I boarded the plane knowing that I'd be on it for the next 11 hours more or less and once I arrive Singapore I'd have to take a 1 hour connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur. I cringed at the thought of such a long journey. I looked at the seating plan and realised that 33K was smacked right in the middle of a window seat and an aisle seat.
"11 hours right in the middle of 2 strangers, well this should be interesting," I thought to myself.
I found my seat, placed my hand luggage in the overhead compartment above me and then breathed a sigh of relief as I settled down. I had only 7 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours and I was extremely tired. I had just finished my final exam for the semester less than 24 hours ago. Minutes later a blonde-haired lady who was perhaps in her 50s claimed the aisle seat next to me by putting her handbag there just before she stored her hand luggage in the overhead compartment as I did not long before. She caught a glance of my tired face and we smiled at each other. I was curious about the person who was allocated in the window seat next to us therefore I kept observing every single person who just entered the plane and walked down the aisle.
Finally, a young European-looking man came towards us.
"Hi, are you sitting here?," I asked him rhetorically. "Would you mind if we switched seats because...."
"Uh, actually I like sitting by the window," he replied with a smile on his face as if he was expecting the question.
"Oh... okay. That's fine then. Just thought I'd try my luck," I said as I returned his smile while feeling slightly disappointed.
There we were. 3 of us. 11 hours.
For the first 5 hours none of us said anything to each other until I needed to go to the bathroom. I politely asked the lady next to me if she could make way for me. She smiled, got up for me and sat down again. As she was about to spring out of her seat upon my return I told her she didn't need to because I wanted to stand for a while. She decided to do the same and we started a conversation. I found out that she's actually a British citizen who had been living in New Zealand for the past 23 years. She has 2 sons - the eldest a Math teacher and the youngest a future lawyer.
"So are you off to have a holiday in Singapore?" I inquired predictably.
"No, no. I'm going to London. Just transiting in Singapore," she clarified.
"Oh, a holiday in London then?" I chirped.
"Actually I'm moving to England for good. I'm going to meet my partner. He lives in Essex," she further elaborated.
"Oh okay," I replied for what I thought would be the last time because I didn't want to ask anything else in fear of being intrusive.
"I recently left my husband of over 20 years to be with him. Now we're finally going to live together," she continued with pure excitement in her voice.
Quite surprised by her revelation I didn't really know what to say except, "Oh wow, now that's something you don't hear everyday!"
She laughed at my response and began to tell me the whole story. She said she was very young when she met her ex husband. She had met him while travelling around New Zealand to meet up with a good friend of hers. They met and I suppose they fell in love and got married. They moved back and forth between England and New Zealand until she had her first child. It was then she settled in Christchurch for the next 20 years or so of her life. They ran a printing business together and life was fairly good to them. Then one day an old friend whom she had once met while travelling around England had contacted her sister. She remembered him and they decided to keep in touch via e-mail before talking to each other on the phone frequently. After a few months of rekindling their friendship she had realised there was something amiss in her relationship with her husband. When I asked her how she came about the decision to leave her husband she merely said, "He wasn't the right one."
Obviously I wasn't going to settle for that answer so I asked, "How do you tell when someone's the right one?"
She went silent for a good 30 seconds and her facade became more serious all of a sudden. "I suppose you could say it's very individual. But I say it's when you have absolutely no doubt in your heart about the person," she replied after reflecting.
"So let me get this straight. You decided to leave your husband for a man you had not seen for almost 30 years? You just communicated with him via email and telephone?" I asked in absolute disbelief.
"Yup! I told him that I wasn't the same size 12 girl he had met 30 years ago. I've changed and a lot has happened since then. But we still understand each other same way we did before. He understands me in ways my husband never did. I left my husband and he left his wife," the lady confessed. Not long after their life-changing decisions they reunited when he visited her for 10 days in New Zealand.
As I was absorbing everything she was telling me I sort of knew what she meant. "It's like you never have to explain the way you feel to that other person, right? Like they just get you without you having to say why or how you felt and did this or that," I trailed after her.
Her face lit up as she said, "Yes! Exactly!"
I wanted to know what she remembered most about her partner prior to their recent 30 year union. "I was staying at a backpackers when I met him for the first time. We were in separate rooms and I could hear him laughing out loud. Oh, his laughter... my ex husband never laughed like that. So many young women just settle for any man... they think it's the right thing to do. Now I'm going to use my maiden name again. I'm not sure if I'll use my partner's surname, Smith, it's probably the most common name in England!" she exclaimed in laughter.
"So there should be sparks? You know I just met a recently divorced 30 plus year old woman who is looking for a new husband and she said she didn't believe in sparks. Not at her age, at least," I shared.
"Oh my, there should always be sparks! You've got to have sparks," she explained almost furiously.
For the next 6 hours we spoke about a lot of things which ranged from our mutual interests in cooking and baking, life in New Zealand to my recent pilgrimage to Mecca and my decision to wear the hijab. I showed her pictures of Mecca and Madinah and of my adorable niece, and she marvelled me with stories of her experiences in Turkey, Egypt and parts of Europe she had travelled to. Despite our differences - age, religion, race, nationality, values - we managed to find our common ground. We were both women. Women who want to be loved for who we are. Women with desires, aspirations and flaws. Maybe next time when you board a plane try striking a conversation with the person next to you. You never know what you could learn about others and more interestingly, about yourself.
I don't know what went wrong in her marriage but who am I to judge her? Who am I to say what she did was wrong or right as a matter of fact? I don't believe that we live in black and white world. I don't think God ever intended it to be seen in only those 2 shades. I believe in embracing the colours of life and learning to respect the fact that people come in all shapes, sizes, skin tones, cultures and backgrounds. I also believe this is what makes God and His attributes all the more real to me.
Hours had passed and the plane landed smoothly in Singapore. Before we parted ways I wished her all the best for her new life and she did the same for me. "And don't forget, when you choose your man make sure he's worth it," she said authoritatively but in a motherly way. As I smiled at her advise the traffic in front of me moved and I walked out of the plane feeling so happy that I'm only an hour away from home and that my 12 hour journey back to Malaysia is almost over.