Sunday, March 26, 2017

Walking Away

Airports fascinated me very much. Everytime I go there, a new story is born. Like common cold the memory takes its own sweet time to heal.
The blue passport with the golden Ashoka emblem was gleaming from underneath my huge black bag. Who would have thought that one day I would be taking leave from a country I had grown up in. My love for India was littered by my love for research. What followed was a struggle that threw my life in shambles. Sometimes, the choices we need to make are never the kinds that we might have decided to make. The project that came my way was like a lover who belongs to another caste or religion, for whom putting up a fight with the rest of the world made more sense than letting go.
Within days, I was freed of my predicament. Of trying to put up with parents who thought that a daughter staying alone in a foreign country, would spell doom on the family’s honour. 
This glossy ambience of the airport was like a precursor to things that were to follow. Much like a reminder of what I deserve and had not got, until now.
The destination board was beaming with blue and red lettered words. I could see a lot of human activity around me, much of which had a lot of bag and baggage to drag. Their noisy kids added to my daunting dilemma, and I decided to hunt for a quieter corner, where in I could be at peace.

Suddenly my phone beeped. The name I saw on the screen soaked me in nostalgia. I cursed myself for not having deleted the whatsapp application and having made it easier for him, to contact me. Why did he have to suddenly make it difficult for me was the question. I didn’t have many people to bid goodbye to. This one goodbye of course was the mother of all goodbyes. One that I had not anticipated. I decided to not send him a reply. Perhaps, giving him a cold shoulder would have done the trick. I didn’t budge and deleted his message. Then I blocked his access to me, by dumping him into the block list.
A  little later, a message popped in again. This time around it was directed into my message box. I looked at my phone like a blank dyslexic child, with the words of the message dancing in front of my eyes.
“I want to meet you.” Those five simple words brought back a lifetime of memories that had been stalked me since ages.
I decided to not put up with him anymore. Technology has been a magical invention, and I let it become a barrier between us. I  thought of completely denying him all access to my Mumbai number. The airport was one place where the 3G services used to suddenly stop working and that added to my quandary of difficulties. I was unable to download the number blocker application. My mind started running awry in different directions, only to find a solution.
I thought that switching off my phone was the best thing that could have happened at that time. After all, who would have bothered to call me to bid a final farewell. No one would take the pains and I didn’t want put myself in a tight spot at that time.
As soon as I was going to switch off my phone, a number started beeping through the huge screen. Who could it be, I wondered? My hands were shaking violently and my breath began to sink when I decided to attend the call. My perturbed choking vocal chords helped me to speak in a shrill voice.
“Hello. Anna, are you at the airport?” inquired a male voice.
“Yessss, who is it?”
“This is me. Akshay.”
“Akssshay. What is the matter?”
“Can I meet you for ten minutes? I am standing outside pillar number six of the international airport. Please don’t say no.”
“No, Akshay. My flight will take off soon. I am going to check in.”
“Please it is very urgent.”
“There is nothing more to say.  I am getting late. Please don’t play the spoiler.”
“Please. I request you. Just one last time.”
I looked at my watch which was ticking loudly like the Big Ben, and it’s dice suddenly started becoming bigger. Possibly, it was a gentle nudge to check in. Even then, I decided to meet this guy. The mere mention of his name, some years ago used to give me goosebumps. This may have been the reason for having allowed him ten minutes of my time, on a day when such a farewell was not anticipated.
“Ok. Just ten minutes. Not a minute more.” I announced authoritatively.
“Yes. Of course. I won’t waste much of your time.”
My heart started pounding violently, as though it would burst out of my chest and flee out of the large windows of the airport. Why did I decide to meet him at this crucial juncture of life? Why did he want to meet? What if he knows about my feelings for him? Has he come over to stop me from leaving?

These questions started dancing in my head while I waited for him impatiently clutching tightly onto the silver handle of my huge travel bag.
He appeared a few minutes later, dressed smartly in a black tuxedo. I guess he was over dressed for a quick meeting at the airport. And why did he have to do that, I wondered.
He started charging towards the airport café where I was seated while a violent waver of his hands told me that he was happy to meet me again. I was frozen in that moment. To be able to see him again, was a dream that I could have never dared to see, before this day.
I was greeted with a polite smile. One that had floored me for the very first time. That smile was innocent, like that of a five year old boy who carried his heart in the pocket of his shirt.
“Thank you for meeting me.”
“ It’s ok. So what is the matter?” I enquired sternly, so that he never got an inkling of what I felt for him.
“I happened to talk to Priya today. And she told me that you were heading to Singapore.”
“Yes, I have to check-in. Let’s come to the point.”
“Oh yes. Without much delay, I wanted to ask you a question.”
“What is it?”
“Did you really love me at some point in time, while in college or after that?”
Love. Those four alphabets could have turned my life topsy-turvy and the guy standing in front of me was synonymous to that four-lettered word. Our friendship in college had created a ruckus in his family and mine too, while gifting me a muse for my poetry. While I remembered those days, a pleasant simper greeted him as though that one gesture was all that it could have taken to spoil the broth.
“Aaannnaaaa. Are you here?”
“Yes, yes.”
“I need to know the truth Anna. I left for the airport the moment Priya told me this. She had called me in the morning.”
Priya was our classmate, our common friend. The one woman who knew about my big secret. Why did she have to spill the beans on it after so many years? I was confounded with doubtful fears.
“Noo. I have never loved anyone in my lifetime. As you know, I do not deserve to.”
“ But why? Why can’t you be in love with a nice guy? You are one of the most intelligent girls I have ever met. There isn’t another one like you. Do you know that dumbo?”
This sentence was like a rude kick in my gut. I never really knew what should be my answer.
“Yes. I mean every word of what I say. You have been mistaken.”
He looked at me and gave me a twinkling smile.
“I know it is stupid of me to say this to you. But I always liked you. From the day I saw you and until now. I always thought that I would pop the big question in front of you someday, until you decided to leave for Singapore.”
The air was knocked out of my lungs. I gasped and tears started rolling out of my eyes. It was another dream coming true. A dream that was never mine.
I quickly bent my head and wiped away the river of emotions flooding my eyes.
By this time he turned away to listen to a phone call. I waited in patience while old memories started pouring into my mind. I remembered the first time we had met. Away from the peering eyes of our batch mates, who would always cook up a new story about us. I still remember that spilled drink, that apologetic smile, that stumble through the door that clearly directed me to “pull”, the click of the moment when poetry was cascading in my head for a man who had the most beautiful brown eyes in the whole wide world. I kept staring at him like a child standing outside her favourite toy shop, hopefully waiting to lay her hands on her favourite doll.
He came back a little later, feeling sorry for having made me wait.
“I was getting engaged to Preeti today. The ceremony starts at 11.30 am. Priya’s doubts had me thinking for a moment. Perhaps, I would have called off this engagement, had you said a yes.”

My heart sank, into the deepest delirium of love and loss. I had been chasing shadows, but on this day, the shadows were running after me, begging to me to hold their hand. Breaking into pieces a dream, that was nothing more than a few hundred poems I had written for him. 

“I will take leave then. All the best to you.”

As he was about to leave, he came forward to hug me. That miraculous moment was fate knocking at my door. I looked up into his beautiful brown eyes, for one last time.
“Thank you for coming. Thank you for being a great friend.”
I thanked him sincerely until he turned his back on me and started walking away. It took me a while to compose myself, until I heard my name being called. I was getting late for the check-in.

As I ambled towards the departure gate while looking back to catch one last glance of him, his mother’s words started echoing in my ears.

“What can you give my son, you one limbed loser?”


Prachi Agrawal said...

This story was just perfect :)
It literally struck a chord with me and I was totally into this story while reading it.
Keep writing. Looking forward to more interesting stuff.

A Delhi Dame said...

Thank you for visiting my blog and reading my first humble attempt at the short story form this year! :)