The flight was scheduled at 6 a.m. It was a red-eyed night for her. She knew she had been impulsive in booking the flight for the morning after the big family ceremony night knowing she wouldn’t catch up with any sleep and the journey ahead was too long. An anxious last-minute night bird that she was, the 4 a.m. alarm woke her up like a jolting thunderstorm after a drunken night. She owed her awake & alert state to her long-awaited excitement, she had been waiting for this day forever.
She reached the airport right on time. The moment she put her foot out of the car, her phone rang. It was the airline informing that the flight was delayed by half an hour. She hugged her reluctant parents an assuring goodbye. A tad bit worried that she would now have only a little margin to reach the next terminal to catch another flight, she moved towards the check-in counter with a slightly overweight suitcase, ready to face the consequences. The first good thing that happened that morning was a self-check-in. Now, there was nothing to worry about as all she had to do was stay alert because the next flight was from T3 – the second most confusing airport of India after Mumbai. Given her record of missed flights, trains & buses, it was a wonder that she had never missed a flight from her hometown, maybe the red vermillion on the centre of the forehead is really more than just a tradition.
Waiting at the boarding gate of T3 for her 10 a.m. flight , she could see the teenie weenie group which was taking the same flight as hers, perhaps because that was the only flight that moved between those two points at a low cost, the other alternative being a 10 hour road trip which was a big no as she was to start early today. After the casual announcement of an hour’s delay of the plane, her eyes drifted away from the TV screen and started wandering in the crowd that was to board that flight. Her appetite for art led them to pause at an old monk sitting on a secluded seat and reading his prayers, while her involuntary gaze kept punctuating at the boy with a black t-shirt with a white font that read ‘Bae of Bengal’.
Medium height, average built, jet black hair, he sat there calmly with his backpack, making customary rounds to the boarding desk but just like her, he didn’t seem to be in a rush. She didn’t know about him, but for her, there was no going back, and once the only way to go is ahead, what is there to worry about anyway? The clock struck 11 a.m. and along with it came another announcement that the flight was delayed further, not even mentioning the tentative time of departure. The passengers now seemed to be getting agitated. The black-tee guy kept his calm. She now felt that it was her civic responsibility to go to the boarding desk and find out what’s going on. It turned out that the flight was cancelled and this very information was enough to enrage the two women who were travelling with their little kids, waiting at the airport since 7 a.m. The entire floor was soon filled with the echo of their brazen loud voices calling out injustice. A 2:45 p.m. flight was now promised. She turned around to see him standing in front of her and this time, she smiled at him.
‘Hi, I am Vinay’, he said in a soft nonchalant voice as she walked to him with her trolley.
‘Antara’, she almost whispered, ‘So where are you headed?’
He was headed to the same place as her, which was approximately a 2-hour road journey from the next destination’s airport. Only her destination was a short drive further than his hostel. They walked towards the food court as that’s where the complimentary lunch had been instructed for the passengers and discussed how he had booked his online cab to his hostel much earlier, which was now cancelled while she planned on catching a bus to her place.
‘So I am going to follow you around as I am not acquainted with this area at all.’
Vinay’s statement came as a relief because of two reasons. One, she liked the non-sexist chivalrous vibe to him, second, the journey didn’t seem so long anymore.
The order for lunch was placed and they sat there waiting at the bustling food court. He was inadvertently funny and she was just being her lazy self, listening to his innumerous life stories and interrupting them with hers whenever she deemed necessary. The next 2 hours just flew like the wind unlike their delayed aircraft, which amounts to zero surprises, was now scheduled for 3:40 p.m. Finally, the boarding gate opened and a tiny aircraft was found waiting to fit the small group.
‘What’s your seat number? he asked. She had already sneaked a look onto his boarding pass. It was 8C.
‘It’s 7C, I always choose the aisle seat. We must catch up on some sleep on the plane !’.
Seated in a slightly congested aircraft than what she had signed up for, she was making her peace with all the extra things this trip was coming with, and suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Vinay. She turned around to see that the man next to Vinay was gaily stepping out of his window seat. ‘I think you two must sit together’, he smiled and started adjusting his hand luggage in the overhead passenger luggage bins. She happily got up and took the window seat behind.
‘Did you tell him to do that’?
‘No. But he is so kind !’
She laughed. They slept for most of the time on the flight except towards the end when the view from the window was a treasure to watch & take home. They were now waiting for luggage at the airport.
‘We’ll go to the bus stand from here and catch the earliest bus. I am sure we will be there in no time’, Antara mumbled while lifting her suitcase from the belt. His eyes were stuck in his phone. He collected his luggage and they started to walk towards the Exit door.
“I have booked a cab, and you are coming with me’. He said while still looking at his phone.
‘But why? The bus will get us there in the same number of hours !’
‘Because I have booked it already, just share it with me ?’
While he made himself comfortable and started responding to a few messages on his phone, she rolled down the car window to finally breathe the air in the hills. She mentally thanked him for inviting him to share the cab. It felt pleasantly intoxicating. They talked about everything under the sun – her family, his family, passions, interests, past life etc. They stopped over at a petite local dhaba as she treated him some delicious local food she always used to relish on her trips around this area.
‘It’s really late for you to drive to your place further up now,’ he said while digging in his parantha, ‘Stay over at my hostel and leave tomorrow morning? It’s anyhow close.’
‘Nope. I need to report today’.
He nodded and hopped inside the car after finishing the scrumptious meal. It was an eerie silence. As she finally sighed and was about to speak, the car stopped. She looked around curiously. ‘Aapka hostel aa gaya Sir’, the driver said.
He started to pick his phone charger and other things from the seat pocket and got down from the car on the narrow street with a downward staircase at the corner leading to his hostel.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to stay? Tell them it’s late and you will join tomorrow?’
She smiled. ‘Bye Vinay.’
Vinay stretched out his hand to bid her goodbye and wish her luck, she took his hand and swang her arm around him.
10 seconds later, she sat inside the cab.
‘Text me once you reach’, he waved to her.