I can fly, says my sister, now in her 60th year. She breaks this startling piece of news while standing on her balcony, looking at me seated inside with the laptop on my ... well, lap! I wonder if she is having me on at first, owing to the lightness in her voice. It sounds like a joke — one she’s not likely to make given the rather joke-free universe she inhabits, where everything has to be stated clearly and seriously, and nothing is a laughing matter, and if it happens to be then she’ll not be partaking in any smiling or grinning, thank you very much. That’s her! So I dismiss the notion that she’s cracking a joke but immediately find myself alarmed.
The balcony is not even waist high, supported by a gauzy trellis work of iron and a rail too flimsy to place any trust in. People after all have, in altered mind states, been known to sail off balconies under the misguided impression that they’d make a safe, swooping landing on the ground metres below. I quickly move the laptop off my lap and make preparatory movements to thwart any lunge she may make before taking a free fall. She, in turn, gives me a curious look like she’s wondering if I heard her in the first place, and reiterates, I can fly, you know.
Now, I know that she’s a teacher by profession, not a pilot. A pilot sister may have reminded her brother by saying, I can fly. Not a teacher sister.
So I finally ask, what do you mean you can fly? Her reply is delivered via a grin that would have made the Cheshire cat envious. It stretches from ear to ear. And me, sitting in my chair with my laptop on my ... well, not lap but footstool nearby, fail to see anything of what’s presaged. My sister is the harbinger of tidings and I, on holiday from Sydney, at her place in my little hometown in India, am none the wiser.
I had a friend at work look up everything on the internet, she offers, cryptically. What sort of thing, I inquire. The truth slowly emerges, like the dawn lighting the sky. She has waited 60 years to fulfil a desire and now she’s going to ensure I’m with her when said desire is fulfilled. It’s not going to cost a lot, she tells me while I contemplate the relativity of ‘a lot’ ... what’s a lot for someone is peanuts for somebody else. Just a thousand, she assures me. A thousand? Yes, she continues, one of her teachers took her son all the way to Chennai from Coimbatore for a mere thousand! I take my cue and tell her I’ll take care of things, just like an older brother on holiday from Sydney is meant to.
The following day I venture over to the travel agent who assures me that such fare prices are a figment of someone’s imagination. When do you want to go, the agent asks me. The weekend, I tell him, which elicits a frown accompanied by a promise to do his best to find me the best fares going. Half an hour later I walk out with two return tickets for the weekend to Chennai, where my only other sister lives, so that the three of us may be together at least for two days.
When I return home, twelve thousand rupees out of pocket, I wave the tickets in her direction and she in turn reminds me, See I told you. A thousand rupees each, right? Right I say, giving her a wink. It is her first ever flight anywhere and on the weekend her words come true. She does fly.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.