The Journey to an Empty Nest

Posted Monday, 11 May 2020

When I took our eldest child to India for the first time, I sensed my husband’s mixed emotions. She was only a toddler, and the two of us would be away from our New Jersey home for months.

Now that this child has grown into a young woman, I can’t recall what my husband’s concerns were. Maybe he worried that she would fall ill, as I often did when visiting relatives? That she would forget her papa in the time we were gone? That it was foolish to travel with a toddler while I was pregnant with our second child?

Like terrible spouses everywhere, I brushed my husband’s concerns aside and went despite his misgivings. I viewed it as my sacred duty to foster a love of India in our children, as my parents had with me. I had done what I could from the United States, but it wasn’t enough. Our daughter needed to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the place where her mother’s people came from, and for that we had to go there.

My relatives embraced this adorable, curly haired, half-Nigerian addition to the family. Our daughter revelled in their attention. She snuggled with my aunts and uncles. She cut several teeth. She learned some new Hindi words and was as upbeat and even tempered as always.

After a few weeks in New Delhi, we flew with my cousin, Monica, to visit cousins who lived in Mumbai. During the flight, my daughter slept in my lap while Monica napped in the seat beside me. As we approached the landing strip, a gust of wind buffeted the plane. The pilot pulled back suddenly and we veered back into the air. The plane circled around and when the pilot attempted to land for the second time, wind knocked us off course again and we were jerked up in another furious climb.

I was terrified. I poked my cousin to wake her. “The plane is going to crash,” I said. “We’re all going to die. If I kill my husband’s only child, he will murder me.”

Monica opened her eyes and blinked a few times. “How will he murder you if you’re already dead?”

“I don’t know,” I said, earnestly. “He’ll find me wherever I am just so he can kill me a second time. I do not have his authorisation to die on a plane with this child.”

In the end, the plane landed without a hitch, and my husband wasn’t forced to enter the realm of the undead to hunt me. The child grew, and two more followed. Our family relocated to Nigeria, and my eldest and I didn’t travel alone again until 2019 when the two of us travelled out of Lagos to look at schools abroad.

The flight was uneventful, but as the pilot started his descent, I checked my carry-on and realised I didn’t have our passports. I searched the overhead bin, looked under our feet and began to panic. The plane landed. As the other passengers queued to exit, my daughter and I were on our hands and knees, searching desperately.

“We’re in big trouble,” I told my daughter. “Your father trusted me to get you to your school exams, and I’ve blown it.” I stood up on my seat and addressed the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, can you please let me know if you see our passports?” Everyone stared and a couple of people helped us look. After long, agonising minutes, a man found them on the ground, a few rows behind our seats.

When he held up the leather pouch, I burst into tears. “Thank you,” I cried, hugging him and weeping into his shirt. “I’m taking this trip for my daughter.”

As the other passengers deplaned, a few people stopped to advise us on the importance of securing our documents. One woman asked if it was our first time traveling by air. Several people smirked at me as they passed, as if to say, as bad as my life is, at least I’m not a passport-losing idiot like you.

I counted this trip as a victory, though. I managed to get our daughter to her school interviews and then back home safely. The cuddly toddler who travelled to India with me in a diaper will fly off in a few months to begin the next chapter of her life, away from us and away from our Nigerian home.

Life is a wild, unplanned journey. We begin each day unsure of how it will play out. Sometimes you have no business being responsible for anyone, yet you travel along doing the best you can, hopeful that the final destinations of the ones you love will be worth the struggle.

Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.

Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com

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