She had two choices – drop her luggage off at the hotel after landing at the airport or head straight to the exhibition after landing. Either way, she decided she’ll make her choice after the plane lands, as she sat at the departure lounge of AirAsia Indonesia. It was a full flight she mused to herself, staring at the steady stream of passengers making their way into the lounge. The lounge was already teeming with travelers. At the row of seats next to the departure door were three friends all lost in their own world. One whiled the time away playing his PSP; another fiddled with his iPod while the only woman in the group just sat quietly on her chair. In front of her were a mother and daughter, passports in hand, quietly waiting for boarding to commence. Beside her were another group of women chatting away.
From the corner of her eye, she spotted the lady who sat next to her outside the departure lounge. She recognized the shawl, skinny jeans and black flats. She – lady in skinny jeans – was also flying off to Singapore. She learnt about that tidbit after accidentally glancing at her boarding slip. They had the same boarding gate, D4. She – lady in skinny jeans – was oblivious to the world, busily typing on her sleek Blackberry, with her legs tucked underneath her.
Her thoughts shifted to the announcements overhead.
“Calling all passengers of AirAsia Indonesia heading to Ho Chi Minh City – please proceed to the lounge on your left. The lounge on your right is for the passengers of flight QZ7790 heading for Singapore. Thank you for your attention,” boomed the ground crew’s voice.
“To all passengers of AirAsia Indonesia heading for Ho Chi Ming City – please approach the counter for your free snacks. Thank you for your attention,” she broadcast through the air.
“To all passengers of AirAsia Indonesia QZ7790 – your aircraft has just landed and we’ll need 10 minutes to get everything prepared for your flight. Thank you for waiting.”
She had never flown AirAsia before but, despite the horror stories heard from friends, couldn’t pass up on the promo airfare for a weekend sojourn to the red dot. She wasn’t about to complain about the delay although she wanted to. After all, flying budget has its “perks”.
And yet another announcement: “To all passengers of AirAsia Indonesia QZ7790 – your flight is ready for boarding. We are now boarding passengers seated from rows 1 to 5. Kindly proceed to the departure gate at the end of the lounge.”
And she remembered why her friends wouldn’t fly AirAsia. The cabin crew stationed at the gate hardly looked at the boarding pass as she slipped through. The queue was virtually non-existent, it was simply pro forma. A throng of people circled the glass door and, in baby steps, maneuvered their way through the glass door, pass the cabin crew and down the tunnel to the plane.
However, AirAsia has certainly taken off, she mused, as she perused the in-flight catalogue of souvenirs – from shirts to Swiss adaptors – and the a la carte meals. The face of the budget airline’s CEO flashed through her mind suddenly. Tony Fernandez was not your archetypal stiff, staid and somber CEO running a major company. He was so casual in his attire of jeans, long-sleeved shirt and a red cap touting the AirAsia brand while his counterparts were garbed in the traditional corporate attire for the annual aviation conference when she first – and last – saw him. She gathered her wits, walked towards him, introduced herself (she was working as an editor for a travel magazine back then) and they exchanged cards.
Skeptics were just waiting their turn to have a go at the music man –turned – maverick airline CEO at one of the conference rooms of the then Swissotel The Stamford Hotel (now known as Fairmont Singapore). However, Tony was far from nonplussed at the jibes hurled his way. In fact, he humbly admitted that his credentials – he was formerly with Sony – did not state anything remotely connected to the aviation industry yet he pushed through with his plans of running his own airline. His wife was slightly cynical about the whole venture but backed him up nonetheless. Tony, undoubtedly, was facing difficulties in getting landing rights in Singapore at that time, which he took in stride, openly announcing that he wished Singapore would reconsider his nth application for landing rights. That was several years ago and AirAsia is regularly berthing its fleet of aircraft at Singapore Changi Airport.
Before she knew it, in less than two hours, she was landing at Singapore Changi, and that’s when she felt the coldness in the air, the queasy feeling in the tummy and the heaviness in spirit. But she brushed them aside and hurried to the taxi stand. She barely had enough time to hail a cab and hightail it to Artesan Gallery on Bukit Timah Road. Crossing her fingers, she hoped traffic would be smooth and the driver the silent type. She was certainly not in the mood for idle chatter. Her luck hadn’t run out that evening and she managed to make it to the gallery for her sister’s first solo exhibition in Singapore. There were a few guests left but at least she made it.
It was four months ago when she packed her bags to start anew, to collect her shattered soul in the suburbs of Bekasi. Now she was back in the red dot flummoxed by the sea of emotions – anger, sadness, desperation, hope, betrayal, pining away for a lost love – rushing towards her. There has to be an end to this endless wave of misery she thought to herself, as she waited for the taxi attendant to hail her a cab.
“Welcome to Singapore. Berth number 3 ma’am,” cut through the air. She mumbled a thank you and rolled her bag to the boot of the waiting cab.
Traffic was smooth. She glanced at her watch – she still had more than 30 minutes before the Nessun Dorma: New Works by Lyra Garcellano closed at 10.
Her thoughts continued to meander: will the ghosts of the past let her be or will none let her sleep tonight in the red dot?