Monday, June 19th
I have breakfast downstairs in the hotel's Raffles coffee shop, with Bob Michel of my publisher Hachette. He's responsible for international sales. Bob discusses the international edition, which will come out in January, and will be available all over the English-speaking world. We both think the Indians will love this book, because of the development of the narrator's attitudes to Pakistan (the country of his birth) and India (his home country's traditional enemy).
It will also be nice to have the book available in Malaysia, the country where I currently live, and next door in Singapore too. I might even see someone reading it on a train... a beautiful woman reading it on a train... smiling, laughing... her eyes radiant...
Bob's a very nice guy, but I can't help but wistfully think of Anna Maria, who joined me here for breakfast a few times (her hotel was very close by), and had dinner with me as well. We (Bob and I) are even sitting at our (Anna Maria and my) favorite corner table. How long ago was that? Seems like a lifetime away. I've been all over the mainland United States and back since then. I've eaten with and had iced tea with dozens of people -- whom I can barely remember now.
After breakfast, I face that which I've been dreading -- the return of the Raptor to the Hertz place a couple of blocks away. When I received the Raptor it had 9,083 miles on the clock. And now it reads 21,957 miles. But "unlimited mileage" means "unlimited mileage" doesn't it? There was no tiny print I didn't read?
I've also deliberately left the Raptor dirty. I get a kick out of it looking weary from my great odyssey. Plus the dirt helps to hide the odd scuff mark here and there.
The two women at Hertz are very friendly and courteous. They enter the information from my return card into the terminal. Then there's a puzzled silence, as they both stare at the screen. I know what has caught their attention: 12,874 miles.
Then one says to the other, in a low voice: "Well, he did have it for over two months."
Thank you, Hertz.
I have lunch with Kate Hartson, my editor, and -- in answer to her intense and probing questions -- I exaggerate how many people came to my talks and how many books were sold at the events. Well, what would you do?
The hotel allowed me a late checkout. I arrive at JFK by taxi, comfortably early. Check-in is no problem. Security is slightly odd. I hand my passport and boarding pass to the Homeland Security officer. Both of these documents bear my name, of course. She examines them, then asks me dispassionately: "What is your name?" I reply factually and equally dispassionately (never, ever joke with Homeland Security). She shows not a glimmer of interest in my answer and hands back the documents.
I board the shiny new Airbus A380 towards Dubai and hurtle back towards the painful reality of my regular life. There's that dull ache in my chest again -- it's my constant companion.
Tuesday, June 20th
This journey is surreal. A twelve-hour leap forward in time, unlimited food and drink, the intense buzz of Dubai airport. The Emirates entertainment system offers me hundreds of options. But I don't like to watch violence any more. I'm only interested in romantic comedies in which she breaks away from him -- but then she comes back later, completely out-of-the-blue, when he's not expecting her at all. Movies like Notting Hill, The Heartbreak Kid, Letters To Juliet -- these accurately depict what really happens in life, don't they?
Wednesday, June 21st
It's lunchtime in Kuala Lumpur when I stride purposefully off the plane and through the 23rd-century terminal. There is absolutely no line at Immigration, and my luggage arrives in minutes. Here again is that gentleness about the people which I appreciate. The warm, humid air gives me a welcoming embrace and it's a blue sky day. The architecture and landscape here always look stunning, especially on a clear, sunny day.
A taxi whisks me back to my apartment over the Amcorp shopping mall in Petaling Jaya. (It is hugely convenient to live over a non-tourist shopping mall and opposite a train station.)
I manhandle all my luggage up to my high-rise apartment with the magnificent views. The cleaner will have been here a few times, so it's not dusty.
In the hallway, there's an ornate Pakistani bookcase which I purchased downstairs in the mall. Prominently positioned on the shelf at eye-level is a framed photograph of a beautiful Malaysian woman. I took this photograph on my BlackBerry, as she sat opposite me in a restaurant -- I remember the day vividly. She is smiling at me radiantly, and in her eyes I see warmth and, I thought, love.
I take the photograph from the bookcase and, without dwelling on it, I put it away in a closet.
Unpacking can wait. I shower and put on business clothes and head for the office. Plus ça change.
See the 50-city U.S. tour plan on the website.
Photos are on the Facebook page.