It has been one of my trademarks this trip. From that first rinsed feed of KFC at the airport in Auckland to the ludicrous decision to eat a joint in Barcelona Airport, it now seems that I am unable of catching a plane without some skull-crushing hangover or ghastly chemical imbalance. This isn’t something I seek out but rather an inevitability given the hedonistic tendencies that The Last Night brings out. Who knew when I’d be back? Sleep was for the weak, I for the night – and there was always a price to pay.
Travel is meant to be fun, but this is pure survival. After all, there’s not much that makes a hangover worse than absolute deadlines, foreign public transport and carrying round 15 kilos of shit. Packing is a nightmare: you can’t remember where half your shit is, and in the fugue of it no longer care. Got your passport? Sweet. The rest can sort itself out, preferably later. Or never.
The self-inflicted handicap isn’t conducive to much. How were we to know eating uncooked weed wouldn’t do anything? Time for smoking had run out, and we certainly weren’t going to bin it… When I look back on it, it’s a minor miracle that I didn’t miss a single flight (well, not overseas – but that is a story for another blay).
It was business as usual when I went to leave Paris: my phone beeping, waking half the dorm; my shirt, a few days old and ripe with cigarette smoke. My bag sat half packed on the floor and-fuck-it-all- shoving t-shirts atop more dirty laundry, order be damned. I blathered round the dorm in the dark, into the shower and out, rubbing my eyes in the vain hope the motion might instill some degree of wakefulness. Did I have my passport? Was that my t shirt? I did a final sweep of the room and chucked my wet towel in my pack. Nothing like a bit of moisture to help clean the rest of the festering laundry. It’d be near spotless by the time I arrived in India.
The workers on the train to the airport were striking, and the usually frequent service was only running every half hour. I hurried round Gare du Nord, unsure where to buy a ticket, ever conscious of the impending deadline. My brain was pickled and useless to me, full of red wine and self-loathing. A kind stranger pointed me in the right direction and I was off, too occupied with making my flight to piece together what it signified.
I slept on the floor at Dubai Airport, still spaced out and recovering, before my flight to Kuala Lumpar. Europe was behind me and I had much to stew on. It almost seemed too much to process, so I skirted the edges and slept when I could, watching Hollywood’s best tick all the clichés, film after film. Maybe it was something in the air conditioning, or the lack of sleep and food, but I soon found myself caught in the same cycle of mundane tragedy as the characters I derided so. It was as if the clichéd missteps in my earlier entertainment had embedded themselves in my subconscious – sending me down a rabbit hole of stupid mistakes and self-loathing.
I set out to be proactive and make the most of my stop off, confident I had left the misery of my hangover well and truly behind. I got out some ringgit, paid to check my bag into the left luggage at the airport, and brought a ticket into town. However I misjudged the time it took to train into the city, and arrived in downtown Kuala Lumpar only to realise that I wasn’t actually downtown, and that the time it would take to train there would leave me zero time to explore. In fact, if I was to make my flight I had best be getting on the train back to the airport quick sharp. So much for that then.
I optimistically walked around the train station, where there was nothing, and ate a mediocre dinner in the food court. I mentally tallied how much the whole exercise had cost me – I doubt anyone has every paid so much for Chicken Chop Chop.
Back at the airport I reclaimed my pack and went upstairs to check in. I’d seen Air Asia flights on my initial scan of the departures board and assumed mine would show up later. I had been damn early. But here I was, not long until check-in closed and there was still no sign. My anxiety intensified, then erupted. I pulled my ticket out of my bag – was I at the wrong fucking terminal?!
The Help Desk confirmed my worst fears and I ran for the taxi rank, bags akimbo and hair and legs flailing. I thrust a handful of ringgit at a taxi driver, who pointed inside to the ticket booth. It was almost too much and the cortisol flooded my system. I queued impatiently for my ticket, counting my remaining money. Did I have enough? Just. Thank fuck for the experience that had led me to get out a bit more than I’d expected – you know, just in case. Well here it was, and the wait was excruciating.
I checked my phone compulsively, running countdowns in my head – imagining how I would explain my fuckout to Brother Hands, patiently awaiting my arrival in a guest house in Kochi – all the while trying not to scream at the people in front of me: HURRY THE FUCK UP GODDAM IT – didn’t they know I had a plane to catch?
I threw my bag in the back and made a nervous plea to the friendly driver. “Uh, how long does it take to the other terminal?” It was going to come down to the wire and I silently thanked whatever foresight had led me to train back to the airport instead of pushing it and trying to get further into town.
The weather matched my inner turmoil and a tempestuous thunderstorm raged outside the taxi. The road was thankfully clear, my driver happy to push the limit despite the torrential rain and huge forks of lightening that struck the tarmac next to us. Would I make it? Time was counting down and I shoved my phone deep in my pocket. I could feel it pressing into my thigh and had to fight the urge to check, focusing on the lightening outside and making nervous small talk with the driver about my stay. Would I stay longer next time? Yes, certainly. I loved Malaysia, of course I’d be back. Never mind that I’d never been before – I’d have said anything to get to get to my flight on time.
The terminal was, like all secondary carrier terminals, run down and disorganised. I thanked my driver, giving him all the money I had left, and sprinted inside. Chaos abounded and I was again confronted with unfamiliar queues. I found Air Asia and consoled myself with the wonderful knowledge that they couldn’t leave us all behind (Could they?). Finally, I checked my bag.
The stress had taken its toll: I was exhausted and struggled to stay awake while I waited for my boarding call. No one feels great after a bender and 36 hours in transit, but my close call had drained me completely and I boarded the plane full of gratitude.
In my rush I’d forgotten I had no meal to look forward to. I had nothing left, financially and emotionally, and resigned myself to a hungry flight, sure that I would be in India soon. And in the scheme of a life, I was. We waited on the tarmac for two hours while engineers tended to the plane and I drifted in and out of a feverish sleep, frustrated but trapped, close but not quite there. It was my own Hollywood mishap, and I would think twice before laughing at their shortcomings again.