An Airy Affair by Md Urooj Abdullah

Here I am, on my way back to work. Back to the place that I have loved so dearly and for so long: Bombay.

But it is not only to work that I return now but also my girlfriend of many years. Exactly how many is a difficult question to answer. We have had our share of mini break-ups and during one of those I fell in love with another girl who lives in another delectable city: Delhi. A city that is strewn with remnants of royalty, verses of poetry and corridors of power. Also, a city above which I was having breakfast in mid-air about an hour back.

I like air travel; the physical aspect of being at such a height gives the impression of being away from the reality of life and makes it easy to see things from a distance, adding layers of perspective to things.

A girlfriend who can miraculously love and hate me at the same time and do both in the extreme, a see-saw job that occupies the major portion of my conscious life, a rented room which seldom offers me homely comfort, a city that is beyond understanding and a life that is under construction. All that and more awaits me as the plane prepares for its final dash towards a sea of sprawling blue shanties that breathe alongside Mumbai Airport.

***

“Oh fuck,” exclaimed the girl beside me as she dropped her cup of not-so-hot coffee on my lap. It was a crude way of being snapped back to reality from the universe of my random thoughts. We locked eyes for the first time during the fight. Of course I had stolen a few glances at her but our eyes hadn’t met until that moment and it did not take long for me to recognize her. We forgot the coffee for a while and just wondered at the unexpectedness of the whole situation.

“Hi,” she exclaimed, “long time.”

I’m not sure whether it was incredulity or the fact that I couldn’t find the perfect words to adorn the coincidence that tied my tongue and I could only manage a faint semblance of a smile in return.

Even though I wanted to hang on her every word I was mostly just ‘hmm’ing my way through with thoughts racing in my mind. Had she seen me at the airport itself and requested to be seated beside me? That was highly unlikely but my mind is one narcissistic dreamer.

“Are you even listening?”

It is amazing how quickly some girls get irritated when they don’t get the unwavering attention they think they deserve.

“Every bit.” I tried to assuage her concerns of diminishing importance!

“Well, I’m sorry for the coffee, to be fair though, you distracted me!”

“What, how?” I was intrigued by the accompaniment to her admission of guilt.

“It startled me to have recognized you sitting beside me!” she replied in a bit exaggerated tone. The middle aged aunty next to me turned her head, let out a sigh and shook her head so slightly.

“So, were you more shocked to have recognized me or about the fact of this coincidence?” I asked, acting a bit smart (which is kind of usual for me).

“I don’t know, whatever though, how have you been, what have you been up to all these days and are you going onwards to anywhere else or Mumbai is your final destination?”

I updated her with whatever the essential aspects of my average life I could cherry pick. And as I was taking in her reactions to each piece of new information, I had the time and luxury to actually look at her. The cadence of her flowing hair with sunlight from the window playing on her black locks. She wore a loose black shirt (unbuttoned at the top two places) with white cropped jeans shorts. She looked exactly as I had always remembered her: an effortless beauty.

“Well you didn’t mention girls.” She fiddled around with her seatbelt as the sign came on for the landing. I reached out and helped her buckle up.

“What about girls?” I asked.

“Well, you know, for starters, do you have a girlfriend?” she asked, in a manner that looked casual but sounded serious.

“Yes.” I saw no reason to lie.

“And?” she poked further.

“And what?”

“Well what’s her name, what does she do?”

I made a face that a person makes when he needs to recollect some long forgotten climax of a movie.

“You don’t know her so I don’t really see the point of all the details, but if you must know, we work together and kind of live pretty close by so spend a lot of time together on and off work.” I was measured in my response, neither divulging too much nor hiding anything.

The plane hit a rough patch perhaps. The lights that were dimmed to prep for the landing flickered eerily and there was unusual movement that shook the plane from outside and the passengers from inside. The disturbance made us bump into each other sideways and for a moment we were separated by nothing between us.

“What the hell was that?” There was a hint of shock in her voice but it lacked the kind of fear that had set in me. I just shrugged my shoulders and feigned a studied lack of shock or fear. But she looked through me as she slid her hand over my shoulder, brought me closer and whispered in my ear “don’t worry, it’s nothing, hopefully.” Much as I had hoped to exhibit the kind of machismo that charms girls, she was someone I simply couldn’t fool. She knew me inside out, owing to the fact that we were intensely close at some past moment in our lives.

And in case your imagination starts running wild, let me tell you, dear readers, that ‘intensely’ was only limited to the emotional realm. We were still growing up then and in the small city and simple times that we grew up in, matters were confined mostly to heart at least till class tenth. We maintained our distance in school and talked our hearts out on phone, landline that is. Things were not as mobile and nimble back then. There was kind of fixed-ness in everything from communication to relationship. Or maybe, I’m just day dreaming about the clichéd good ol’ days. We tend to remember only the good things from past and reminisce about them as if past was a utopian fairy land.

The plane shook again, this time more violently than before. There was some announcement that the pilot was making but it was too faint to be audible and eventually faded our. The airhostess crew was trying to calm things down through speaker and when it stopped working they spread out across the aisle and tried to bring some normalcy.

“Please be seated.”

“There is nothing to panic.”

“Please maintain calm.”

That they were vague in their assurances only made the matters worse. Passengers kept on asking the reason for all this turbulence but the crew themselves did not seem to have a hold of the situation and I had a feeling they were themselves a bit on the edge. There were no oxygen masks that came out so the pressure was pretty much maintained inside the aircraft except if the overhead panels themselves had malfunctioned. It was impossible to say whether we were all hyperventilating owing to anxiety or an actual pressure loss.

Not that I wasn’t mortally afraid, but I had kind of regained my composure. There was far too much panic around and clearly the situation demanded a bit of cooling down.

“Are you praying?” I asked her as she had closed her eyes and was clinching her fist over my arm. It was slightly hurting me, her nails digging into my skin but I ignored that for a moment.

“Yes, I don’t see the point of panicking or castigating the pilots and crew members, obviously nobody knows what’s going on.”

“Well keep me in your prayers, like you used to do more than about 10 years back.”

“Oh , I thought you’d forgotten everything.” She turned her head and looked directly into my eyes, searching for something. As if eyes really are windows to the soul!

The plane took another jerk, perhaps a sharp turn or a sudden drop, fortunately everyone was tightly glued to their seats now all buckled up for any carelessness could lead to serious injuries. But not all wounds are external, are they? The jerk brought us to barely an inch of a distance. I noticed she had unbuckled her belt and she was now completely turned towards me. There was a strange emotion popping in my heart that was taking shape ever since this accidental meeting. It ripped open some wounds of the past, a past that was long dead and forgotten. We had never really broken up but then we had never really been a couple too. Those hours of clandestine calls foregoing sleep, those meetings behind the school bus, school assemblies, lunch time, night out camps, school trips; memories were rushing in thick and fast. It was like an overpowering deluge, drowning me.

I could smell the scent of her, it wasn’t like all those perfumes you get in high end shops, it was more natural and it was tantalizing. Irresistible. She was still looking at me with those piercing eyes. The eyes that spoke volumes, that castigated, invited, hated and loved all at the same time.

“I remember much, but there’s no point, it’s rather pain…” I was in the middle of my poorly crafted sentence when she placed her hand on my cheek and kissed me on the lips. Lightly. I kissed her back and I kissed her hard. Our lips were locked as if for eternity. All of a sudden the otherwise healthy aunty seated beside me started her cough marathon. Half-heartedly we unlocked our lips and sat back in our seats. I stole a side glance at the aunty, she was visibly ruffled by all that was happening around her. The darkness in the plane now though was engulfing and an eerie silence pervaded. People were not really calm but then I think we all realized, some people later than sooner, that there was no point in crying yourself hoarse and absolutely no point in asking questions to those who themselves were as clueless as everyone else. You could only make out the soft prayers on everyone’s lips.

I could hear the girl from my past now making waves in my present breathing heavily. As I turned towards her, she got up from her seat and made her way ever so quietly to the washroom, pausing at the very end to look back at me. It was obvious that, like me, she was not really a fan of leaving things hanging in the middle. I followed her to the washroom. No one was looking or maybe nobody really cared, not even the crew.
Let’s just say we didn’t leave any stone unturned, any denims unzipped, any shorts and shirts unbuttoned.

Every bit of her was amazing. The moment I entered the washroom, she caught me off guard by pinning me to the door and kissing me with such passion as if my mouth was the last kissable thing left in the world. I picked her up and placed her on the washbasin.

***

We were both back in our seats later and I do not remember when I dozed off. I woke up to the announcement of a touchdown. The pilot announced that the temperature outside was 29 degree Celsius, people were now beginning to get up to bring down their luggage, the aunty to my right had switched in her mobile phone and was talking ad nauseam.
I turned to my left to help Rhea with her baggage. To my surprise however, I found a young guy in his twenties dozing off on the seat. He was wearing a black tee with the words dream on in white. I looked at my watch, the plane was on time. I looked around to find any traces of panic or relief on people’s faces but they were as mundane and placid as ever. People were just going about their normal de-boarding routine. I was agitated and confused but I preferred not to ask around. What would I ask anyway?

As I was walking towards the auto stand, my head was spinning. Could dreams be so vivid? I hadn’t thought about Rhea since a very long time, she wasn’t my facebook friend, heck we weren’t connected on any social media platform whatsoever. The last I had talked to her was almost seven years back when she had called to congratulate me in my college admission. As I began to get on the auto rickshaw, I heard a familiar voice shout my name. My heartbeat jumped and breathing raced as I looked up to see Rhea speeding past in a cab. In a brief moment that our eyes met she raised her arm as if to indicate something. Before I could bring myself back to reality, her cab had sped away.

“Andheri.”

I was still in a daze when I told the rickshaw driver where to take me. It was only after I reached my destination and stretched my arm to hand over the cash to the driver did I realize what Rhea was indicating. I could see that something was written on my arm, a faint number written in red was peeping out of my sleeves. I pulled up my sleeves only to a find a ten digit number written with a red lipstick.


Urooj would rather be called a poet than anything else. He holds degrees in engineering and economics and earns his living in the field of finance.

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