Two Kids: Guam to Copenhagen, via Bangkok and Moscow.
Life Story Pictures
The children towered over the local people and they huddled together, holding on to their small suitcases. Around them Bangkok airport bustled, people shoving, pushing, elbowing and screaming at the top of their lungs, as they went about their unknown, perhaps important, and seemingly urgent business. As they looked up towards the ceiling they could see large fans, laboriously moving as if submerged in water and full of dust which had built up to what looked like grey bricks on top of the spindly fan blades. The bricks seemed to want to come tumbling down at any minute. Further up, dirty skylights let in a yellow light. It streamed in faintly, and they could see particles of dust floating lethargically in the stirred up air. The floor was firmly packed dirt, packed so hard it might as well have been concrete. Along the walls hung torn posters of smiling faces with garish writing, probably political of some nature. As the children were tall compared to the local folks, they could look above the sizzle of the crowds and see more pictures of what appeared to be lavish hotels or half-naked women. A sign said “Bethrooms”, surely misspelled, over a grimy door which led into what must be public restrooms. The girl felt her bladder about to burst. She thought about her chronic bladder infections, and knew she should go but she didn’t want to leave her brother.
“How do we know the person who is supposed to pick us up is in fact the right person?” The boy whispered unnecessarily in all the noise. Their trip called for a layover in Bangkok and they were waiting for the travel agent to meet them. The boy was younger than the girl but almost as tall. Even though he was younger, he had an air of confidence about him that the girl didn’t. Maybe his 12 years did not permit him to fully perceive the predicament they were in. They had traveled on American Airlines from Guam in the South Pacific and were on their way to Copenhagen where their dad would pick them up. Traveling half way around the world meant many unknowns and a long stop in Bangkok. Although both were experienced travelers, and they had acted nonchalant at home, this trip worried them deeply.
“We’ll wait here as agreed. He should be able to find us,” said the girl, looking out over the throng. The children stood out like birches in a forest, but no one bothered with them. They waited. Hour after hour passed. Now and then a baggage handler would push his cart at them and in an incomprehensible babble ask them what they assumed meant if they wanted help with the bags. They would shake their heads and pull their luggage closer. The girl was near tears. She did have tickets back to Guam in case the agent never came, but they were blank – not issued for any certain date or time. She looked around for a Pan Am sign. She didn’t see any. Perhaps because we are in the arrival terminal, she thought. She had a little money tucked away in her jeans and some in her sneaker. Enough to call her mom and step-dad she supposed. Except they might already have left Guam for their own vacation in Japan.
After hours of waiting they saw a man, short like all the others in the terminal, snake his way up through the mob, dragging a girl behind him. They made a curious pair. His eyes shone out of his face as he approached. His short hair stood straight up in a tomahawk style and the tips where bleached white. He wore a dark suit, crumbled, a checkered shirt and a black, skinny tie. The young woman was tall and gaunt looking, with red hair and a very pale face. Her makeup looked hastily applied and she was wearing short, orange, shiny mini-shorts and a purple tube-top which showed off knobby shoulders and slender arms.
“You must be the kids I’m supposed to pick up,” said the man, stretching his hand out to the boy even though the girl stood closer. The boy took his hand gingerly, like he was picking up a worm and was ready to withdraw his hand at any time. The man fished out a crumbled and dirty fax sheet from his pocket where they glimpsed their names. John and Elisabeth Candor. They dared a look at each other. The kids didn’t have to speak out loud. They knew what the other was thinking. If the man was carrying a fax with their name, he must be the travel agent they were waiting for, right?
“I am Indi, this is Sharon,” the man didn’t turn to his companion as he mentioned her name. Rather, he slurred it out like an afterthought.
“You are Elisabeth and John, right?” Indi brandished the fax, peering at the faint print.
“Lizzy and JJ, actually,” said Lizzy.
“Ok. Let’s go,” he said, without a word about the fact that he was 3 hours or more late. His spiky hair touched Lizzy’s face as he turned around. It smelled of sweat and cloying cologne. She recoiled.
“Wait,” she said. “I am afraid I have to go to the restroom before we leave.” He looked at her blankly. “Where can I find a bathroom?”
“Oh, you don’t want to go here,” he blurted the words out with a snort. “Wait till we get to the hotel”.
“No, she has to go,” bursted JJ emphatically, knowing her pain.
Lizzy made her way through the crowds over to the door that said “Bethroom”, and as she opened the door the stench scorched her nostrils. Her bladder was burning, and she recalled the times she had peed blood when the infections had become too intense. She had no choice but to use these facilities. She let the grimy door shut behind her. Open stalls lined the walls, there were no doors, and several women were hunched over what looked like holes in the ground, with their skirts hitched up in their laps. Some children were running around chasing each other, weaving in and out of the empty stalls. Lizzy ran to the last stall, found it empty, and pulled down her jeans. Standing over the hole and watching the grime on the walls, trying to avoid looking down, tears began to flow down her cheeks. The pain, as she squeezed out the last bit of urine, was excruciating. She pulled up her jeans not bothering to check for any toilet paper, and ran out of the bathroom area.
“I told you it was bad,” ventured Indi as she returned.
He yelled for one of the bag carriers and after bantering back and forth, clearly negotiating the price, they were off with the bag cart paving their way through the masses. As they exited the arrival terminal, they were surprised to see several tour operators waving big signs: “SunClub”, “German Tours”, even a “Decadent Vacation” sign, trying to herd their small groups of tourists around them while waiting on buses that were to take them into Bangkok. Lizzy whispered to her brother:
“Maybe we should just go up to one and ask them to help us. I don’t like the way this feels. You know, our rule was never to hitch any rides with couples!”
She recalled when she and JJ had to hitchhike to and from school. They had devised certain rules. For example, they would only enter a car with a single driver. Any other combination was dangerous they thought. These were their own rules. Their parents did not seem particularly worried that their then 12 and 8-year-old kids were out hitchhiking. They hadn’t really had a choice anyway – there were no buses running to and from their house to their school. Sometimes Lizzy wondered why her parents seemed so nonchalant about the “freedom” they granted their children. One could blame it on their work schedules, but somehow Lizzy figured other parents managed to arrange it so their kids were driven home by someone they knew.
“Lizzy, you are freaking out. This will be fine. He must be the right guy since he has a fax with our name on it.” JJ seemed more sure of the situation and satisfied the wait had come to an end.
They trotted after the man, Indi, who was dragging the woman, Sharon, behind him. He ignored the kids completely. The man with the bags kept running into people in front of them with his cart, parting a way for the little group. The kids practically ran after Indi and Sharon, Sharon’s orange shorts undulating before them. Leaving the building, the air had cleared a bit and the cigarette smoke which had permeated everything inside the terminal, dissipated slightly with the warm breeze. Now the cart was pushing through people on bicycles, sometimes two or even three on a bike, riding so close to each other it was a wonder they didn’t all just tumble and fall. Finally, they made a stop in front of a tiny Fiat – one of those their mom used to drive – shift stick grinding on winding roads. Somehow the bag handler and Indi managed to get their bags stuffed into the back of the Fiat, and as Indi slapped a few bills into the luggage bearer’s dirty hand, he held open the door to the miniature car on the passenger side. Lizzy entered first, squishing up her long, bony legs against the front of the driver’s seat in front of her. Her brother stuffed himself in beside her. Lizzy held the purse she carried on her lap and clamped it to her chest. In it were their passport and not much else. Sharon slid into the passenger seat and Indi revved the car into gear, honking his horn incessantly as he exited the parking space.
Lizzy tried to forget her burning bladder which was not at all relieved. She tried to concentrate on their next steps. Not that she had any power to do anything. Indi, the travel agent, was supposed to give them the flight tickets out of Bangkok. She hadn’t heard Indi speak a word about it yet, and she felt her anxiety building again, now that they were out of the airport. The heavy, brutal heat felt unbearable inside the little vehicle and it wasn’t until it got out of the airport and onto a dark road that some fresh air entered the car, and they could take some deep breaths. They were used to the heat and the humidity from Guam, but somehow it seemed worse here. Flies were buzzing inside the car, and she saw JJ trying to wave them away. The car picked up speed and the road got darker as they left the airport behind. In fact, it was hard to tell where the curb began. Lizzy wondered how Indi could tell which side of the road he was driving on.
Up front Sharon had scooted over towards Indi and was murmuring in his ear, her hands alternatively in his spiky hair and in his lap. The man seemed to ignore her. Sharon’s red head rose over the short seat of the little car and was so close to Lizzy’s face she could smell her sweat. Or maybe it was hairspray, thought Lizzy. Either way she gagged. They hadn’t eaten for 6 hours, nor had they had anything to drink. As the car continued streaking through the night, renewed fear grabbed Lizzy’s stomach, like a vice she couldn’t unscrew. She looked over at her brother and grabbed his wet, sweaty hand and squeezed it tight. His blue eyes turned towards her and, as before, they didn’t need to speak to know what the other one was thinking. Lizzy recalled what her mother had said before they left.
“Now make sure you wait for the travel agent and don’t leave with anyone else when you get to Bangkok,” their mother had warned. “But I’m not worried; you two know how to travel, and you, Lizzy, you take care of your little brother! Besides, at 15 and 12 you’re not really children any more, are you?” Their mother was sitting on the edge of her bed, makeup spread out on the bedspread beside her. She turned chose a little jar with purple eye shadow which she applied with her fingers to her eyelids. As she picked up her black eye liner, Lizzy automatically slid off the bed where she had been lounging so as not to jerk her mother’s hand while she penciled in the thick streaks of eyeliner. Then her mother rose from the bed and took them both in her arms. She squeezed them tight, and looking into her eyes, Lizzy saw tears forming. “Your father wants to see you and this crazy itinerary is the best he could come up with,” she said. She was worried about her kids, but at the same time she was looking forward to the time she would have with Steve, her husband of 5 years. Nothing like time without the kids around! Besides, they would be alright she convinced herself. They knew how to take care of themselves – they always had.
Now JJ whispered in Lizzy’s ear, “This is taking so long. Where is the city?” As if on cue, Indi turned around with a cheerful face and said,
“Not much longer now kids. The airport is quite some way outside of the city, but we should be there in another 15 minutes.” Indi’s English was good. “See the lights up ahead?”
They strained to look over the seats in front of them and true, the sky was lighting up, as if the sun was rising. The closer they came, the lighter the sky turned, until eventually they could make out individual tall buildings. It wasn’t until they began to see the skyline that lights appeared on the side of the road. Shanty houses, grey in the night, flew by. Sometimes, what seemed like a single bulb burned in a shack, and sometimes, the road would illuminate for a while before again sinking into darkness. Probably from a randomly placed traffic light. Soon the traffic increased, and with her heart in her throat, Lizzy watched the oncoming cars swerve so as not to hit Indi’s little box of a car. Indi seemed to think he owned the road and any other vehicle should get out of his way.
The skyline of Bangkok hovered before their eyes, brilliant, not letting on that it must be 4.00am or so in the morning. They strained to see the height of the skyscrapers but couldn’t since they seemed to disappear into the sky. The smog lay like a blanket over the city. The streets were milling with locals – no sign it was so early in the morning. Many were on bicycles with big packs tied on their backs. The Fiat had come to a virtual standstill. Indi pushed his vehicle forward as much as possible and several times hit the car in front of him or beside him. No one seemed to care. There were clearly no traffic rules upheld whatsoever. After inching along in this manner, the Fiat drove up to the entrance of a hotel where it stopped. Peninsula Hotel. Lizzy felt reassured. This was the hotel her parents had set up for them to stay at while in Bangkok.
“Ok, kids, this is where you will be staying,” Lizzy thought Indi sounded as relieved as she did. Folding themselves out of the little box, they grabbed their luggage and scampered after Indi into the hotel lobby. Sharon remained with the car being ogled by the hotel guards, which she didn’t seem to mind. Indi checked them in and they went up to their room. The elevator soared up to the 54th floor making Lizzy sick to her stomach, as if she was on a rollercoaster with too many hotdogs in her belly.
“Ok, I’ll be by tomorrow around midday to fetch you. We’ll do some sightseeing – you’ll like it!” Indi seemed cheerful and not at all tired. “I’ll pick you up at 11.00am,” he continued.
Before he took off, Lizzy ventured: “Indi, we haven’t eaten for more than 6 hours now and we’re starving. What can we do for food?” He turned around with a frown on his face and looked at his huge gold watch – a yellow handcuff on his scrawny wrist.
“You have 3 hours till breakfast. I’m sure you can last that long.” With that he turned around and left slamming the door after himself.
They turned to each other, and throwing their luggage on the floor, went up to the floor-length window. In the East they could make out what appeared to be the sun rising. As they stared they saw the smog filtering the rays, and if they looked down they could barely see the streets. But the room seemed clean and they took off their shoes and jeans, and fell into the beds and passed out instantly. No thoughts to double lock the doors, or checking the bathroom first. Just the bliss of a heavy, dead, dark slumber.
Lizzy woke first, mouth slobbering spit in the pillow, and her neck in a kink for not having moved for so many hours. Her stomach growled and she checked her watch. It was 9.32am local time. She hoped they hadn’t missed breakfast. “JJ,” she yelled, as she ran into the bathroom and relieved the pressure of her bladder. It burned as she peed but she ignored it. The bathroom was clean, with plenty of towels. There was even a bidet! But she wouldn’t have time to clean up now. Getting to the food was more important. She pulled on her very dirty jeans and didn’t even bother to open her suitcase for her toothbrush. Instead she waited impatiently while JJ pulled on his equally dirty jeans, and then they headed out the door, taking care to lock it with the key card Indi had left on the table last night. They ran to the elevator and pushed the L button, hoping the breakfast was served in the area of the Lobby. In the elevator stood a fat man, cigar in his mouth. He was well dressed in a suit and looked like a business man. He gave them scant attention while the smoke from his cigar emitted reeking odor.
The elevator light “L” showed up. Relieved, they jumped out of the elevator as soon as it stopped and ran to the reception desk.
“Where is breakfast served?” It was JJ that asked, breathless.
“Breakfast is just about over, but if you hurry up that staircase you might make it,” the pretty girl behind the desk offered. “Hurry!” she added.
And they made it. It was a big buffet and they ran and grabbed a plate each before anyone could protest. They heaped their plates with fried eggs, ham, cereal, and some little round fried balls that seemed like some sort of local cheese. While eating, several people in the restaurant were turning around and looking at the tall, skinny, dirty youngsters. The kids were oblivious and gobbled up their food and then went back for seconds. The kitchen had begun cleaning up and removing the food so they had to literally snatch the items away from the trays. A hardboiled egg here, a bun there. No one gave them a bill or asked them to pay which they thought strange. Finally satiated, they got up to look around. The hotel foyer looked like any other – large atrium in the middle, reception desks on one side, and a concierge’s desk on the other. Lizzy pulled on JJ’s arm.
“Let’s go upstairs and wait for Indi. We need to clean up.” She glanced down at her filthy jeans and didn’t have to stick her nose in her armpit to smell her sweat. At 15 Lizzy was concerned about her looks and knew her hair was dirty as well. JJ couldn’t care less. He pulled Lizzy in the opposite direction towards the huge revolving doors leading outside.
“Hey, let’s just take a quick look! Don’t be a chicken. Indi will wait for us.” A tug of war began and Lizzy won, and soon they were in the room taking showers, one after the other. Just as Lizzy was finishing drying her hair and applying a little mascara, which she had snatched from her mother before leaving, there was a knock on the door and Indi breezed in without knocking. This time he was alone. He had some documents in his hand and he went up to Lizzy as JJ came out of the shower with a towel around his slender waist to grab some clean clothes. Indi glanced at JJ, and then turned around.
“Ok, little girl,” he started.
“My name is Lizzy,” she interrupted, annoyed.
“Ok, Lizzy,” he began again.
“Here are your flight tickets to Moscow and then on to Copenhagen. They are one-way tickets so don’t get lost!” He laughed. His laughter had a high pitch. “You leave tomorrow afternoon at 3.45 on Aeroflot. We’ll have to leave here for the airport no later than 12.00pm”.
Lizzy accepted the tickets as if they were gold. She placed them in the purse that she carried across her shoulder and held on to over her chest. She was not going to take any chances leaving them in the hotel. JJ came out, his usually cheerful demeanor on his face, and dressed in fresh, if wrinkly, jeans and a T-shirt with “T-Rex” printed on it. “Get It On” was a favorite song of theirs. Her brother had a cherub’s face. He had inherited their mom’s full lips, slightly turned up in the corners even when he wasn’t smiling. His blonde hair, now wet, trailed down his neck in ringlets. He looked like a girl in a way, and was often mistaken for one. He didn’t seem to care. His self-respect was too high for that. Or maybe he was just oblivious to it. Lizzy was different. She was very self-conscious of her looks and always paid attention to how others perceived her.
“Ok, kids,” Indi said. He seemed to be hooked on starting every sentence with “Ok”. Today we’ll have fun. I will take you out for some sightseeing and we’ll eat down by the river. I assume you had breakfast? It’s free at the hotel,” he added.
After they answered in the affirmative, he opened the door with great flourish, and out they went. He had booked them on a tourist tour to see the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha Temple. Mounting the bus, Lizzy saw him give the tour operator some bills and she was sure he had obtained a deal of some kind. When the bus stopped in front of the Grand Palace Complex – Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang – she instantly forgot about Indi, the uncertainties around the trip, and everything else. Guided by a British tour guide, they wandered around the palace, which used to be the royal residence and was still used for special festivities. The beauty of the gems and architecture was breathtaking. Indi hung back, and JJ seemed less enthusiastic than Lizzy, until the Emerald Buddha Temple – Wat Pura Kaew – came into sight. This was surely the most magnificent, dazzling and beautiful building she had ever seen. The atmosphere inside the Temple was similar to that of a church. And that made sense, thought Lizzy. They pushed against the throng of tourists and approached the Phra Kaew Morakot, the astonishing 24-inch Emerald Buddha, carved from one large piece of jade, that sat under a canopy on a gilded pedestal. Even Indi, who surely had seen it many, many times, stood quietly, looking at it intently for many minutes. It was a riveting experience.
After the tour, Indi took them for a walk down to the Wat Suwan Pier by the Chao Phraya River where street vendors lined the embankment. After a morning of sight seeing the breakfast buffet was long forgotten. The unusual local edible offerings were exciting. They wandered around for quite a while until Indi made the decision of which vendor to buy from. He treated them to little cups of sweet smelling, sour tasting bowls of rice, then something that looked like pita bread with spicy chicken inside and a lot of coconut ice cream served in coconut halves. When they were full, he took off, in his usual rapid pace, and they trailed behind him until they reached their hotel. By now it was 4.30pm.
As Indi left their room, with a little wave of his small hand, again slamming the door, they threw themselves on their beds engrossed in their own thoughts, finally dropping off to a deep sleep. They must have laid like that for hours – they were still exhausted after last night. Lizzy woke, staring up into the ceiling, not sure where she was. She looked around and saw that JJ had gotten up and pulled open the curtains and that the city lights from the surrounding high rises poured into their room. Lizzy joined JJ in front of the glass, barely daring to look down the 54 flights. They could see other hotels nearby with the little myriad of windows, where she imagined others standing and staring out. Staring at them perhaps. Peeking down, the smog permitted hazy, colored lights from the streets below.
“Hey, should we go down and check it out?” JJ as usual was the more adventurous of the two, and now he looked at Lizzy with shiny, excited eyes. “Can’t hurt as long as we keep the hotel in sight, right? Besides we need to go down to the restaurant and have dinner.”
“We’ll have dinner but we’re not going out.” Lizzy spoke with finality. She felt that same sense of anxiety binding up her intestines as she had felt yesterday at the airport waiting for Indi. Almost a sense of foreboding. She was surprised JJ didn’t feel the same way. Over the past year she had sensed that symbiotic feeling subsides. Perhaps because they were both growing up a bit and had to rely on themselves more, she reflected. Many events in her life were now taking place where JJ was not present. She could think of both good ones and bad ones.
“We agreed we’d go outside,” he said.
She slowly followed him through the door making sure she had the key to the safe secured in her jean pocket. She had locked their passports and tickets in the room safe which she had found in the closed earlier.
“Ok,” she muttered. “Let’s do it.”
They had a “blah” dinner in the restaurant. Same typical international restaurant junk. Leaving half their poorly prepared steaks and soggy French-fries on the table, they walked through the empty lobby and exited through the revolving doors. Outside the temperature was near 90 F and the humidity was probably around the same. Immediately their thin T-shirts started clinging to their bodies. The sidewalk was fairly empty except for a few tourists milling about. They walked away from the Peninsula Hotel to the river, just as they had earlier with Indi. The embankment was quiet – all the street vendors were gone and the hustle and bustle they had seen earlier was replaced by sounds of ferries going back and forth across the river. It got darker the closer they got to the embankment.
“We should be getting back,” whispered Lizzy. She couldn’t believe she had listened to her brother and left the hotel. JJ had approached the river bank and was staring down into what she knew was the muddy, dark and dirty river below. Off in the distance, coming from the hotel, she saw two figures. For some reason she felt afraid and ran up to her brother and dragged him down the stairs that led to the river. They heard a conversation that sounded agitated and it seemed as if the two figures had stopped right on top of the stairs where they had descended. Lizzy motioned to JJ to be quiet and not move. They knew their signals from their hitchhiking days.
Lizzy and JJ could smell cigarette smoke mingling with the stench of the river. They stood absolutely still, backs against the wall, hoping the two men above wouldn’t have the bright idea of looking down. Lizzy felt JJ trembling and she took his clammy hand in hers and squeezed tight. They had no idea who the two men were. Perhaps they were hotel employees who had seen them leave and were concerned about them being out at night. Lizzy was getting worked up. She knew she was hypersensitive now.
The men’s voices drifted away and Lizzy and JJ slowly mounted the stairs. Lizzy could see the two figures walking away along the embankment and not back towards the hotel. When they seemed to be at a safe distance she nudged JJ and gestured that they should run back to the hotel. They waited a little longer till the men only appeared as shadows in the distance and then they ran towards the hotel trying not to make any noise. They reached the bright doors of the hotel, ran through the lobby to the elevators and stumbled into the first one that opened. No one joined them, and as soon as they got off on their floor they continued running to their room, Lizzy with the key out and ready. Inside, she double locked the door. They drew a deep breath and stared at each other. Lizzy sunk to the floor and pressed her ear against the door. She remained like that till her legs cramped and her butt chafed against her jeans. She should never have let JJ talk her into leaving the hotel. But this was nonsense, she figured. Pure nonsense.
The next day they got up early. They didn’t have to leave until 12.00pm, so they languished in the morning, knowing they had plenty of time to prepare. Nice breakfast downstairs, long showers, clean clothes. Now each one was on their bed reading. JJ was thumbing through the brochures he had found on the night stand. Lizzy sneaked a peek. Naked breasts in glossy color display. JJ took his time with each pamphlet. She didn’t care.
“Indi is late”. Lizzy looked at her watch and abruptly sat up. She had dozed off.
“Late?” she said. He was supposed to come at 12.00. She felt blood draining from her face, and had to steady herself when she stood up. Another calamity.
“What if we don’t make the flight? Then what are we going to do?” she continued, pacing around the room. “I’m not surprised. He is totally unpredictable. Totally!” Lizzy tried to keep her voice in the lower decibels. She hated women with shrill, harsh voices. Besides she didn’t want to alarm JJ.
“Remember the traffic when we came in?” JJ was still on the bed, although she could tell he was nervous. Being on time was one thing their mom had drilled into them. “L’exactitude est la politesse des rois,” she would say. “Punctuality is the rightness of Kings”. Poor translation, she knew. Lizzy said it out loud in French now, trying to enjoy the way the “r” in “rois” rolled off her tongue.
Time went by slowly, idly, like a chewing gum without taste which you couldn’t spit out. Lizzy looked at the tickets Indi had given her yesterday. Their flight for Moscow departed at 3.45pm. That was a little more than one and a half hours from now.
Just then Indi knocked on the door and again, in his nonchalant manner, breezed in.
“Ok, I know you kids are worried but we’ll get there in time. Grab your things. I took care of the bills downstairs”.
Without a word Lizzy and JJ grabbed their bags, Lizzy making sure her purse was safely across her chest. They rushed after Indi, squeezing into an elevator full of people who clearly were trying to make the door close before they arrived. In the lobby Indi slowed down and Lizzy bumped into the back of his shoes from the momentum of dashing out of the elevator. He kind of sauntered across the lobby. Inexplicable, thought Lizzy, pushing herself against his back. Again, the redhead was in the passenger seat, and seeing them coming, she slowly crawled out of the little car, spindly legs precluding any chance for glamor or graze.
The trip to the airport could not have been worse. No one spoke. Again Lizzy’s bladder was acting up, as it always did during stressful situations, and it hurt. This time the redhead had scooted her seat backwards, and JJ’s long legs were pressed against the passenger seat, knees almost touching his chin, which stuck out. Lizzy knew he was grinding his teeth. Lizzy, oblivious to the cruel heat, and blind to the incomprehensible traffic, kept her eyes on her watch, willing the minute hand to slow down. It didn’t, somehow it seemed to have picked up an unusual pace. When Indi abruptly stopped at the curb at the airport, JJ slammed his knees against the passenger seat, jolting the redhead out of the car. He pushed her aside and dragged Lizzy out. Indi summoned a luggage carrier who threw their bags on the cart and began his trek towards a big sign saying “Aeroflot”, parting the human masses, clobbering anyone in his way. They ran in his wake, Indi first, JJ second and Lizzy following behind. Rushing through many, long hallways they finally saw a kiosk, with “Moscow” printed on the sign by the desk. A large man was closing the door behind himself. Lizzy, having overtaken them all, shouted,
“Wait! You can’t leave without us. We are only children!” She knew adults instinctively wanted to protect children. They had studied it in her sociology class and it was a universal, deeply rooted sentiment. She proffered her tickets and breathlessly handed them to him. He opened the door and shouted something into the gangway. Probably in Russian. Then he smiled. Lizzy felt so relieved that she started crying. Tears falling down her face, she reciprocated with a huge smile at the man. Indi handed them each their bag, and stretched out his hand. Usually exceedingly polite, Lizzy just turned around, grabbed JJ’s arm, and started down the gangway after the tall man.
Bangkok – Copenhagen, via Moscow.
As they entered the plane, Lizzy was surprised to see actual arm-chairs bolted to the floor of the airplane rather than the usual airplane seats. The airline hostesses were all fat, and not very pleasant. The plane reeked of sweat and coffee and cigarettes. As they sat down in the middle and aisle seats, beside a small man at the window, Lizzy drew a long breath of relief. The worst part of the journey was over and except for a pit stop in Moscow for fuel, this plane would take them straight to Copenhagen where their father would be waiting for them.
Soon they were served lunch and here the airline excelled. Small white table cloths were placed over the pull out trays, and next came the appetizers. Caviar, toast, a wedge of lemon and hard boiled eggs. Lizzy and JJ looked at the fare confused. In spite of having traveled to different corners of the world they had never seen caviar and it did look suspicious and confusing. The man next to Lizzy leaned over ever so slightly.
“Let me teach you how to eat the caviar – perhaps you will like, no?”
Lizzy was starving. She studied the man take a little piece of toast, scoop up some caviar and then squeeze a bit of lemon on top. Then he placed the entire piece in the mouth at once. As he started carving up his egg, Lizzy repeated his actions, and opened her mouth to the delicacy. Popping the little fish eggs against the top of her mouth, she realized it really was heavenly. Little did she know that she was eating real sturgeon caviar and it would be many years before she tried it again.
They arrived in Moscow and stared at the colossal women with Kalashnikovs in their arms greeting them as they descended from the plane. They looked at each other in wonder – USSR really took this foreign visitor thing seriously! And to think they were only visiting the airport for a short fuel stop. They were led like a horde into Sheremetyevo airport. Long, empty corridors streaked into the distance, as they followed the armed guides into the waiting area. They took a seat, throwing their bags onto an adjacent chair. After what seemed like an eternity they were shuffled back onto the plane and as Lizzy reached her chair, purse still snug over her chest, she knew the anguish was over. No more stops. No more sensation of immense responsibility – for her brother as well as herself. No, not sensation. It had been a real, tangible, unbreakable responsibility. One she would not wish on anyone else. She slept on the way to Copenhagen. It was a deep sleep of relief and JJ had to poke her in the ribs to wake her. Lizzy knew that she would look back, and speak of, the past two days as an adventure. But she knew in her soul she would never, ever, send her own kids across the world, alone, without money, without tickets and without an adult to rely on. What if Indi hadn’t shown up at the airport? What if they had missed the flight?
But they had made it. Rain pounding outside, she walked down the gangway into her father’s arms, knowing her inner heart had locked and that not even her parents would be allowed there anymore.