“It’s kind of a funny story, but…” I let my voice trail off, giggling nervously as I tapped my nails on the dark wood of my dining room table. I’d invited Nirali over for lunch so we could talk about her wedding. HER WEDDING! How could I tell my best friend I wouldn’t be going to her wedding? That I physically COULDN’T go?
“But what?” Nirali asked.
“But.” I groaned and buried my face in my hands.
“Angel, what is going on with you today?”
“Oh, the hell with it. Nirali, I love you, and I love Taj, and I am so happy for both of you, BUT,” I took a deep breath, “I can’t come to the wedding, I’m sorry.”
“I can’t come to the wedding.”
“What do you mean you can’t come to the wedding? Angel you are my best friend. You HAVE to be there.”
“Well I can’t be. Trust me, I wish I could be, but I literally cannot be there.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Well like I said it’s a funny story.”
“Angel, there is NOTHING funny about you blowing off my wedding. We’re paying for your airfare and you are staying with my family. They love you and… and… What the fuck is going on with you?”
“It isn’t about the money Nirali, and I am NOT blowing off your wedding.”
“Then why the hell are you doing this to me?”
Watching Nirali tear up was agonizing. We’d been best friends for years, but I never considered what that might eventually mean. “Nirali, it isn’t about you. I just can’t go to India.”
“What? Why? That doesn’t make any sense. You have a passport and…”
“And I am legally not allowed to set foot in India.” I interrupted.
“I am banned from traveling to India. If I set foot on Indian soil, I’ll spend no less than twenty years in the Parappana Agrahara Prison.”
“Angel, that’s really not funny. You shouldn’t even kind of joke about being sent there.”
“I’m not joking. I am literally banned from the country for life.”
“How is that even possible?”
I groaned again. I hated telling this story, but I really had no choice. “So remember I told you about my trip around the world?”
“That tour you took in college?”
“Yeah that one. Well, something happened at the very end of our time in India, I kind of assaulted someone.”
“It was an accident, I swear!”
I knew I’d have to start at the beginning so I just started telling Nirali my tale. The yearlong tour had been going well. It was set up so that we had a home base for a month in various areas of the world. In Europe we’d stayed in Paris while we were touring Western Europe and then Bucharest for Eastern Europe. From there we went to Cairo to tour Northwestern Africa and then Accra for Northeastern Africa. We spent our fifth month in Cape Town before heading to Dubai and then New Delhi.
Everywhere we stopped, we spent four days a week volunteering at schools for underprivileged children, and then the other three days we would spend either resting at home base or out on various excursions. At the end of our time in India, our last major excursion was to Mumbai so we could visit the Gateway to India, the Siddhivinayak Temple, and the Elephanta Caves.
Once we were done, we were supposed to take a train from Mumbai back to home base in New Delhi so we could catch our flight to Bangkok for the East Asia leg of our trip. The train ride typically took around 24 hours, and even though we pulled out of the station late on Thursday morning there was still more than enough time to catch our flight the following night… or so we thought.
The train ride was a mess. There was no food. People were packed in tighter than sardines in a can. The limited bathrooms on the train were not working, and even if they had been, the overcrowding would have prevented anyone from getting to them. Our group had taken to trying to hop off the train at stops to use the restrooms when we could, which seemed like a great plan… until four of us were left behind during a bathroom break. We ended up having to take a taxi to the next station.
Now, most taxis in rural India are a LOT smaller than they are in the States. With my 250-pound frame squished in the back with two other people, one next to me and one lying across our laps, the trip to the next station was not easy. The three of us were pretty jealous of the petite redhead that was allowed to ride up front. We barely caught the train before it pulled out of the station and collectively vowed that everyone from the group would just need to remain together for the rest of the trip. We were only about eight hours from New Delhi, we could hold it that long. That’s what we thought, anyway.
About an hour or two after we left the station, the train came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. There were a couple of cows on the tracks. It took nearly four hours until we were going again. At that point we knew we were going to be late. One of our tour guides let us know we’d have to head right to the airport at this point, so at the next station she hopped off the train just long enough to phone home base and ask them to grab our things and take them to the airport. It’s a good thing I’d thought to pack before heading to Mumbai. We all started to get a little anxious at how long the trip was taking. We really didn’t want to miss our flight.
As we waited to head out, we started to notice that it seemed as though it was taking awhile for us to leave the station. Most of our group was starting to get concerned. I watched as several people checked the time every few minutes. Something was wrong. Again. We’d been sitting there for nearly an hour when our tour guides suddenly ordered us all off the train. Another train traveling ahead of us had broken down so ours would not be able to move until the rails ahead were opened again. We needed a new plan.
The rail company, having heard our plight, offered us a bus for the last leg of the trip. The fifty or so of us were ushered out of the station, where we found a rather old tour bus idling. We knew there was no time to waste, so everyone hopped on. The bus was old enough to not have a working air-conditioner, but since the bus had a bathroom, we figured we could just keep sucking down bottles of water to stay cool.
Boy were we wrong.
We’d been on the road for barely an hour before the small toilet in the bathroom broke. All of three people had a chance to use it and the smell emanating from the back of the bus was atrocious. We’d only been able to get about a third of the windows on the bus wedged open. So now we had to sit on this hot, stinking bus for the next seven hours. We couldn’t drink water, we couldn’t go pee, all we could do was wait to get to the airport. The entire ride was just miserable.
We’d hit all kinds of traffic on the way in to the airport. The seven-hour drive took closer to ten. We were officially going to be late. Luckily, we were one of two tour groups that had booked the flight, there were no other waiting passengers. The other group was from Japan and they were on their way to Bangkok to catch a connecting flight to Osaka. That flight had just been cancelled due to weather, so their group didn’t mind our tardiness. Since everyone was fine with waiting, our tour guides that were with the folks at the airport were able to convince Air India to hold the flight.
When we got to the airport, we had to RUN for the plane. Running… not my thing. By the time we got to our gate, I felt like I was going to die. I knew I wasn’t actually going to die, but I certainly wasn’t in the best shape as I wedged myself into the tiny airplane seat.
Apparently one of the flight attendants noticed, and she graciously handed me an ice cold bottle of water. She was the tiniest little thing I’d ever seen, not even five feet tall, and probably weighing in well under a hundred pounds soaking wet, even in her heavy black and red sari. I thanked her profusely and downed the entire bottle in one shot. not even thinking about the consequences of having not seen a restroom for half the day. I regretted my decision almost instantly as we started taxiing to the runway. I really needed, no, I desperately needed to pee.
By the time we were in the air I could swear everything on the plane had a yellow tint to it. I needed the restroom NOW.
Unfortunately so did everyone else. The second the fasten seat belt sign came on, everyone from the bus ride rushed for the bathroom. I had a choice to make, fight the crowds and do the potty dance in the aisles or sit tight and wait for everyone to finish. I painfully chose the latter. The thought of peeing myself in the aisle of a 747 somewhere over the Bay of Bengal was just too much to bear, so I waited, and waited, and waited.
I felt like I was going to explode. When the aisles finally cleared. I raced to the back of the plane trying not to bump into anyone or anything along the way. I am sure I failed horribly, but I did not pay attention, I just barreled down the aisle.
Two minutes in the restroom and I felt like the longest day of my life was finally coming to an end. Nothing else could possibly go wrong at this point. I was so ready to just land in Bangkok and head to our new home base for a shower and some much needed rest.
As I finished up. I reached down to pull up my pants and, of course, at that exact second, the plane hit some sort of turbulence. The plane lurched to one side, sending me flying face first toward the rickety cantilever door. I reactively threw my hands out to stop myself but they landed on the door in such a way that instead of stopping, I unintentionally popped the door open launching myself face first out the door, bare assed to the world.
You would think being launched out of an airplane bathroom naked from your waist to your ankles would be embarrassing enough but no, the fates are much crueler than that. Just outside the door was the same flight attendant that has so graciously offered me water at the start of the trip. She was preparing drink service and was standing there with a fresh pot of coffee in each hand. As I flew out the door toward her, she stretched out her arms in an attempt to catch me. As you can imagine, a ninety pound woman trying to catch me must have looked like a mouse trying to catch a moose. I landed flat on top of her as the two scalding hot pots of coffee dumped all over us both.
I know I had to have looked like a beached whale as I frantically tried to scamper back into the bathroom. I was mortified. I sobbed as I tried to dry off. My skin was scaled and tender from the hot coffee, a huge section of my jeans was just completely soaked through. Everything was a mess.
I got myself cleaned up as best I could and exited the restroom to find all of the flight attendants on the plane helping the small woman up. I begged them to let me help but it was met with sneers and a firm “NO!” accompanied with orders to return to my seat.
I did as they requested. My walk of coffee-drenched shame was met with giggles from the Japanese tour group who were all seated in the back of the plane. Several people were pointing at their cameras and giving me a thumbs up. I even overheard the name Yamamotoyama, the current star sumo wrestler in Japan, pop up in excited conversation. His biggest claim to fame was being the heaviest recruit ever and he was wildly popular. As soon as I realized they were comparing me to him, any desire I’d had to go on the sumo excursion during the Japan leg of our trip evaporated.
I rushed to my seat and hid there, desperately wishing to become invisible. Twenty minutes later the same flight attendant I’d just flattened walked by with her partner serving drinks. I declined their offer of refreshments much to their visible relief.
The rest of the flight to Bangkok was uneventful aside from the occasional person asking what smelled like coffee. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.
As I was finishing the story Nirali jumped in. “Wait that was YOU?” she asked with a giggle. “That story was on the news for weeks.”
I groaned. “I had no idea it made the news.”
“Oh it did. My grandma was laughing about it for months. Holy shit Angel. I cannot believe you were the one, that is just too ironic. We HAVE to tell Gran when we see her. Do you know you broke that flight attendants arm?”
“Her wrist actually, but it was really more of a minor fracture. She was able to work the rest of the flight.”
“How did you find out about her wrist?”
“Well, when we landed they took down all of my contact info in case the airline wanted to speak with me further on the incident.” I replied, emphasizing ‘the incident’ with air quotes and an eyeroll. “It turns out that because her wrist was broken they had to report it to the Indian authorities. With the climate post 9/11 any violence on an airplane, even accidental, can be considered a crime.”
“But this really was an accident; they can’t blame you for that. It’s not like you were actually trying to hurt someone.”
“Yeah well, tell that to the very nasty man I spoke with at the Indian Consulate in Bangkok the following day.”
“Yeah. The next morning while we were filling out an incident report with the tour about the whole thing, someone showed up to summon me to the Consulate of India. There I was told, in not so uncertain terms, that if I were to ever return to India I would be charged with assaulting and Indian citizen and thrown in the Parappana Agrahara Prison immediately. I still have the paperwork I was forced to fill out if you want to see it.”
Nirali just stared at me. “You really aren’t kidding, are you?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“Well I guess I need to talk to Taj and our parents about moving the wedding to the States.”
“Nirali, you really don’t have to do that just because of me. Both of your families live there and they will want you to have the wedding at home in Mumbai.”
“We’ll see, but Taj and I both really want you to be there. We wouldn’t even know each other if you hadn’t introduced us.”
We finished our lunch and tried our best to stay away from the topic of the wedding for the rest of the afternoon. We weren’t sure what was going to happen with it so we just avoided the subject. Nirali asked about the other parts of the tour and I was happy to reminisce about all the great experiences I’d had that year. Of course I didn’t discuss the fallout from the “India Incident” and how it affected my grad school internship in Tokyo— that would be a story for another day.
As Nirali was leaving to go home and tell Taj about the situation I’d inadvertently put them in, she suddenly burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked as I hugged her to say goodbye.
“Oh nothing,” she said as she gave me a hug back. “I just realized that now I finally know the real reason you hate coffee so much.”