It was the last leg of the trip from Hong Kong to Mumbai. One had been up for 36 hours straight, partly packing, chatting with folks you were about to bid goodbye to, and partly due to the lack of decent leg space in the plane, thanks to the economy of class.
The 8 hour stopover wasn't much of a help, as most of it was spent searching and looking for resting lounges and stuff folks said was there, but not obvious to us. We even landed suddenly at a train station in the middle of all this, and promptly returned back , as we didn't want to be out somewhere in the city suddenly, without the immigration formalities etc.
Back on the flight, it also didn't help, that every time you tried to nod off, the prevailing tumultuous atmospheric conditions, would make the captain issue seat belt signs, and the stewardesses would start off on a bunch of sing song announcements in English.Hindi, and Chinese.
Throughout the trip, to and fro , some of the stewardesses were wearing these masks across their mouth and nose.
Just before our flight was boarding a gentleman rushed up to the desk asking about masks, and asked where to get them. Then he rushed back to the shops, and returned, the last man to board, with an entire box of , maybe, 500 masks. Which had me calculating desperately.
I was already carrying a few masks , in single digits, with me, from the US, just to have them on hand. The airport here in Hong Kong, had quoted 5 HK $'s a mask, and the Chinese lady offered me 3 for 10 HK $'s, in her best , possibly, Mumbai bargaining style. In my even better Mumbai bargaining style, I refused.
Suddenly , at 34,000 feet in the sky, something just shattered my onset of sleep for the nth time. There were two grown men, 4 rows ahead of me, glaring at each other, eye to eye. The masks chap had got up, opened the overhead bin, and managed to drop down some longish, bubble wrapped item, belonging the guy sitting behind.
Accusations, mutterings , higher decibel levels, and one of the guys shouted "Get lost" to the other at which point I was shattered into wakefulness instantly.
Suddenly a guy stood up. Looked at the masks chap, eye to eye .
"What did you say ? You need to actually pay for the careless damage. Get lost yourself ."
And they glared.
The masks fellow started down at the other. Took out his wallet. Grabbed a bunch of notes , dollar bills. And disdainfully threw them at the other fellow.
" You want money ? 100 dollars ? Is that it ? Take this. And this."
Green paper wistfully floating down.
Now a supporter of the aggrieved fellow gets up.
"You think you can just throw money ? And get away with it ? You think thats what I want ? Take this yourself. " And he threw wads of bills at the other.
Hundreds of desolate, dollars floating to the floor, 32,000 feet up in the air.
Suddenly a guy from the window side gets up. Kind of stands between both.
Brokering a peace.
"Please. Be seated. You guys need to cool it. There has to be a better way. I saw it all. It was a mistake. But nothing done on purpose. "
They both talk at the same time with this guy. Deliberately ignoring and running down each other. It doesn't help that one of them said something in Hindi which the other did not understand. There are touches of regionalism in this, trying to spice the whole thing up. Lots of soliloquies and muttering on both sides. The peacemaker manages the fight. The stewardess comes by, and gives them a piece of her mind, in a fairly polite school marm manner.
Maybe its the swine flu scare. Maybe the masks chap hails from a place where the swine flu has maximum fatalities. Then there is the obsession of the other about this expensive thing which has fallen, which should have been kept someplace else in the first place.
Maybe, like me, everyone is very tired, and tempers fray easily.
But that money throwing bothers me. The amount of money , converted into local currency, flung around in those few minutes, would have been so useful to someone I know, who has to work four households, to pay her sons' tuition fees, as she is a wife , left to fend on her own, by a drunkard husband.
And here, high up in the air, their noses at similar elevations, drunk on the thickness of their wallets and thinness of their regional skins, with super inflated egos, the two fellows had just shown the young ones in the plane, a fine example of how NOT to behave.
I almost got up. To interfere and tell them off. But fate conspired otherwise. The crush of pillows, blankets, seat belts, reading material and purses , not to mention an unfortunate central enclosed seat, made it impossible.
I should have collected the thrown money and passed a hat around, with extra compulsory contributions from the warring parties. It would have made an excellent contribution to the emergency medical fund for the children at the Orphanage close to where I stay. They use that when special life saving expensive meds and procedures are required for the young children.
Like my late mother used to always say, money is not always about quantity. It has the most value when it has quality.
And these guys were just completely clueless.
I guess some folks never learn.
My plane lands, untypically, in the evening. Most international flights land here at unearthly hours like 3 am. Traffic isn't bad then.
I am in the thick of the traffic, jammed, on the road back home. What takes 20 minutes at 3 am, took me 75 minutes, at 7 pm.
The anger is slowly dissipating. Maybe through the familiar potholes, as we avoid swerving aggressive 3 wheelers.
There is a sense of relief.
And despite the chaos, strangely, peace.
I am home.