That I made it over there at all seems something of a miracle. In the first place, India has long been the foremost travel destination for me. If ever there were a culture for which I have, at the very least, an undeniable aesthetic affinity, it is that one, so the wish has been there for quite a long time. Then last Spring, my very dear old friend from college, Stephen, asked me to go with him to a wedding. He would pay the airfare. So there it was, a free trip and a dream realized. We would meet in Minneapolis, fly to New York for a day and night stop-over, then a twelve-hour layover in London (where I've never been, but plenty of time to get into town and walk about), then on to Mumbai, Goa, Delhi, and Agra.
I confess to some reluctance in me, fear even, about going, once the opportunity actually arrived. I was uncertain principally about how well Stephen and I would get along (because he is the only person in the world I really fight with, and we fight a fair bit - quite like siblings we are), but there was some obscure and inscrutable element blocking my excitement for the trip. It's fairly unusual for me not to know what I'm feeling, but there it was, a grey area.
Maybe it was the unconscious foreknowledge that there would be a very serious impediment - one that jeopardized the entire trip - namely, Ambassador Travel, the passport expediting service that executed neither speed nor reasonable accommodation. I paid for a 48 hour rush turnaround for my India visa, and instead ended up in suspense right past the day I was to fly. On the morning my visa was scheduled to arrive, a Friday, I phoned the service to inquire about the tracking number for the FedEx envelope I believed was about to land on my doorstep. They didn't seem to know what I was talking about really. I had completed my paperwork and signed the credit card slip in their fancy high rise Westwood office on Monday, all by 10:30 a.m. The Indian consulate in San Francisco was closed Tuesday for Gandhi's birthday, but I should have it Friday. Saturday would be the absolute latest. Not exactly 48 hours, mind you, but alright, so long as I had it in my hands Saturday, because I would fly to NY on Monday at noon.
I will not bother you with all the turmoil, wrangling and ridiculousness that ensued, but after badgering (which is not something I do), them all day (because they didn't know shit, they were avoiding me, failing to return calls when they promised, and generally just plain lying), I learned that they did not in fact have my visa issued but would do everything they could to get it on Monday and then would fly it to me anywhere in the U S of A. I asked for odds that this could happen at all, because obviously it was not worth flying across the country only to be disappointed.
I must say I contained my disappointment and stress remarkably well. Perhaps part of me was a little concerned about being apart from Tex for two solid weeks, especially as we had undergone quite our share, thank you very much, of strain over the preceding months. And there was the unexplainable reluctance in me about the trip. Could it have been fear that my dream would be a disappointment? "Paradise Lost?" as my Indian friend Vwani put it to me upon my return. I do know that once I got the thumbs down from Ambassador on Friday, I took a deep breath and told myself that if the entire mission failed, I really would be okay with it. And I think that was the truth. Maybe I was a little relieved.
Doing the crossword puzzle that evening, a onetime daily habit which had probably not been indulged in at least six months, a clue read, I kid you not, "Missing Bombay."
"Tex, It's a sign."
"It's not a sign," he said.