With the shock of arrival subsiding and with the porters no longer commanding all our attention we were able to begin to assemble a few rational thoughts. The first of these rational thoughts was that there was no way that the chaotic and fetid curb at the edge of the terminal was the only place to wait. The second of these rational thoughts was that there must be a PIA (Pakistani International Airlines) agent around somewhere who could help us. Armed with these thoughts I walked back into the terminal and, sure enough, quickly located the PIA counter. The agent looked at me with astonishment when I explained that we had a four hour layover and where told to wait outside.
"But sir, we are flying the jumbo jets every hour to Islamabad. I will place you and your good wife on the next flight." And with a few deft pen strokes it was done. The flight was leaving in ten minutes.
I ran to get Lorraine and we raced to security. Or, I should say, "securities", as there were two separate security clearance areas segregated by gender. Each featured a massive dark grey xray apparatus that looked like it had been built in the Soviet Union circa 1955 and probably delivered a strong enough dose of radiation to sterilize small mammals. I was then frisked in a friendly, but alarmingly thorough way while I could see Lorraine being waved into a black booth by a female officer. She told me afterwards that the two of them stared at each other for a moment in the booth, then the officer giggled and waved Lorraine out. The security process took long enough though that we were late for the flight, but either it waited for us or the schedule was just a loose approximation as this did not end up being a problem.
We settled into our seats and looked around us at the half-empty 747, once again noting that Lorraine appeared to be the only woman on the flight. The giant TV screens on the bulkheads showed a slideshow of various mosques while mournful Urdu music played. The no-smoking signs came on as the engines began to rev up, but they were hard to see through the billowing clouds of smoke that only seemed to get thicker in response to the sign. As the plane started to taxi on the runway various passengers got up and wandered around the aisles, casually chatting and smoking. This continued even as the plane lifted off, although they had to reach out to nearby seat-backs to steady themselves. It was around that time that it began to dawn on me that freedom is a funny thing. We live in a "free society", yet feel far more constrained by rules than many people in societies that appear on the surface to be less free. They may not have political freedoms and certainly in some places the women have very little freedom of any kind, but otherwise one could argue that they are more free in their day to day lives. I'm not saying this is a good thing as much of that "freedom" is the freedom to do unhealthy or frankly bizarre things, but nonetheless....
After we had reached our cruising altitude Lorraine went off to the washroom. The male flight attendant came by a moment later and brought me a breakfast consisting of various brown and reddish brown objects that were almost inedibly spicy. After Lorraine returned the flight attendant came back, looked at her in frank bewilderment and said, "Oh, I'm sorry madam, I didn't know you were still here." He then scurried off to bring her breakfast.
"Didn't know you were still here"... ?? Lorraine and I laughed after he left. Where would she possibly go? Did passengers routinely disappear in mid-flight? I chewed on one of my fiery brown things, still chuckling, and looked out the window at the hazy tan-coloured plains below thinking, Pakistan is going to be fun.
And it was.