A pleasant surprise

As Air Asia Flight 52 taxied down the runway of Terminal 2 and came to a halt, the hands on my watch showed 6.10 am local time. The skies were clear and a soft breeze was blowing as we exited and made our way into the terminal. After a good 20-minute walk past well-stacked duty-free shops and prestige brand boutiques which beckoned tantalisingly to the myriad passengers wading their way through, we reached the baggage reclaim.

With a capacity of handling close to 50,000 passengers and about 1.2 million tonnes of cargo a year, it was no wonder that KLIA is one of the major airports in South East Asia. The terminal with its huge expanse of glass and the spectacular roof with cut-outs to let in natural light left us awestruck. The thought though, that it had been done at the cost of acres of rubber and oil palm plantations so familiar to me, tugged at my heartstrings.

It was some time before we identified our carousel due to the heavy flow of air traffic and the milling crowd. Waiting at lounges for flights to take off is bad enough but waiting to get hold of your baggage can be worse. And finally, the carousel showed signs of life as the bags began to appear. Big bags, small bags; colourful bags, plain bags; stylish bags, plain bags – all moved slowly and steadily. Every time someone found theirs, there was a sigh of relief. And yet no sign of ours other than one cardboard box!

Weighed down by the long walk through the terminal and the wait, made worse by the lack of sleep the previous night, my limbs yearned to relax. Finding nothing by way of a seat close by, I chose to sit on the box on the trolley while my son kept vigil over the carousel.

The crowd had thinned out and a few people remained, among them an elderly couple, an Indian man and his Chinese wife as I later learnt. Taking a stroll, the man remarked on passing me by, “That’s a good seat you’ve got there.” And I replied casually, “Yes, tired of waiting,” before getting lost again in my thoughts.

But wait, that face rang a bell in my mind. There was no mistaking it! Except for the drooping shoulders and the swagger which had replaced the springy step in his walk, that lean face behind the flowing white beard, the crow’s feet that lit up his eyes, as he flashed a wide grin and the chuckle that followed, were the same.

The next minute I was up and rushing to ascertain his identity. “Was he a teacher?” “Had been.” “At PD? SMI? A Math teacher? Mr Sitthar?” my questions flowed like a deluge. As his eyes grew wider and wider in disbelief, and his head nodded in glee, I could hardly believe the quirk of fate that had brought me before a favoured teacher of over
40 years ago!

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