Doesn’t everyone love things that are rare? The other morning, I heard a sound that is fast becoming rare, as an aircraft passed overhead. I haven’t yet reached the stage of rushing to the window to look, but I did capture this photograph of contrails. Our sky was full of them till recently.

After I was sent to America, aged 16, I had what I think of as my “stuck” period, during which I went absolutely nowhere (in more ways than one, actually). The furthest I managed to travel during that time was to Philadelphia, when I attended an anthropological conference at Temple University.

Of which I remember not a single thing. A friend drove us from Long Island, and on the way home I got to hear about the date she wanted to “blow off”. It was slightly irritating, as the chap she was planning to evade was a cute guy in my class. I totally couldn’t make him notice me and she couldn’t wait to dump him. I wasn’t only “stuck”, I was also invisible.

Through those long years, 1964 to 1970, I used to look up at passing aeroplanes and wonder where they were going. It was hard, after having travelled so much, to suddenly be stuck. I felt as if my ankles were mired in quicksand.

Ironically, when I got the airline job, I still couldn’t travel for the first year because travel benefits were awarded only on completion of a full year. And when my year was done, I still couldn’t catch up with my parents because my dad had gone back to work for Unesco in a remote part of the globe that I couldn’t get to on my discount.

But that didn’t matter.

A colleague who had also just acquired her travel benefits was keen to travel and we decided to see how far away we could get using our two weeks of leave.

I looked forward to once more being on foreign soil.

We headed for Hong Kong, via San Francisco and Honolulu.

Because of runway construction at Honolulu, our aircraft could not take on sufficient fuel for the Hong Kong leg and we were required to re-fuel at Wake Island.

We were over the middle of the Pacific as the aircraft descended. We got lower and lower and all we could see were waves getting closer. At almost the last minute a runway appeared beneath us as we touched down. I imagined that it was rather like landing on an aircraft carrier.

How many hours we had been travelling at that point, I have long since forgotten, but our air-time alone would have been some 18 hours, and we had covered considerable mileage. But when we entered the tiny terminal building I realized that we were still in the United States. I was immediately impressed at the sheer enormity of this country.

I was also immediately certain that Wake Island was a place I should never care to live for a single day. With a maximum altitude of 6 feet, I would be in constant fear of the sea! There was a small contingent of US Military and Pan Am officials in residence. I hope they liked each other!

Arriving, finally, in Hong Kong, I congratulated myself at having escaped, finally, from my uncle’s clutches. We established ourselves in the Hilton Hotel on Hong Kong Island and we fell into bed, feeling completely inside-out.

At some un-godly hour, the phone rang. Sheila picked up the receiver and gave me a funny look.

“It’s your uncle”, she said.

20th October, 2019 contrails in the dawn

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