It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.
I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell.
As she looked at me, it felt like the first day of college. Ours was not a love at first sight situation, nor were we foes turned lovers. But, she was cute. Everyone noticed that and I was no exception.
She smiled. “So, we’ve met sooner than expected. How are you?”
That calm demeanour, those blue eyes which were still deep enough to drown ten people, left me fluttered. Words escaped me, my face muscles strained. I let out a simple hello and tried to hug her. But, fate had something else in store. I lost grip of my bag and thud….. “Ouch….” A young girl screamed. My bag fell, landing on her thumb-nail, and spoiling my not-so-perfect reunion. Some laughed, some ogled, some flustered. She chuckled and bent down to check the girl’s thumbnail for any injury.
My eyeballs were moving fast enough, giving my eye muscles a good exercise. I quickly lifted my bag, apologized and stood up. My nerves felt giddy and I tapped my forehead with my hand.
Just then, a touch on my shoulder brought me back to the queue.
“Never mind, get your boarding pass. I am waiting for you, right here,” she said.
I tried not to feel anything and be a man; disguise my emotions behind an invisible fabric. I stood in the queue and stared at her. She smiled and moved her eyes forward. My limbs too moved forward in perfect sync, and my reverie was conveniently disturbed.
Being done with the formalities, I waved to her and we proceeded.
The conversation could not begin. Our hesitation was perfectly complemented by the badgering of our phones. As my call ended, hers began; the result being no conversation. She was in Delhi for a meeting and had decided to leave for Bengaluru a day earlier, just like me. I wondered why. A lot of ‘wonders’ clouded me. Though we parted on an amicable note, there was no reason for—-well, many obvious things.
As we walked together and as she spoke on the phone, I noticed the “no change” in her. Four years was not very long, but long enough to bring some change. Or maybe my observation skills were poor. Turquoise still beautified more on her. Her eyebrows tweaked, her eyes fluttered, her lips formed a sorry now and then, urging me to give her a bone-crushing hug. But all I did was smile and hold her shoulders in reassurance. Our situation was alternatively the same. Just then, a tone of sepia clouded my vision. The polished airport floor suddenly seemed dusty, and the glass walls missing. The promenade now bore a seeming resemblance to DU’s campus. And here we were, walking and talking with everyone, except each other.
“Its alright, carry on. I understand.”
The rule of switching off the phone aboard a flight usually irritated me, but today it gave me relief. It meant a chance to talk to her without any distraction. But, luck eluded us again. Our seats were far away- hers was last while I sat close to the exit in the front row, and our co-passengers were unwilling to adjust.
Curses flew in my mind, faster than the falcon. I had also forgotten my eye mask and was too irritated to ask for help. Just then, a stewardess walked up to me and handed me something.
“Sir, the beautiful, young woman sitting in the last seat requested me to give you this. And, I have given her the cotton swabs as you requested.”
I felt giddy, excited; a smile plastered on my face. It was an eye mask. She still remembered.
I instantly wore it and fell back on the seat. The seat was upright, with hardly any scope to fall back. But I tried my best. As we took off, the wait for “Removing Seat Belt sign” seemed never ending.
Finally the lights were bright and the sign was removed. I too, removed the mask and sprang out. Sitting along the aisle never seemed better. I went to her seat and there she was, absorbed in reading. It was for editing or for leisure, I couldn’t figure. The cotton swabs still hanging out of her ears made her look like a mini-size teddy bear. She too was sitting along the aisle. Luck had given in, finally.
“All technicalities to maximize the optimization of this second chance seemed to be in my favour.”
The girl whose thumbnail I had supposedly injured was there too. Her eyes lit up on seeing me and she nudged Ananya.
She looked up and said, “Hey….” and we both breathed in. Suddenly the flight shook and “Fasten the Seat Belt” sign was on again.
“Raman, go and sit fast.” But, I just wanted to stand beside her. She pushed me away, back to my seat.
There were continuous disturbances, but my mind was not yet deterred. Being a regular flyer, it seemed usual and I believed that the captain would handle. In about five minutes, a loud, knocking sound plagued the entire aircraft. This didn’t feel good. And in no time, the pilot announced- “Brace for impact.” The attendant too screamed “Brace, Brace….” But, most were confused. After all, who follows the safety instructions?
I took the perfect brace position- knees together, feet flat on the floor, body bent as forward as possible, arms wrapped under my knees, and hoped that she did too. My body was numb but my mind flooded. My neighbours too followed suit and everyone in my cone of vision was in the impact position.
“Would she survive?”
“Would I survive?”
“Would we unite in heaven?”
I knew I loved her. And I knew that I wanted a simple love story. The four years without her seemed stagnant. I didn’t want to unite with her in heaven. I cursed all the times I stopped myself from calling her, speaking to her in these four years. Google, career and money now seemed so mundane.
We were extremely low. Zooming past the concrete and steel; the city eluded me, and so did tears. People were screaming, the old woman beside me was crying. The impulse to move one hand towards her was overridden. I couldn’t disturb the position. I would die. So, I moved my left feet toward her right feet, to comfort and reassure her. But, she cried even louder.
All the people I loved, cared for, seemed to be within me. But, she… ,her face haunted me. I had told everyone I loved, that I loved them, in words and gestures alike. The only person who remained was Ananya.
I instantly switched on my phone. My mind stopped my heart again, but this time I let my heart rule.
I typed out- “I liu ui” and sent her.
My shaking fingers couldn’t escape the type errors. But I knew she would understand. In two seconds, the message was out and in another ten seconds my phone beeped, “2”.
Tears engulfed me and I made no effort to stop them. Was it a hallucination? I didn’t care. It was a hope in this crisis. It was an incentive to cheat death.
The aircraft toppled and my knee hit my chest. It was jarring. The plane was in a cartwheel. It crashed and groaning devilishly, overpowering our groans; the crash being as unique as my love confession. It was in water. A deeper horror struck me. Flashes of a much-younger-me somersaulting in the waterfall leaped in, making me numb; then there was a flash, of a hand holding me and pulling me out. I nodded my head and widened my eyes. I had to be that hand today.
The plane was an unlikely boat floating in the Arabian Sea. Water gushed in. I looked down at my seat to see if my body was there and hoped that her body was there too, in her seat. Being closest to the exit, I quickly opened the door and moved to a side. I couldn’t leave without her. The suddenness of the crash didn’t allow anyone the luxury of a life jacket. Someone pushed me and I was out on the water. I hadn’t swum since a long time. I tried to swim and caught hold of the wing, but I slipped. The fume from the jet had made it slippery. The plane was constantly moving due to the current. The Arabian sea water was warm but difficult to swim in, forcing me to get rid of my shoes and jacket. I finally climbed over the wing. People poured out and a life raft opened.
But, she was nowhere. As per my knowledge she couldn’t swim. And the possibility of her finding a knight, in the back row, in this crisis, seemed bleak.
The rescue team had arrived. Taking two life jackets, I went inside, ignoring the frantic calls of the ones around. I swam. I struggled. I found. My love was there, with half her face in water, her body wrestling aimlessly, her shirt floating wildly.
“Gosh… Ananya….” The happiness of seeing her alive made my heart skip a beat. The belt of the girl beside her was stuck. And Ananya was trying her best to rescue her. I got there. Wrapping her one arm around me, she held me with all her remaining strength and cried, “Ram…..annn….”
Somehow, we loosened the belt and got the girl out. We swam away.
Everyone was finally rescued.
Safe and aboard the ferry, we hugged tightly and cried, never wanting to let go. The intensity of our hug, our breaths, our words, eluded the oxygen. We were each other’s oxygen.
“Its over, the ordeal is over. I am here. We are here”, I screamed, in joy, in panic.
“Yes, we are here. We are safe. We are together”, she too yelled.
“I love you, forever…. “
And our friend’s wedding, well, we attended it as a couple, and even performed a salsa number.
It is worth wondering how sometimes just twenty minutes can make you question your twenty years of life, and how it is often the second chance that completely changes your life, maybe forever.