I’m going abroad for week this summer, with my family. When I learnt of this impromptu plan, it was probably the best news I could have received in between my boards. What escaped my already air-bound mind was that, we have to apply for a visa. My mother and I were supposed to go to the visa office together but we secured an appointment on a date when she was out of town. I had to go alone. Once my father explained all the proceedings and handed me all the important documents, I wasn’t so nervous anymore. Just a week ago I had been to the passport office alone and exited successfully. Not to mention I’d turned eighteen two months ago. I thought, “I can do this, how hard can it be?”.
It was 12:45am when I reached the visa office, and things started off just fine: I was allowed to enter without the appointment receipt, our travel agent’s guy was around during the initial stages to help me out. Once near the waiting line, I was escorted to the lounge – air conditioned, free Bisleri water bottles and cookies, that sort of thing. I must’ve waited for about half an hour during which I tried to study for my psychology exam. Tried here is the key word, because I was distracted by the stares of some very important looking men sitting with me in the lounge, muttering in Telugu which I failed to understand. Soon enough, one of the attendants – Mr Singh – approached me and asked for all the required documents. Fifteen seconds in, he tells me we’ve filled in the wrong visa application form. My heart sinks. While he leaves to get the correct forms, I call up my father who says he’s on his way to help me out. My sunken heart lifts itself up – “This isn’t too bad. I’ll get past this.” I start filling the forms – with a pen I borrowed from one of the very important looking men, who knew he wasn’t going to get it back anytime soon – and my dad arrives twenty minutes later. Once everything seemed in order, he wishes me luck and I go back into the lion’s den, while he left to attend to the patients he had left hanging at the hospital.
I wait for an hour for Mr Singh to get back to me. During this hour, another family seated themselves in the lounge – mother, daughter and son. The daughter seemed to be around my age, except I was not dressed well enough. The son, probably about twelve or thirteen, had in his hands a sleek black iPhone – and I’m just being paranoid but, I almost felt like he discreetly clicked a picture of my tired face and made a meme out of it. But then again, at that point, all the negativity had planted itself into my mind so I must be getting ahead of myself.
The hour become an hour and a half. I didn’t go look for him because not only was I shivering in the AC room but I also had to use the loo – desperately. But, I didn’t want to leave my spot, just in case he happened to drop by the moment I left to relieve myself. Tapping my foot against the hard wood floor, I tried to distract myself by skimming through my neglected textbook. In the cold. While my bladder was whining as though it already didn’t have enough of my attention.
At 4:40, Mr Singh finally got back to where I was. Two minutes in, he groaned and looked up at the fancy ceiling of the lounge and informed me that my travel insurance documents were wrong and a few extra xeroxes were missing. My sunken heart plummeted. He breezed through my other documents and kept pointing out the little errors that had slipped my father’s mind and some that were never informed by our agent. I explained everything to my father on phone and I did so at a whisper. Not because I cared of what the other aunties and uncles in the lounge thought of me, but because I was on the verge of tears. Mr Singh was staring down at me – almost pityingly – and that made everything worse. I blubbered out incoherent words to my father and at that moment, I felt like a little girl whose hand had slipped out of her mother’s in a crowded bazaar. “Why are you crying, ma’am?” Mr Singh asked me, annoyed. My throat was blocked and my eyes were wet with tears, I was ashamed of myself for crying so easily.
Mr Singh, meanwhile, was sure that my visa application couldn’t be completed today. He told me to come back tomorrow. He didn’t understand that I had wasted nearly four hours which I should have spent studying for my final exam. Afraid of crying even harder, I just nodded to everything he said. Once he left and the stares of everyone else in the room had shifted onto something a little less interesting, I called back my father. He was upset, not with me, and he knew I was overwhelmed. Speaking in the kindest voice, he told me that he’d be there in another twenty minutes. And so I waited.
My dad made everything right, even before he arrived. He asked the authority responsible to e-mail him the correct travel insurance papers and got them printed out. It wasn’t until he arrived and I saw the Frooti bottle in his hand, that I realised it was 5:15 and I hadn’t eaten lunch. No wonder my head was pounding. Before I could register anything else, he had his arms around me and as much as I appreciated the gesture, it just made me burst into tears. My hands covered my face and I could feel the stares of those around pierce into me. My eyes were shut tight and my sniffling was loud; that was when I knew that I hadn’t had such a bad day in a very long time.
Once my eyes were dried and I had had a sip of the cold Frooti, I went back to the counter. It had been five and a half hours since I’d been in that office, and the other attendants had started recognising me, wondering what I was still doing loitering around. Another lady attendant and Mr Singh approached me and started rechecking my documents, once I told them that the correct documents are all there. Just when everything was okay – I realised that in all this flurry, I had misplaced my passport sized photos. “They were right here, I swear.” I said. I spent five minutes scanning the glassy floor, frantically searching every piece of my belonging. “Lagta hai aapka aaj din hi kharab hai.” (Looks like, your day itself is bad), Mr Singh said with a reconciling smile before he helped me in the search. By then, I think, he had understood how shaken and inexperienced I was. I was sure I had searched my backpack at least five times, and on the sixth time, there were the photographs – inside the small pocket in the front zip.
From there on, everything went accordingly. Mr Singh and I shared a few smiles and that put me at ease. I didn’t want to be the reason for a government employee’s bad day at work. At 5:45, I was out of the place. I ran my hand through my hair – that had become tangled in between all the haste and worry – and I was sure that the one strand of hair that left my scalp was because of the immense stress and worry I had felt in the span of six hours. I sat with my father outside for a little while, so grateful he was there. When I reached home and walked to the elevator that would take me to my floor – it was already there, waiting for me. It was almost as if the universe had pity on me and made things a little easier. What a long day it’s been. But, the trip should be worth it, yes?