on. Then, going on to plan B, I Googled directions while calling N to email the boarding pass. Turns out that printer had ran out of ink, so I jotted the reference number and route down, and got on my way. I can distinctly remember that a friend of mine told me that it is always best to book airport taxis in advance as driving yourself to the airport can be stressful. I wish I had listened to her advice!
I got on to a district line from Dagenham East to West Ham, then Jubilee Line to Stratford. From here, I was to take a coach but I just could not find my way around. It was crowded (shoving and pushing included), so I sprinted 10 minutes in a direction until I found a minicab. It was 5:20PM.
After 80 minutes, £130 and a tub of M&S’ Rocky Road Mini Bites, I arrived at Stansted. I regaled my story with all the required nuisances and requested for a boarding pass – yup, you guessed it right. Denied. Now, if it were any other day, I would have taken it in my stride. But, missing this plane would consequent in missing my flight to Pakistan as well, which was scheduled for next morning at 10AM. I pleaded and pleaded, to no avail. I have concluded that after a while, doctors and airport staff naturally grow a thick skin.
As I did not have a mobile phone (remember?), I used a payphone to make a hysterical call to N.
Fun fact – I did not remember any numbers or addresses. Bari Khala had given a phone for my sister-in-law, which had 3% battery. I wrote down her, Choti Khala and N’s number on a paper before it died out.
Anyway. Back to the nightmare. The only available next flight from London to Cologne would arrive at Köln/Bonn Airport at 10:05AM the next morning – 5 minutes after my flight to Pakistan would depart. At that point, I felt like I was in someone’s nightmare, for all of this couldn’t be happening to me!
After exhausting all options (plane, train, bus, Bla Bla Car and driving to London), I resigned. I was almost holding myself together well – almost. I got a ticket for National Express Coach to London and got seated. Coach’s engine and my tears started and stopped together. It was a long, painful ride.
I reached Dagenham Heathway and got off to call Choti Khala to ask if she could pick me up. I reached the payphone, looked for my wallet and found it gone. I felt the stark terror hit me – the kind that I had only read about. Until now. I did not have a phone, my money and cards were gone, and I could either be in Africa or East London for all the sense I could make of the area. Every fibre of my being wanted to wail on top of my lungs, so I hid in a corner to cry out the initial fright. I then walked up to a lady working at the station, told her what had happened between muffled hiccups, and she arranged a phone for me to call.
I got home to find a whole bunch of very worried people, in three different countries. I reassured them all, urged N to get on the plane without me the next morning (with a promise that I will follow soon) and got my ticket to Cologne for Monday morning. I couldn’t sleep all that night.
Saturday was a blur. I remember going to Zara’s dance studio, having pancakes and hash browns at McDonalds, and cooking an exceptionally spicy pulao for family. But not much else.
I felt a lot more like myself on Sunday, after a good night’s sleep. I showered, had two cups of coffee, went to ASDA, lunch at The Harvesters, and packed my bags. I had decided to stay the night at the airport as my flight was at 7:55AM, and trains would only start operations at 5:00AM. I could have taken an Uber but I did not want to take any more risks (after my last experience).
Of course, everything worked out better than planned. I arrived at Stansted in record time – about 8 hours before my flight. I hung out between Costa and the lounge, attempted reading Women Who Ran With The Wolves for the fourth time and had another two cups of coffee.
I arrived in Cologne on a bright Monday afternoon. Half way through to home, in 28°C, I started shivering. To an onlooker, I might appear as someone struggling with heroine withdrawals. It was sunny, but I was cold and my infamous teeth chattering would not stop. I got home and could only take my shoes off before I felt my body giving up completely. My legs felts like they had rocks chained to them. I got under a blanket and stayed there for next two hours – shivering.
This is another sad reality of expat life. Loneliness. I managed to call N and home, tell them that I have reached home and am okay. I slept most of Monday, and lived off pizza and ice cream. After effects of the ordeal had kicked in full force and I was almost immobile with aches – from head to toe. I felt like a truck had rolled over me.
Tuesday went by in a snooze as well, punctuated by calls back home and sipping water. I felt almost human by Wednesday, which is when I bought my tickets to Pakistan for upcoming Friday, at an exorbitant price – almost as much as we had earlier paid for two! But Mother India was insistent, “don’t think about the money, just get here”.
I finally stepped out of the house on Thursday after a three-day hiatus. And had my first coffee on Friday, at Istanbul Airport, while writing this post.
So ladies and gentlemen, this was a 1200-word version of back-story. Now, on to the valuable lessons in the next post.
Feature image courtesy Ravishly.