“Kaunsa flight hai sir”, the driver’s query jolted Vinay out of his sleep, “Air India, boss”, he replied. It had already been a very tiring day, and it wasn’t ending soon. He had to take a two hour flight to Delhi, report to South Block, handover the documents, give a briefing….ahhh…the briefings, Vinay hated those timeless meeting where your seniors ask the most irrelevant details while ignoring the larger issue over milky tea and soggy samosas….. ahhh those bloody oil-soaked, tasteless monstrosities…..“Sir, your bag”, his samosa revelry was interrupted by the security at the gate as they rushed to his car, “No, its fine, I will take care of it. Thank you”. Vinay was still getting used to the attention and falling over that comes with a “lal-batti” and an IAS tag.
“Sir, laayie aapka bag”, another guard rushed, “arrey yaar, no need, I only have one bag, I can carry it”, Now Vinay was getting irritated, he hated the ‘throwing around’ that his bosses indulged in, “bloody fatasses, can’t even carry their lunch boxes to their cars, stupid entitled babu-log’ , he hated that term and there was no way he was going to follow the same path. Buzzzzzzz..Buzzzzz….. “Yes, sir….the flight seems to be on time, I will reach Delhi at 10 and should reach office for a briefing by around mid-night”….”yes, I have those with me”..”Thank you, sir, bye”, as he kept the phone down and joined the queue at the Air India counter he noticed a familiar face in the queue to the right of him, “is that HER…,No, can’t be her…don’t keep staring Moron!…looks like her….maybe….let me steal another glance…ok, keep it cool..take your phone in one hand and pretend to look..shit, she looked at me looking…..fuck….look below….look on the left..LEFT idiot…” “Hey, Vinay” she recognized him,”THAT ‘S HER, I told you, yousonofabitch!”.
“Hi, ummm, Jhanavi, right”, “ahh..pretending you couldn’t recall her name to sound cool and busy, well done, stud”, “Yes, so good to see you Vinay, how are you”, “Im good, how about you? What are you doing here”, “Idiot, airport pe kya sabun bechegi”, “ahh” she paused and smiled that beautiful smile that Vinay hadn’t seen for nearly 10 years, but was permanently etched in his brain, “Im going to Delhi, where are you headed?”, “Delhi as well, which flight?” he replied within a heartbeat.
“AI-543”, “Oh, great, I’m on the same one”, even before he could finish the sentence, the queue on his right moved and Jhanavi proceeded to the counter….so 15 minutes here before we board, maybe 10 minutes from the tarmac to the airport gate, that’s 25, not enough to get her number, but enough to know if she’s single and add on Facebook… she looks single, definitely not married…is that a necklace or mangalsutra….stop craning your neck like a creep..OK. “Vinay, hey Vinay, lost?”, “what, No no, I’m here”, she turned to the lady at the counter and said “can we get seats together please?, WOAHMYGAWDGANESHA ……cool..cool…play it cool, don’t get excited…. “fine with you right, right Vinay? lost again?” she asked, “O yeah, sure” he replied with what he was pretty sure a very dumb face.
As Vinay gave the attendant his print out and his ID he turned to Jhanavi again, she had taken her phone and was messaging someone. This was the first time he was looking at her directly since he first spotted her in the queue – it’s ridiculous the things you notice when you are strongly attracted to someone see them after a long time – every tiny detail about them gets magnified – how her eyes were reflecting the lights of a thousand airport lamps, how her delicate fingers moved across her phone in a fast, practiced but never in a hurried manner , the silly butterfly clip on her hair, the pout she made while typing something on her phone. Ok, I need to say something before this becomes really awkward.
“Any check-in luggage, sir?”, before he could say anything the attendant broke the silence, “No, just a one hand-bag”. “Ohh, so you were in Mumbai only for a day-trip”, Jhanavi looked up from her phone and asked him. “Well no, actually I’m going to Delhi for a day-trip. I stay in Mumbai now. Have some office work, will be back in Mumbai tomorrow morning”, “Nice yaar, I to am still in Delhi, atak gai hun wahin par”, “Still staying at Shalimar Bagh?”, “Yeah, was in Mumbai for a friend’s wedding, nice city, Dalhi se to batter hi hai” she still says better with a Punjabi twang..sigh..”and what about you, kab se ho Mumbai mein?” she asked, “Hardly one year, this is my first posting..”, “posting..?”, “yeah, I got through IAS last year…”, “Nyyceee”, ohhh she still stretches the sound of nice, “so in touch with anyone from coaching”, she continued. “Naah, not really, you?”
“Ok, I will see you on the other side”, before she could respond they had already reached the security check. Vinay saw her join the ladies queue as he slowly ambled to join the much longer men’s queue, Its ridiculous, all the times I waited for her at the bus stop, stayed back at the coaching class, stood outside her college, I never saw her, and now after almost ten years, when she was barely a memory, I bump into her, ha. Vinay had known her from his IIT coaching class’s days and had what he later used to describe to his friends as his first “puppy love”. They were far from being even good friends, and Vinay never considered himself cool enough to be a part of her friends group- all flashy, lound, blingy dilliwalas, girls with flared trousers, chunky accessories, curated anglo-punjabi accent, boys with rippling muscles, t-shirts two sizes tighter and pulsar bikes. Those goddamned pulsars, even if I was to wear tighter t-shirts, my old chetak would have never stood a chance! Vinay smiled at the thought. Well, boss, you have more than 2 hours with her now, abhi agar number nai liya na…ha!
By the time he emerged on the other side of the security check Jhanavi was on phone, standing at a distance from him, she wasn’t speaking anything but clearly what she was hearing from the other side did not seem good, Either a fight with boyfriend or a scolding from home…please scolding from home please scolding from home. She saw him and gave him a weak smile, hurriedly spoke something on the phone and came towards him, “hmphh..Chalein…”, “yeah, but are you fine?” Vinay asked, “yes absolutely fine, Im..Im okay” Jhanavi stuttered, “You seem very stressed, everything fine?”, “Yeah, Vinay, Im fine, lets go”, “You sure you allright, want some water”, “I said, IM FINE, now let it go” she snapped at him.
Vinay was taken aback by the sudden coldness and her rude response. “Hey, I’m sorry Vinay, just very tensed up, right now”, “No its ok, but what happened”, “I will tell you, let’s just sit somewhere for now”, “well, our flight will be boarding soon, let’s go upto the gate”, “No, not gate, let’s sit here only”, “But..”, “NO, we will sit here, please”. Vinay was now getting irritated, “what’s wrong, Jhanavi?”. “Ohh god, Im so sorry again, but Im such a mess right now. Let’s just sit at the lounge please”. Vinay looked at his watch, there was still some time to board, this is not a flight I want to be late for, the sooner I get rid of these documents the better. He looked at Jhanavi again who by now had gone completely pale, documents and flight are going nowhere, let’s just get her to sit somewhere and calm down.
“Here..” she motioned to a series of chairs in the lounge. Vinay quietly followed her and settled next to her, “sorry, so sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped at you”, Jhanavi said looking at him, “just that things are not very good with me right now. I hope you understand”. How would I understand, I just met you 10 minutes back after a decade, “I understand”, Vinay replied. “Hey, can you get me something to drink”, “sure, what do you want, coffee, coke?”, “Just a bottle of water please”, when I asked you nicely you snapped at me!, “sure, will get it”, Vinay got up with his bag still slung over the shoulder. “Give me your bag, kabse tanga hua hai”, “No, its fine” Vinay said gingerly, “arrey baba, I won’t steal anything” she smiled, “Of course you better not steal from a government officer, I will have you arrested ma’am”, “hahaha, nahi kar paoge, defence mein ho, IPS mein nahin..”, she smiled and lugged at his shoulder taking the bag off, “Ok, you need anything else?”, “No, just water”, she held his bag close to her chest and looked at him with her big twinkling eyes. Vinay stood there looking at her for a second longer, “what? Go na, Im thirsty”, she said with some irritation now.
What a women – from smiley to frowny, to snappy, to smiley to snappy again in 10 minutes, ha, will be a fun flight, Vinay thought rubbing his right shoulder where he was holding his bag as he stood in the line to get water, ahh the damn shoulder, must be from holding the bag for so long. He turned around to look at Jhanavi again, but his view to her seat was hidden by the pillar in front of the counter. “Next”, the guy manning the counter said, “Boss, 1 bisleri..” as he gave his order the pain in his shoulder suddenly shot through, it was as if some hot liquid was moving through his veins, moving up from his shoulder to his neck, from his neck to his jaw, jaw to his chest. He stumbled forward and went down on his knees…. Did I tell her I work with the ministry of defense? No, I did not, I DID NOT….FUCK! Vinay wanted to shout but no words came from his mouth, now the pain had spread through his chest and a group of people had collected around him – NOO NOOO get out of the way you idiots… Vinay’s body was thrashing on the ground, he was trying with all his might to get a view of where Jhanavi was sitting but his legs had given way, his eyes were dilating and he could feel his heart going leaden. With one last push he dragged his body on the ground. The last thing he saw was the empty chair where Jhanavi was sitting.
“The job is done, I have the documents, see you in Delhi” Jhanavi spoke in the phone as the airhostess came close to her seat “Maam, you need to switch off your phone, we will take off in some time”, “sure, no problems”, “thank you ma’am”, “also, can you get me some water, Im thirsty” Jhanavi said to the airhostess with the bag still clutched to her chest.