By: Meghna Nagarajan
Welcome to Atlanta.
A black man beamed at us with open arms from a banner that read “Welcome to Atlanta!”.
Ironic. Considering that the company rep who was supposed to welcome and pick us up from the airport was nowhere to be seen.
How come his teeth are so white?
People were gathered under the banner with placards and flowers for the incoming passengers. There was not one placard in sight with the name Nagarajan or Siemens. Appa looked slightly concerned.
There are a lot more white people here than in Indonesia.
Amma pointed out that the representative might be waiting outside baggage claim. Appa was mollified and we made our way to baggage claim.
How far do we have to walk? This airport is so bloody large. And cold! And gray!
Weary passengers huddled around the baggage claim carousels. The baby that was crying loudly for what felt like a year on the flight, was sleeping soundly in her stroller.
Me too! I also want to sleep. I am so tired! Thirty-seven hours of travel is too much. Too much!
Suitcases circled around the creaky baggage conveyer belt. Suitcases that belonged to the bandhus were easy to differentiate from the rest. They either had ribbons tied to the handles, belts strapped around the middle to keep them from bursting open, or both.
Is this really one of the busiest airports in the world? Where are the people? The Singapore airport was a lot posher.
Amma wheeled a baggage cart towards us. Appa had gone to find the whereabouts of the missing company rep. Movina stood
sandwiched between two carry on suitcases that were almost as tall as her.
She is so cute! At least I have Movina.
Amma instructed me to watch carefully for our suitcases and make sure no one else took them. She left to bring another cart. I looked around the airport trying to figure out what felt so different.
It’s too quiet. No one is talking to each other.
Only the Indians are wearing colorful clothes. Everyone else is wearing different shades of black, dark brown, dark blue, grey and white.
The first India size suitcase with the Nagarajan family ribbon tumbled onto the belt. I got in position, feet shoulder width apart, hands out. The suitcase was in front of me. As I reached for it so did a pair of hairy, pink, beefy hands.
Is he trying to take our suitcase?!
I looked up at the older man appalled at his gall.
Is this white Uncle trying to steal our suitcase from me? FROM ME! Do I look like easy prey to you, Uncleji!?
I yanked the suitcase off the belt and out of his hands. I stumbled forward from the effort.
Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Nice save!
I caught my footing before I tripped on the suitcase, brushed my hair out of my face and recovered my composure with as much grace as I could.
Good! Now turn around and look him directly in the eyes. Make sure he knows you are not intimidated.
I spun around and looked at him defiantly. He gave me a genial smile. “Do you need help with your bags, young lady?” he asked. I responded with “No, thank you!”
Young lady, my foot! Why would I need help to take suitcases off the belt? How dare you underestimate me, baldy!
Amma arrived with the second baggage cart. I spotted our second suitcase.
I’m going to take this suitcase off this belt easily and show you who needs help.
I grabbed the second suitcase-
Oof! This is the 25kg one. Easy! Don’t show the strain on your face Meghna!
-and pulled it off the belt. The suitcase landed loudly on the floor.
Act like nothing happened. Just a gentle thud.
Amma had returned just in time to hear the gentle thud and scolded me for dropping the suitcase on the floor.
Not so loudly! He can hear you, Amma!
She told me to switch places with her. I protested but High Command had spoken.
Don’t show anything on your face! Is anything the matter? Nothing’s the matter.
Movina stared in wonderment as my face convulsed from the effort to look as unconcerned as possible. Appa returned with his pocket phone book and updated us on the situation. He had called the office but no one had answered the phone.
No one answered? Does that mean Appa doesn’t have a job? Does that mean we can go home?
He had then proceeded to call Chittappa who informed him that today was Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving? What is Thanksgiving?
According to Chittappa, Thanksgiving was a national holiday and no one would be in the office until Monday.
But today is Thursday. What about Friday and Saturday?
As Appa and Amma discussed our next course of action, our fire hydrant red, plastic Samsonite suitcase tumbled onto the
carousel. I pointed it out to Amma and moved to reach for it when she stopped me with a “No need! You already dropped one suitcase!”.
Oh my God! Why don’t you just blast it on the loudspeaker!
We loaded the rest of the suitcases onto the carts and made our way to the information desk. I was sulking at back of the Nagarajan pack with the two carry-ons that didn’t fit on the cart. Movina called out to me and pointed to a banner with the Olympic rings.
That’s right, Atlanta hosted the Olympics two years ago! I love the Olympics and their stories of triumph. Like when that girl tore two ligaments in her ankle, continued to persevere and won the first gold medal in gymnastics for her country, it restored my faith in humanity. It’s too bad we missed them.
Movina and I discussed how amazing it would be to go to the Olympics as Appa asked for information on the nearest hotels. The lady at the information desk gave Appa some options.
All of these people sound like they are from those old Clint Eastwood movies about cowboys.
Appa and Amma discussed the options and settled on one of the hotels. We followed our parents to the taxis. I made eye-contact with a lady on the way out. She smiled and said “Hello!” I smiled stiffly back at her.
What, hello? That is the third person today. Why do these people keep saying hi like they know me?
Aaaaaaahh! What’s happening?
While I was lost in my own thoughts we had walked out of the airport where the winter wind had slapped me tightly across the face.
Why is it so bloody cold? I can’t move.
Amma was also frozen in spot and Movina and Appa were shivering through their coats. A black taxi driver dressed in a vest and tie stepped forward and with a big beaming smile said “Welcome to Atlanta! Where are you folks headed today?”.
Meghna Nagarajan is an engineer turned filmmaker. As a young child Meghna was often labeled a “strange kid with excessive energy and an overactive imagination”. She is a storyteller in all forms and is interested in portraying and creating complex Asian female characters on screen. As a feminist, LGBTQ+ ally, and progressive, creating art is her form of activism. She hopes her stories will humanize the “invisible Asian”, bring people closer, and of course, create world peace
Find Meghna here: