[Short story love “Flight of Fantasy” is selected for Love’2012 Story Writing Competition]
It was her maiden air flight. In the small town where she had lived as a child, she and her friends had often heard the roar of airplanes above their heads. She would leave everything on hearing this sound and rush outside to see the birdlike objects flying in the air. She often wondered if it was true what Ramu used to tell her – that this tiny object in the sky was like the town bus carrying lots of people – only bigger. She often waved frantically to those people in the skies, hoping one of them would notice the little girl and wave back.
And today she was going to be one of those people sitting above and looking down on the tiny speck of people on earth. She had come a long way – from her small town in Rajasthan to the big City, where she was now going to live along with her husband. Her husband was a prized catch, according to her gossiping neighbors and relatives. He was a software engineer in one of those big IT companies, with huge offices and teeming with well dressed, educated people. He had often traveled to foreign countries and promised her a very comfortable life in the city. What more could a girl ask for?
When the proposal of marriage first came, she was frightened and confused. Even though she was educated and had been the topper of her college during the BA course, she was scared of the urban city life. She much rather preferred staying for the rest of her life in the town, teaching in the primary school, rather than go shopping in those huge malls like her city cousins. She had heard of the cutthroat competition and race for survival that existed there, and she was unwilling to join the race and spoil her life. Everyone at home had laughed at her when she had confessed her fears to them, and her brother was amazed at her lack of excitement at the opportunities that her new life presented her.
But like all dutiful daughters, she saw no point in rebelling and going against her parents’ wishes on the all important subject of marriage. Her would-be husband seemed to be a nice man, quiet and respectful of her and her family. The boys’ family had also not been very demanding at the time of marriage, which came as a huge relief to her father, who had to marry two other daughters. Thus, the wedding happened and she began her new life.
And today, they were going on their honeymoon to Kerala, and she was reliving her childhood fantasy of traveling in an airplane.
Ranjita’s reverie was broken as the taxi halted near the Delhi airport. It was still a little dark outside, but the sun was slowly beginning to appear in the Sky. As her husband, Aryan, stepped out to pay the taxi driver and take out their luggage, Ranjita ventured a quick peep in the mirror of the taxi to check her appearance. She had dressed with a lot of care, even though it meant waking up at an insane hour at the crack of dawn, since they were going to catch a morning flight. She had hardly been able to sleep with the excitement, wondering how it would feel like to be in the midst of clouds, so high in the air! After a final adjustment to her crisp, new sari, Ranjita disembarked from the taxi to join her husband. Together they made their way inside the airport, bustling with people even at an early hour.
From what she had heard from others and what her own commonsense told her, Ranjita knew that the airport would be full of well dressed and well mannered people, with ample money and maybe very busy, since they did not have the time to travel by train or bus. So, she had made it a point to look as presentable as possible, for she did not want her husband to be embarrassed by his new wife. Her attire consisted of a bright pink sari, brought by her parents from the town’s best sari maker. She had adorned the traditional Chuda on her arms and had even tried to do a little makeup from the makeup set her sister had gifted her. When they had left for the airport this morning, Ranjita was pleased with her look, and looked just like – well, a newly wedded bride.
As the couple made their way inside the airport, Ranjita cast a look around the people at the airport. They were, of course, very smartly dressed – the men with their well ironed business suits and briefcases; and most women casually dressed in western formals or well fitted chudidars. Ranjita’s inexperienced eyes got the first glance of the urban life and its people. Mini skirts, short sleeveless tops, coloured and permed hair, flawless faces with make up – Ranjita’s keen eyes were quick to take in everything. She felt like an old fashioned ‘country mouse’ beside this sophisticated crowd and felt out of place, like a shining butterfly! ‘Why, even the kids are more smartly and appropriately dressed than me,’ she felt. She saw two girls, in their denim shorts and spaghetti tops, probably foreigners, looking at her and whispering. Shamefaced and near tears, Ranjita looked down and started walking quickly.
As they made their way to collect the boarding pass, Aryan stopped suddenly and turning to her said in a quiet voice – “By the way, this color, it really suits you.” Ranjita looked up in surprise, and the appreciative look in his eyes confirmed the fact that he liked the way she had dressed. She smiled and blushed coyly on hearing the unexpected praise, and somewhat regained her excitement that had been dampened in the last few minutes.
At the counter to collect their boarding pass, they were met by a smiling lady, who politely booked their luggage and issued their boarding pass. She asked for a seat preference, and Ranjita immediately wanted to shout – I want a window!! But she was too afraid to speak. Aryan, however, said politely to the airline lady – “A window seat please for Ma’am,” and smiled at Ranjita affectionately. Pleased and overjoyed, Ranjita gave him a warm look too.
It was time now to board the aircraft. Ranjita’s excitement was now coupled with a little nervousness and fear, as they climbed the steps of the aircraft. Another smiling lady, with make up plastered on her face, greeted them at the door. Ranjita smiled to her gratefully, wondering why most of the people simply ignored her polite greeting and gave no response. To Ranjita, who was accustomed to irritated, shouting shopkeepers in town, she seemed like a very nice lady indeed.
They settled in their seats, with Ranjita taking the window seat of course. The plane had not started yet, so there was nothing to see except the runway. Ranjita noticed a large family, occupying the seats, with the children yelling in excitement and refusing to settle despite repeated appeals by the airhostess, who now looked quite harassed. The family was taking photographs inside the plane, and Ranjita was disappointed that she did not think of this idea before. It would have been nice to take a few photos too and show it to her family back home, since most of them had not been inside an aircraft before.
Hearing her sigh, Aryan turned to her and asked “What happened, tired already?” “No, I wish we had not kept the camera in the other bag; we could have taken a photo or two like those people…,” Ranjita replied hesitantly, not sure whether Aryan would laugh at her or take her seriously. “Why not? I can take some from my cell phone,” Aryan replied immediately. “Smile.” He clicked three four photos of her and then asked a fellow passenger to take a photo of them together. Seeing the enthusiasm of the young couple, the passenger gladly obliged.
The plane was now ready to take off. Ranjita checked her seat belt again to make sure it was secured. She heard the safety instructions given by the crew carefully, wondering nervously if the emergency procedures such as jumping out of the aircraft would ever be required. Aryan, seeing her fidgeting, said, “Don’t worry. These are just precautionary measures. Such things never happen.” Ranjita relaxed somewhat and began to look out of the window as the aircraft gathered speed on the runway, with the engines blaring.
And then, they were finally off, soaring at breathtaking speed into the sky. Ranjita marveled at Man’s intelligence to create a vehicle which had literally given him wings. She tried to recollect the names of the inventors from her science class, but could not recall. She felt like a bird, walking and playing in the clouds. She wanted to take out her hand and feel the white and blue clouds, and see if they were round, just the way she used to draw them in childhood.
Around thirty minutes had passed since the flight took off and passengers were free to move about. Ranjita also relaxed, and her excitement was beginning to wear off a little. Food was now going to be served, the announcement came and Ranjita suddenly realized that she was quite hungry. In fact, in the morning she had actually woken up and prepared a simple meal of parathas and pickle for both of them and packed in her bag. Her mother had insisted she take it along, just the way they would pack and carry food with them on overnight train journeys. But this, certainly, did not look the place where you could open your lunch and start eating. Nobody, Ranjita noticed, opened their bags and distributed delicious smelling home cooked food inside a plane like they did in trains. So Ranjita decided to keep quiet, not mentioning the unopened parathas to her husband, thinking she would dispose them of later.
Aryan yawned and stretched in his seat. He was obviously used to a lot of flying and none of the procedures were new to him, unlike Ranjita. “Aren’t you hungry by now?” he asked his wife, and said “I’m famished?” Ranjita nodded, not daring to mention the unopened parcel of food in her bag.
“Weren’t you in the kitchen, early this morning doing something?” he asked.
“I have … I mean, I made parathas for us, they are in the other bag …,” Ranjita replied falteringly.
“That’s great, why didn’t you say so before?” Aryan asked her, amazed.
“But here, are we allowed to eat them? I mean, no one here…,” Ranjita enquired.
“Of course, we are. Who wants to have the airline’s tasteless and overpriced food? In fact the mention of your parathas has made me even hungrier!! Let’s enjoy them fast.” Aryan said enthusiastically as Ranjita smiled and started taking out the food for both of them.
After their meal, Aryan settled to take a quick nap, where as Ranjita began reading the in flight magazine. Suddenly, the aircraft shook a little and an announcement came – “Ladies and gentlemen, we are encountering bad weather. You are requested to return back to your seats and fasten your seat belts.” Ranjita looked a little frightened and began praying as the aircraft took another steep dip in the clouds. She noticed the other passengers too getting anxious and the crew returning to their seats.
As the turbulence continued, Ranjita’s heart started beating a little faster and she nervously began praying silently to all the Gods she could remember. Aryan, meanwhile, had also woken up and without saying anything slid his hand through hers, to give her the much needed support and comfort. Ranjita immediately relaxed and felt stronger; and as she looked into his eyes gratefully, her fear and nervousness gradually began to fade away.
The rough patch had passed and the aircraft began to fly smoothly again. However, Aryan continued to hold her hand lightly, and she made no attempt to move her own away. She was enjoying the warmth and comfort of his hands on hers and was amazed at the familiarity with which their hands met each other. She looked around quickly to make sure no one was noticing. But, the man on the side seat had dozed off again, while the Aunty on the opposite side was fussing over her dress getting spoilt due to the orange juice she had spilled during the turbulence. With a happy sigh, Ranjita closed her eyes and gently put her head on Aryans’ shoulder. That moment, she knew, she had made the right choice.
A few minutes later, the aircraft began its descent into Kerala – “God’s Own Country.” As Ranjita looked at the sea and the green coconut trees that beckoned her, she felt she had reached her own heaven. Her maiden flight had transported her into a wonderful land of love, happiness and dreams.
Note : The story has previously appeared in Muse India