“Indian”, read the second line as well. He went further down.
“Jet Airways”. Ah, there it was. He narrowed his eyelids to follow a horizontal line from that word. “ETD” – he found it and then saw the time “20:30″ next to it and the word “Delayed” hanging in there.
A good 2 hour delay in his flight. And he couldn’t see a smoking lounge anywhere in the vicinity. He picked up his backpack lying against his feet, lugged it on his shoulder like a school student in a hurry, and searched for a chair to sit. The airport was mostly full and the announcements over the microphone made it seem as though there were double the number of people than actually present.
The chair next to him was not occupied and instead newspaper pages were strewn on it in a distraught fashion. Probably someone pissed about a delayed flight, he thought to himself. He picked up one of the pages and started reading about Hyderabad’s page 3 circuit. He noticed that the same pictures were in the Bombay edition of the newspaper as well. Giving no further thought to that, he looked around for a coffee shop.
Scanning the crowd, he noticed her furtive looks. That was a worried face, amidst the sea of tired and all-knowing faces. She would look around and then touch her bag lying beside her, more so to ensure that it was not stolen, yet. He stared at her and she repeated the act of throwing furtive glances around and touching her bag for assurance.
He found it amusing and timed his next gaze at her after precisely 5 minutes. And there it was, that worried look and that by-now customary reaching out to the bag. He allowed himself a smile. At the same time, her eyes fell on his smile. She didn’t quite understand why he was smiling at her, but caught off guard, she let a smile escape her worried face.
He hadn’t expected this and didn’t quite know what to do next. In a momentary lapse of thoughts, he looked right through her, as though he was smiling at someone else.
Instantly he realized it was a stupid thing to do. An opportunity lost.
He started rummaging through the newspaper pages, occasionally stealing a glance with increasing curiosity. In a manner that appeared to be solely to assure him, she continued to check on her baggage with alarming frequency.
“Maybe a schizo”, he thought to himself. “But a pretty schizo”, he nodded to himself.
“Is someone sitting here?”, the voice came from above him. He looked beyond the horizon of the newspaper and there she was, the worried face replaced with a question.
“Okay, I was just looking around and found that you look like a dependable guy. You atleast don’t look like a thief”
“Excuse me?”, he tilted his face a little, indicating that he wasn’t sure what he had heard was right.
“Yeah, you don’t look like a thief. What time is your flight?”, she enquired with more authority than he had expected.
He had no reason to answer that, he thought to himself. But before that thought was processed and churned out by his brain, his mouth had already released the words “Eight thirty”.
She looked at her watch in a singularly fast motion and blurted “Good, I can leave my bag with you, you don’t mind?”
“Yeah”, his mouth was no longer relying on his brain to dictate terms.
She kept her bag right next to his legs and told him she would be back in half an hour.
“Okay”, he said, and at the same time was shouting inside:
I don’t even know this person, What the hell am I doing, What if it is a bomb or something like that?”
But all that came out on his face was a smile and a nod. She walked a few paces in the direction of the coffee shop, stopped, turned around and with a concerned expression came jogging back to him.
“Would you want me to keep the bag on your right side? I can do that if you want”
“No”, he smiled. Schizo was indeed the word. “Perfectly fine here”.
Feeling relieved she walked away and he found himself glancing at the bag. Maybe a baggage note with address/phone number? No such luck. He continued reading the newspaper and suddenly she plonked herself next to him, fuming.
“All okay?”, he ventured slightly
“Can you believe it? They do not have an internet cafe here! I mean, this is an airport for god’s sake. And no internet!”
“Yeah, I checked. No internet. Had some important work?”
“Yes, but its okay. This is pathetic, what a city!”, she was serious and fuming. Her eyes glowered with anger and all he could do was continue his quest for unraveling the personality sitting next to him. He smiled again.
“You can use the Jet Airways lounge there, they have an internet kiosk. You can use my boarding pass to get in, I can wait out”
She turned towards him with a jump and a turn. The chairs shook a bit.
“No thanks. It is very nice of you to offer, but I don’t want to trouble you that much”, she looked at him and gave a wide smile.
He didn’t know what to say, and as an act of the messiah, a squeaky voice blared on the microphone with some announcement. That was enough time for him to gather himself.
“What do you do?”
“Me, teacher. I mean, I am a teacher in a government school in Kolkata”, she said hesitantly and then immediately added, “Of course, before that I was a software engineer”.
She always added that last line. A teaching profession was usually considered as one which people ventured into only as a last resort. But she was different and wanted to convey that.
“Okay, so you going to Kolkata”, he added for want of anything better to say
“Yeah, I missed my train today”
“Oh! How did you miss your train?”
“I always miss my trains”, she said nonchalantly and pulled her bag from his side towards her legs.
He smiled, partly for that statement and partly for that act.
“What do you do?”, she finally returned the favour, much to his relief.
“I work in a BPO, you know, call centre stuff”
She started gazing at his hair, and used her fingers to push his front locks backwards. He leaned back a little, with absolute surprise in his face and thoughts.
“You work in a BPO?”, she asked while still fixing her gaze on his head.
“Yeah, why?”, this was getting stranger than what he had expected.
“Because all BPO people lose their hair very fast. I have read that. My brother is also in a call centre and he has no hair. But you don’t have any such problem”, she expressed with a confused look.
He broke into a light laughter. He found that innocence extremely appealing. He used his palm to brush against his hair and said, “Maybe I am not that efficient at my workplace, so my hair is still in place”, and again broke into a laughter.
The joke was lost on her and she was busy listening to the announcement. It was her flight and it was time to go.
“Thanks a lot for helping me out with the bag!”, she said to him.
“Bag? Oh yeah, no, I mean no problem. Time for your flight?”
“Yes, got to go now”
This time he had to think fast and thought to himself: I have nothing to lose anyway.
“Hey, let’s stay in touch. What’s your phone number or e-mail?”
“Sure Mr. BPO with a full head”, she said with a smile and removed a pen from her purse.
He checked his pockets and pulled out his boarding pass. She wrote down her e-mail id on the back of the boarding pass.
“I won’t write my number please, you know I am concerned about my safety and all that, even though I know you are a nice guy”, she shrugged and smiled.
“Absolutely., absolutely. I understand. Besides, e-mail is great!”, he smiled, flashing the boarding pass back at her. She turned around, keeping that bag close to her and jumped away into the sea of travelers and their colorful bags and suitcases.
The entire conversation went in a loop mode in his head and he couldn’t stop himself from smiling at various junctions. Especially the part about the BPO and the hair bit.
Shortly, it was his flight’s turn to depart. He lugged his bag on his shoulder, stood in the long line, looked around for one last time just in case she had missed her flight and then reluctantly boarded the bus that carried him to the aircraft. He got off the bus, stood in the long queue, casually handed the air crew member his boarding pass, who tore it at the perforated edge, and returned the smaller section back to him.
He sat down in his seat, buckled himself up, turned the boarding pass around. The e-mail address was gone, it was written in that section which was torn by the air crew member while boarding. How stupid of himself he thought.
In another flight, on board to Kolkata, she decided to check her mails the first thing upon landing. Just in case, she thought, he had managed to go to the Jet Airways lounge and sent her a welcome mail. She smiled at this thought before letting sleep takeover her anxiety.
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