It was midnight and bone-chillingly cold. Huddled in a corner of Abu Dhabi International Airport with my husband and nine-year-old son, Calvin, and faced with the news that our plane to Mumbai was not going to take off for another three hours, I wished for the hundredth time that Etihad Airways had direct flights to Goa.
"This is a disaster," I complained to my husband, who was half-asleep in an uncomfortable chair. "What if we miss the connecting flight from Mumbai to Goa?"
"I don't mind," said Calvin who, unlike his mother, doesn't think hanging out at airports is a waste of time. He can spend hours wandering around terminals, pressing his face against a window to watch the planes, helping strangers with their luggage, sitting patiently through long transits and, sometimes, beguiling the staff at check-in and asking for an upgrade while his parents look on in horror. (We change it to quiet gratitude when his childish charm works its magic and we sat down in business class.)
"I think that's pretty cool," he said. "Now all I want is to meet the pilot."
And, in that odd way that unlikely wishes sometimes come true, Calvin got what he wanted, although it only happened on our return flight to Abu Dhabi from Mumbai. As usual, to avoid the crowds when boarding begins, we caught the last bus to the aircraft and found ourselves sharing space with the pilot and the first officer. Calvin, thrilled beyond words, went to sit beside them and was soon engrossed in an animated conversation. It was only when we had settled into our seats on the plane that he casually let on that he'd been invited to the cockpit.
"Captain Kaur said all I have to do is go up to a stewardess and say I'm a friend," he told us.
My husband, from whom Calvin clearly inherited his aviation fascination gene, got terribly excited, and kept nudging Calvin to take up the offer.
"Yes, Dad, I will, once I've finished reading the emergency instructions," said Calvin, exasperated. "But I really should go only after we've landed. You know, for reasons of safety."
And my otherwise always-in-a-hurry son quietly waited out the two-and-a-half hours until the plane came to a complete stop in Abu Dhabi, then ran up to a stewardess and made his request. My husband and I went ahead to wait on the air bridge, where we could see him inside the cockpit, his face aglow with the light from the dials.
Later, as we all headed towards immigration, Calvin told us in breathless tones what had transpired in the cockpit.
"Captain Kaur showed me around and said flying a Boeing 737-800 is easy-peasy and I told her that I'm going to be a pilot someday and buy an Airbus A380 and fly it all around the world and she could come along if she wanted because I'm going to need a first officer. I think she's in."