What if I tell you that our amazing Pakistan trip this winter almost didn’t happen and was literally saved with a margin of 5 mins?
Yup, this is how it happened:
We had a flight on a Sunday evening in early December and it was great timing because we had the whole weekend to pack the suitcases, close the house and be ready for our trip (I even squeezed in a last minute shoot for a project 2 hours before leaving).
As we sat in the 7-seater taxi with our 8 suitcases and 4 (carefully counted) carryons, Jaffar asked me very casually: “You have all the passports right?”
Before I could reply, our taxi driver took his eyes completely off the road and looked at Jaffar ‘Hakka Bakka’ and questioned him, with the assured assumption of his rights over our lives that only a fellow desi can have: “You don’t keep the passports yourself? I never let them out of my possession. The man of the house should take care of these things.”
While I smirked in the back seat, Jaffar told the guy that he is happy to let his wife take care of all documents in the house and has no idea how the tickets are bought, what route we are taking, what visas are needed and when the passports are renewed.
Poor taxi driver couldn’t really understand (or very clearly agreed) but kept his silence and let his expressions do the talking.
I told Jaffar “Haan Haan” and started my own favorite series of questions: “Did we turn off the stove? Did you turn the tap tightly when you last used the washroom?” etc etc.
We arrived at the airport well in time and were doing everything at a leisurely pace till we reached the checking counter.
Jaffar was hanging back with the kids and our entourage of suitcases, as I approached the counter in a pattern which is now set for all our family travel together.
I gave the agent our passports and NICOPs (Pakistan origin cards that exempt you from visas) and she casually remarked: “I have two cards for Zeynab and none for Hussein.” I told her that must be a mistake and to check again, which she did. Same reply. There was no NICOP for Hussein. This was a problem.
I have not had many out-of-body experiences in my life, but this one was definitely it.
I watched myself fumble through my hand bag, shake out the passports and check my pockets in search of Hussein’s NICOP (Pakistan origin card), without which he could not board the flight. This could not be happening to me. Super-Organized, Always-Prepared, Ultra-Diligent me. Me, who gives travel tips to others and had gone through everything so many times, even organizing the travel pouch just last night to take out the expired cards/passports…
Argh! So that’s what had happened. I realized that I had left Hussein’s NICOP at home and brought Zeynab’s expired one along, which is why there were two of hers. Why did they have to look exactly alike as babies!
The agent at the counter was most kind and kept assuring me as I went from frantic to panicked to maniac. I asked her if an image of the card would do but she said she needed to see the actual card. She told me we had an hour to go before the counter closed and my best bet was to go home and get the card.
Only issue was that our house is 30 mins from the airport. Jaffar told me to get a cab and go home right away while he stayed back at the airport with the kids.
I hailed a taxi and sped off. I was so worked up by now that I wasn’t even sure where I had left Hussein’s card in the house.
And I had no time really to look around much at home. Max 2 mins.
To while away the 30 mins in the taxi, I did the most adult thing a 39-year old could do. I started crying and the taxi driver who turned out to be another desi, tried his best to speed along and console me alongside as I bawled out the whole story.
The next adult thing I did was to call my mother a little before fajr in Pakistan (any mother’s worse nightmare). To double ammie-powered duas I called Jaffar’s mother also.
The taxi driver who was by now my coach and bara Bhai, told me to take deep breaths as we approached the house. In complete desi-propriety he asked me to bring out any furniture or files that needed going through, so he could help. I told him to just pray that I find the card right away. We had 2 mins, if we were to make it back in time.
As I entered the house after inserting the key wrongly twice, I tried to push out the dark possibility of missing the flight and visualize myself holding Hussein’s NICOP. Reciting as many duas as I could, I started searching the nightstand by my bed. When I couldn’t find the card in there, I started looking under the bed and all other furniture. When that failed also, I emptied out the drawers on my bed in desperation.
And there it was: the shining green plastic card that gleamed like a ticket to heaven.
After crying out in joy and trying to make sure it was the right card by pushing away the tears, I ran back to the cab!
My hero driver had the taxi started and turned in the direction of the airport. Gotta love that optimism!
I called Jaffar to hold the counter open and informed the ammies before more kala bakras lost their life.
The card had been found but we still had to make it back in time so the battle was half won!
By the time we entered the airport, it was time to close the checking counter. I still had to get to the terminal but we faced every slowest slow car in the lane infront of us.
I had sent Jaffar a picture of the card in my hand but by the time I entered the door nearest to our counter, I wasn’t sure if the effort had been worth it.
But then I saw Jaffar standing there with the boarding passes and the luggage all checked in! The lady at the counter had been kind enough to book us in before the counter closed! Alhumdullilah!
The first thing Jaffar said to me was: “I’m glad it wasn’t me!”
I was so relieved, I just collapsed on a nearest bench.
We made our way inside through security and got to our gate as the flight was boarding. I had one last thing left to do. I called the taxi driver to let him know that we had made it to our flight because he had asked me to. He had more joy in his voice than I did, because I was exhausted beyond emotions at that point and told me he had been praying constantly for us.
There were many lessons to learn from this experience: to have two people check all documents, to recheck again and also to be grateful for the kindness of strangers. There was also another lesson. Can you guess what it was?