Mrs. Anna Bergstrom had an impeccable career as the boarding manager for the British Airways stationed in Copenhagen. Under her command you can count only a handful of instances when a flight had to be delayed because of some boarding related issues. She always felt proud of it and took extra care that the whole boarding process goes smoothly and completed well before stipulated time. However today, 20th December 2017 was not one of those days it seemed. She had completed the boarding process for BA-811, the flight to Delhi via Heathrow, and it was almost ready to taxi, when the radio call came from the head stewardess about one missing passenger. She told her that ground staff needed to initiate deplaning this passenger’s luggage as they had already waited for more than 10 minutes. Mrs. Anna requested for another five minutes because she knew what it means to miss a flight during this peak Christmas time. Both the captain and the head stewardess knew Mrs. Anna personally and about her unbeaten record and had no problem giving her some extra time while she tried to locate this BA passenger. While she decided to announce once again for the passenger named “Mr. Srivathsan Soumyanarayanan” to report to gate D-8 immediately, she also felt bad for another “rare” entry in her record for a potential flight delay caused by boarding held up while she was in charge. Of course it was no fault of hers but then she took such minute things to herself and was well known to her family and friends for this particular traits of hers.

As the muffled voices of speakers in that crowded airport that evening kept calling for Mr. Srivathsan with no signs of him, for those of us who know him, could see him just a few gates away arguing and requesting to get his standby status for confirmation. It was not even an hour before he had purchased this one way ticket at a sky-rocket price back to his home town. He could hear Mrs. Anna’s voice, pronouncing his name with near perfection but he just ignored it. Any other day he would have complimented her for this perfect pronouncement of his long south Indian name. But for now he was just praying that no one in this gate should hear it, at least Eva Svensson, the attendant with whom he was pleading how urgent it is for him to get home ASAP. To his utter relief as the announcements from gate D8 stopped suddenly, indicating the flight to Delhi has departed, there in gate D-4 he was told that he can board the flight to Gothenburg.

Once boarded ,with a heavy sigh of relief and unbelief he just closed his eyes and revived the last 10 hours of the day. The just served chilled Heineken simply helped him to rewind the whole process. He has been waiting for this day almost since last couple of years. It was the silver jubilee reunion of his college batch, scheduled to take place on 22nd December this year. He had made meticulous travel plans to not miss even a single minute of that landmark event. He was in-fact reaching Raipur, his college town, one day before to catch up with his old friends, visit a few of the places like Jalaram Chaat Stand, Indian Coffee House in GE Road, which used to be their regular place those 4 years, swing by the old DOT quarter which they called home when they moved from Salem in south India and go to his hostel B where he spent his last 2 years in college. In fact he was also thinking of sneaking out and visiting his school Holy Cross, where he spent 6 years of his life before moving to college. Few of his schoolmates were also in town and they were planning to meet after the college reunion. The reunion excitement was at its peak as the batch mates had created a new whatsApp group and there were minute by minute updates leading to this event. He did purchase some expensive vodka for a few of his hostel friends. Never in his earlier visits to India, ever did he carry so many bottles of alcohol, exquisite brand cigars and cartons of Benson and Hedges. He had a plan in place on how to pass through the prying eyes of Indian custom officials guarding the green channel with all that “luxury items”. But to his surprise things started changing earlier that morning as he was getting ready to take the shuttle to the airport. His 5 year old daughter started crying incessantly asking him not to go. His wife, knowing how much this reunion matters to him, said to him “Do not worry, I will take care of her. You go ahead and enjoy your time with friends. Tomorrow I will take her to the city center and get some toys. She will be absolutely fine”. But that did not stop her young daughter from crying and with a heavy heart he had to leave. On the way to the airport, speeding through the Christmas light decorated trees, lamp posts and buildings the thought came to him for the first time “is this trip really needed”. But he shrugged this off immediately as soon as he thought of what was waiting for him in Raipur. All those places, past moments to relive, and faces of a few friends whom he had not seen for the last 25 years! On the first leg of his flight to Copenhagen as he tried to think about the reunion, friends, hostel, college, school , those thoughts would be brutally interrupted by his wife and daughter’s image back at home while he was leaving . It was their first time in Sweden together, during Christmas time. Almost all of their friends had gone out of town to other destinations in Europe or India . He started feeling terrible with the idea of him enjoying the warmer climate of Raipur with his old gang reliving his past, while his wife and daughter were all alone during this most wonderful time of the year. He felt the urge to spend the time with them in Liseberg Christmas market, the place to be in Sweden during this time of the year. It was that internal conflict of past versus present, family versus friends, enjoying himself versus enjoying with the small family of three together. He could justify both the decisions but more he thought, slowly one side won over the another. By the end of that short flight he had already made up his mind. He knew it would be a big loss of a “lifetime moment” , where he may not meet all the “gang” together for a very long time to come, the monetary loss of all those tickets, accommodation without any refunds, the inconvenience to purchase a last minute ticket back to home and wastage of the carefully collected “gift” items (as he only drinks beer he had to give those expensive vodka and cigars to his colleagues, an idea which did not appeal to him much) . But then nothing felt more valuable than spending Christmas of that year, three of them together and how happy his daughter would be to see him back. He knew his friends would not need any further explanation and would only support his idea if he skips it. As soon as he landed in Copenhagen , instead of getting to gate D-8 for the connecting flight to Delhi, he headed towards the long queue in the airport ticket counter.

“Please fasten your seatbelt as we are about to land. The temperature outside is 5 degree Celsius below Zero and time 5 minutes to midnight, local time” half asleep he could hear the captain’s announcement in a heavy German accent. Leaning to the window he pulled it up and looked down below the glittering lights of the city. He had done this so many times while landing during night time, but Gothenburg never looked so beautiful like tonight. He couldn’t wait to ring the doorbell and say “I am home”.

200 miles away, Mrs. Anna Bergstrom was getting ready to leave for her home after a exhaustive tiring day. The events unfolded earlier in the day had made it worse. The BA-811 flight was delayed by almost 30 minutes and now she had to explain that on behalf of ground staff . She decided to pick up a hot chocolate drink from the airport café before her long cab ride, a perfect time to contemplate her response. As she was waiting for her order, she saw Eva, her friend from Scandinavian airlines also waiting for her drink . With a big smile she accosted her and said “How was your day Eva? Ready for the weekend?”. “Hey Anna. Nice to see you. Yes, it was good overall but the best part is I helped a gentleman today. This person decided to call off his flight to India where he was going for a college reunion. He changed his mind in the middle of the trip, just so he can be with his family during Christmas. I really felt so good that I could manage a seat for him to return home.” Anna was just taken aback as it didn’t take her a second to register the person Eva was talking about. But before she could say something Eva was already on her way out.

Mrs. Anna Bergstrom, the British Airways boarding manager with a stellar record for on-time boarding, was not feeling bad anymore about the new entry in her record.

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Posted on Vathshan’s 50th birthday kudoboard (7/3/2021)