The first thing, before anything, is the wall of heat. It seeps through the door to smother you, seduce you, before you even leave that flying thing you arrived in. So unlike anything you’re used to. An exotic lover coming to greet you. Air, with the weight and presence of a heavy secret. I pretend she’s been saving it just for me, waiting for Me to Arrive. That soon she will unravel and whisper to me everything there is that needs to be known. But I look around and see she is seducing everyone equally. Clammy brows and jewelled upper lips. Darkening pits. Maybe secrets are to be earned, not given.
Queues and faff, then stepping out. First steps on national ground. Peaceful and quiet. No hassle. No ‘Taxi for you madam? Very good price.’ No aggressive touts forcing their hotels on jet-lagged white girls. Not even a curious stare. And I’m smacked in the face with all I’d unconsciously absorbed over the penultimate months of, ‘You’re going there? Alone? As a woman? Gosh, You’re brave… Be careful… Come home safe.’
Sometimes in life, you get a little lost. You look around you and think… My god. How did I end up here? And so you hit rewind, to that place, where you pause the tape -there! Back when I was full of hope and direction. Full of feeling. Full of life. Feeling on the right path and that nothing mattered other than it was my own. No doubts or regrets. But a traded in life of coconut palms and humid air for a charity shop suit and a sedentary chair. A hierarchy of needs where mine did not feature, not even in the small print. Full stop. Not a plane to Delhi but a plane to Glasgow. A job offer I couldn’t refuse. But that place will still be there when you leave? And now I am too. And although I have never been here before, it feels like a coming home; a reopening of a closed door.
Sensations so foreign to my pale English skin, but so ubiquitous to the cities I have been. They make me smile like some sort of homecoming queen. The yellow tuk-tuks honking their horns so noisily, so unnecessarily. Just to say hey, I’m here! Regardless of whether or not anybody cares. The shacks on wheels by the side of the road selling the exact same snacks as the guy next door. Men in circles under the shade of trees playing cards and drinking tea, I like to think they’re setting the world right. Packs of women warbling past, chattering clouds of rainbows. Wrapping sun-kissed lips around foreign tongues. Tiny children resting on their hips, like pots of gold. Little cafes with plastic chairs serving spicy surprise from steely cauldrons. Warm fizzy drinks by the crate in dusty refilled bottles. Fanta more orange than orange, to quench the petrol and dust clinging to your throat. Stray mongrels roaming around and annoying mosquitos gnawing your toes.
Every place has its own cocktail of smells. Sweet, sticky overripe fruit turning drunk in the midday sun. Festering sewage with a hint of sandalwood. Incense; to perfume the indecent. Spices on spices, so many spices. Chilli, turmeric, cumin, coriander. Banana trees and curried leaves. Spices on sweat. Spicy chai. Raw chicken carcass fighting off flies. Smelting metal and singing plastic. Slapping your nostrils like a putrid fish. Assaulting your senses in the sweltering heat as you dance around potholes in the passenger’s seat. Sights upon smells in the sweaty, smouldering air.
All of it jostling you awake, to feel vastly alive, to know that you’re here.
You have Arrived.