As we came into land, I glued my nose to the plane window and took in a reddish brown landscape speckled here with green and there with small spots of standing water. It looked dry, and hot – we were told it was 23 degrees centigrade outside – and it was only 6am. There was also a layer of hazy smog lying over the city. Land of black bogies, I thought to myself.
The whole arrival thing happened quickly – one minute I was walking across hot tarmac; the next I was whiling away a short queue by comparing passport stamps with an American girl I’d met on the plane (she won by virtue of being a diplomat’s daughter); and then suddenly I was on the airport forecourt with a bag that was almost bigger than me, wondering what I should be doing to get a taxi to Flashman’s Hotel. (See separate accommodation entry.)
While I hesitated a religious service in a language I didn’t recognise came on the loudspeakers in the arrivals hall. I saw a man walk past carrying an enormous gun. I suddenly felt very far from home. Then a swirl of cheeky sparrows landed in front of me and somehow it all seemed a little less alien.
A woman dressed in black and white strode purposfully up to me. "Taxi?" she demanded. Before I had time to reply she picked up one handle of my bag and half led, half dragged me to her yellow cab, which was decorated inside with a generous display of plastic grapes.
Having ascertained that I did want to go to Flashman’s ("Not good hotel. Plenty better."… "But I’m meeting friends there."), she told me that she was the first woman taxi driver in Pakistan, and that a journalist from an English newspaper was coming to interview her. I was rather intrigued by this, but she turned the conversation to her weighty catalogue of health problems. I had no idea one person could have so much wrong with them.
We zoomed through town – instead of indicators, use your horn. When you overtake, use your horn. After not long at all, I found myself standing with my enormous bag on the forecourt of the concrete horror that is Flashman’s Hotel. "Reception is there," said the only lady taxi driver in all Pakistan. "I could take you to another hotel if you want."
How much is it to take me back to England, I wondered, as the eight hour night flight and a bad case of homesickness caught up with me.