Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The London Chronicles : Part 1

Assalamualaikum, people.

I'm currently 'home' again, after a brief - and very beautiful - spell in Malaysia. (Warning: This entry is going to be casual English with Malay and rojak at some places.)

It hasn't been exactly a cruise ride for me from Malaysia. I could have started this narration from an earlier point in time, but I'll start at the moment of the tearful goodbyes at the airport. My, I've been holding back tears for days, and they finally made their way out as I was hugging my mum. Luckily they don't last long, and I was safely dry-eyed as I greet the immigration officers.

MH004, 12.00 p.m., London-bound. Seat 57H, the aisle seat. The flight seemed to be full of Mat Salehs. It reminds me of how bus trips to Kelantan would be filled with Kelantanese passengers and drivers, who speak Kelantanese loudly to each other.

Next to me was a perfectly charming lady with a young girl sitting in the window seat. I remembered noticing the lady reading a novel, and nosy me, I tried to take a peek at what is she reading. Uh, I don't understand a word, but I noticed words like 'Mutter', 'Bruder' that seemed to be German. I'll leave you to your reading, then. Malas lagi nak bertegur sapa. I'm still, in a way, grieving. I whipped out my medical notes and started reading it. Then I noticed her peering interestedly at my papers.

"What's that?"
"Hehe. Something medical."
"Yes, I know. But what's that? Heart?"
Uh-oh, the diagrams of hearts cut open, protruding muscles out of heart walls and swirling vessels must have intrigued her. I smiled and affirmed, ye jantung la ni mak cik. I think she's trying to be friendly.
"I presume you're a German?" I made a gesture, referring to the novel on her lap.
"We're actually from Austria,"
Ooo. Later I learnt that the girl was 12 year old, that the couple had been on holiday in Langkawi, and they had been stranded for one whole night in KLIA because of flight delays.

The 13-hours flight was punctuated with time-to-time niceties with the lady. The girl - she could be the lady's daughter or grand-daughter, I'm not so sure, I've always been baffled by the ability of people to guess other people's age just by looking - didn't speak much. She speaks to the elder lady mostly in a language unintelligible to me. I think she only spoke to me once, when she was offering me the in-flight biscuits and chocolates that she didn't want.

Prayer times are always tricky when you're airborne. As a rule, everytime I fly - I mean long journeys that cross time-zones - I followed the guidance given by one Puan Normah who chaperoned me to USA five years ago. She told us Muslims to follow the original country's prayer times in the plane, sort of treat the cabin as a time-capsule, and change into the times of the country of arrival upon landing.

Due to the hassle of braving the journey through rows and rows of Mat Salehs and manoevring my way around in the 'roomy' lavatory, I decided to do jama' ta'khir for Zuhr and Asar, and jama' taqdim for Maghrib and Isha'. I simply prayed on the plane seat, because of the turbulent weather outside that required us all to put on our seatbelts. I thought the Austrian lady was asleep, so I didn't bother to explain to her what I was doing at first. Then, before I prayed Maghrib, I told her,

"After this I'm going to do my prayers. Just telling you so that you won't wonder what's happening."
"Oh, I know you were praying just now," She smiled in a sweeeet manner.
Hihi. Ingatkan mak cik tengah tidur tadi...

Aha, sitting at the aisle seat means that the beer and wine tray passed me like every hour, and more than once it stopped beside me. This must have been the normal phenomena for any international traveler, I'm sure. Tak boleh ke MAS jangan serve alcoholic drinks on board and pakaikan kain yang sopan sikit kat pramugari? But then again, like almost everybody else, I can just complain and protest. =|

6.00 p.m., we arrived in London Heathrow. OK I don't mean to sound like a preachy do-gooder, but I'm quite concerned as to how am I going to do my Asar prayers. This is one of the disadvantages being a 'YTA' (Young Traveller Alone) =p. You don't have confederate(s) with whom to worry about things together. And the immigration queue was like, wow, my God, paaanjaaaaangnya!! Due to some bowel emergencies that swooped upon me as soon as I stepped out of the cabin, I was left behind by my fellow flight-mates (is there such a word?), and when I joined the line labelled "Holders of UK Visas/Indefinite Entry", I was sandwiched between Indian passengers. As the queue dwindled all the way to the counters, there was almost no white face visible.

It took me the better part of an hour to finally free myself from the queue, hand my Landing Card to the officer in charge who asked me a few 'simple' questions - interjected by light conversations with her fellow officer on the next table - that I answered convincingly enough, and head off to the Baggage Claim area downstairs. I almost went the wrong way, being the totally compass-less head that I am, but a helpful man showed me the right direction. Hm, I think these Heathrow guys (and gals) are a lot more friendly now than the way I perceive them in general one year ago when I first arrived in the UK (apparently, also alone).

It was past seven. I don't even know when does Asar time end, where to pray, and when would I retrieve my bag. I surveyed the belts and found that the MH004 luggage occupied two belts, and on both belts, the luggage from Dubai also shared the same two belts. Couldn't see my dear green baggage anywhere, and I decided to head to the ladies' first and take my wudhu'. I simply wiped my wetted hand over my socks, considering the situation befitting the rukhsah provision that i took.

Next problem. Dah Maghrib ke ni? My watch says it's almost eight p.m. London time. There's no way I can see the lights outside, so I did the next best thing. There were some guys at one of the airlines counter.

"Excuse me, at what time does the sun set around here?"
"Oh, I think it's about seven-thirty."
Shooot. I remembered when I left Manchester two and a half months ago, Maghrib was at half past nine.
"So it has already set by this time?"
"Yes, it gets dark early."
OK then. Puzzling myself with the following issue, mane nak solat ni? I couldn't afford the time to go look for prayer rooms anywhere - I was convinced that I had missed Asar time and I haven't taken my baggage yet and I should really, really hurry - and I'm sure there won't be any on this floor anyway. I thought of the store-room I saw beside the ladies' room just now. Oh shoot again, tadi tak kunci, dalam masa sepuluh minit dah terkunci?

Then I saw it. Nappy-change room. I looked inside. A nice empty place behind the door. No-one likely to come inside now. I thought longingly of kain batik I always keep handy for times like this, which 'conveniently' I had forgotten to stuff inside my backpack. And of my qiblah compass that I had so carelessly left inside the baggage yet to be retrieved. Just as I had carelessly forgotten to check the prayer times of UK before flying. Well, where there's a will, insyaAllah He'll show a way! On the floor I saw rolls of tissue papers. I took a few pieces of it, put it on the floor to lapik tempat sujud. At least the skin of my face won't touch the dirt on the floor, suci though it may be for prayer purposes.

Qiblah direction? From what I've learnt, if you don't know it and you don't have the means of finding it out in your situation, hadap je mana-mana. I think it's highly impractical for me to go running about asking if anyone knows where the qiblah direction from here is, and as I said earlier, I couldn't see the sun. I might be underground now! So I simply prayed Asar behind the door, in a nappy-change room beside a toilet, and no-one came to interrupt or gape at me. I didn't pray Maghrib yet, I hope I can find a more proper place to perform it later.

Guess what, when I went back to look for my baggage, the monitors overhead the belts are no longer labelled MH004 Kuala Lumpur. They only say Dubai, which means only luggage originating from Dubai were on the belts. One of the officers said that unclaimed luggage from flight MH004 should be found lying on the floors, but search as I might, I couldn't see it anywhere.

Adoi. Ada orang kidnap beg aku ke? Orang lupa naikkan beg aku dalam kargo ke? Beg aku tercicir tengah jalan ke? Orang kat KL Sentral tempat aku check-in luggage tadi lupa nak punggah beg aku ke KLIA ke? =( Na'udzubillah...


Kaki Bangku said...

jalan cerita ni terlampau linear. maaf, tak bes...

Anonymous said...

I think you have a unique being your style of writing but I lost interest when she arrived at Heathrow. ^-^; sorry.

Anonymous said...

sorry, i meant to type unique voice.

cacim pokodot said...

the same thing happened to me when i first arrived at dublin airport.tup tup, takda luggage..hehe, dahla perut bernyanyi, tetiba cakap mat saleh eropah tu tak paham lah plak...