Airplane Mode – Part 1

March, 2016, Doha

It was only 5:20 in the evening when she got to Gate B6 at the Hamad International Airport. This meant she had two full hours to kill. She was already tired from the 13 hour flight to Doha and all she wanted by then was to get home and sleep for 12 hours straight. You would have usually seen her with her head buried in a book but this time she had already finished reading the one she was carrying on her. So she began to mentally lecture herself with an ‘I told you to put both your travel books in your backpack should you finish reading the first one’. She took her phone out and tried to connect to the airport’s free wifi so she could Facebook for a while. After a good 15 minutes, she wearily gave up her attempt to connect to the feeble wifi. She then went into her phone Settings and turned the Airplane Mode ON. The phone was practically useless without any cellular network and internet access in a foreign country.

And she reluctantly decided to do what people usually did under circumstances such as these. People-Watching. She wasn’t particularly fond of people-watching and never understood why some people made such a big deal out of it. ‘Airports are such fun places and people-watching, it is my favorite thing. I love those hundred different kinds of emotions you see at airports,’ she had heard people say. She began by looking at people seated in her zone, Zone 4.

There was a young couple with a kid. The wife was asking the husband to give some cookies to the baby boy and silence him while she went to the bathroom to change from her jeans into a salwar so she could be prepared and presentable to meet her in laws at the airport when they landed. There were two girls, probably about 10 years old, watching something on a shared iPad. A young man just brought his mother a hot beverage and was asking her if she needed more sugar in it. Another man in his mid-forties was staring at the TV trying to grasp bits and pieces from the Arabic news channel on the casualties that had occurred during the collapse of an unfinished flyover in Kolkata.

Then she saw a woman in a black dress with pink roses printed on it. It was such a pretty dress. It looked somewhat like the one she had desperately wanted to buy for her graduation but couldn’t afford a whopping $150 dress when unemployed, except that the one she had wanted to buy had the pink roses embroidered on the black instead of printed on it like this girl in the airport’s dress. She looked up at the woman’s face and almost immediately looked away, in shock. She could feel rapid pounding inside her chest and her mind was racing. No, it cannot be who she was thinking it could be. Absolutely not! She quickly and hastily looked around for the other familiar face she was anticipating to find.

There was no possible way on this planet that of all the existing days in her lifetime, Rashmi was going to travel with her on the same day, taking the exact flight she was going to take from Doha to Bangalore. The probability of this happening had to be zero in a lifetime. She looked back closely at the girl in the black dress that was busy typing away on her phone.

‘Oh my god! The resemblance is striking. It has to be Rashmi,’ her insanity screamed at her jetlagged sanity.

‘Or may be it is not. And there is no way you can know with confidence because you haven’t ever met Rashmi, face to face, ever!’ her sanity yawned back.

‘Okay, how about this. It may be Rashmi or it may not be Rashmi. So let’s just call her Rashmi Not, like Touch me not, or Rush-me-not, since you hate the name Rashmi, until I figure this out for you,’ her ridiculousness continued to her rationale and kicked the tiredness right out of her travel-sick body.

******

March, 2012, Somewhere in the United States

It was a busy day at work and she had about 45 minutes to grab a bite. She logged into her Gmail account to check her e-mails since she was eating by herself.

Inbox (1)

She looked at the sender’s name and her mind stuttered. He had contacted her after two long years. Should she open it? ‘Of course, you have to open it,’ her curiosity unchained itself and nudged hard at her calm indifference.

“Actually, I wanted to call you but I wasn’t sure if you would accept my call so I am writing this e-mail. I hope you haven’t blocked me and I sincerely wish that you get this e-mail. I really am not sure how or where to begin, but perhaps I could by first saying sorry for everything that I have done to you. We always wanted things to work out between us and both of us made promises that neither have kept as we started to grow apart.

When you left me two years ago, I believed life had come to a standstill. I felt severely incapable of even a simple thing such as a genuine smile. I have been alive and kicking all this time, not doubt, but I have lived in your memories and I was more than happy with them. I swore that I would always be there for you, at any point in your life, and that I would wait for you to come back to me. But, here I am, guilty again for breaking yet another promise to you. I am sure you will feel less guilty, or actually I am not even sure why I am writing this to you, but I wanted to apologize and let you know that I am moving on in life. You have been such an important part of my life, you cannot even comprehend, and I can never forget you. What I had and have for you always has been nothing but love.”

She calculatedly read every single word in the e-mail at least five times. Her heart and her mind were creating a ruckus at the same time. She couldn’t hear either of them even if she paid close attention. She closed her eyes to analyze how she felt about him today, after these two years, and all she felt was nothing. No pain, no anger, no hatred, and perhaps, no love.

‘Well, you have to reply. You need to know what he means by moving on,’ her ignorance fell to its feet and begged her common sense. And thus, her twitching fingers picked up a glass of water, chugged it down in haste, and hit the reply button and began to type out a rather controlled response.

“There is absolutely no need to apologize. I would like to believe that I have matured enough to understand that we were young and silly when we first fell in love, and that our relation would require so much work given our contrasting personalities, which is why I decided to call it quits two years ago. I have just stayed aloof and out of touch so far because I am really not the kind of person who has it in her to remain friends with an ex.

I was always aware that time would heal you, take that pain away, and that eventually you would move on. I understand that you moving on in life means that either you have found someone you love or that you have decided to marry the woman your parents have chosen for you. Whichever one it is, I am happy for you. I do not hate you today nor have I harbored any hatred for you in the past. I wish you luck.”

By the time she had gotten to the end of this self-restrained crap she had typed out, she plainly wished she deleted everything and just wrote back, ‘I still LOVE YOU, in his favorite Comic Sans font. But she did no such thing. Her fingers voluntarily hit the send button while her eyes involuntarily brimmed with salty tears and her heart; it sank into the deepest torrents of randomness.

Almost immediately, Inbox (1)

“Thank you!”

She couldn’t contain herself and didn’t think she needed to either. This could lead to something, maybe, what that leading entailed, she had no clue.

“So, are you getting married?”

Every single cell in her body had prayed frantically for him to answer, no. ‘Why on earth does it even matter to you now? You chose to leave him for good in the first place. There is no peace in learning more from the other side. If anything, this one question will lead to five more. Just let it be,’ her strength hissed at her weakness.

“Not yet, I am in love. And we are planning to get engaged in May.”

Her heart sank from randomness into the deepest, darkest grave within her soul, a part she never knew existed inside of her. She tried to gather herself up, and get back to work, to working on her research proposal but the next second she found herself typing:

“Is it Vandana?”

“No, Vandu got married last December.”

She rolled her eyes as her ego took the response bitterly. What is the need to call that woman by a pet name? It wasn’t like her name was super long. And it isn’t like he was a Senator who was saving a few seconds by typing a shorter version of her first name.

“How are you? How have things been going on for you? Where do you work?”

She ignored his attempt to make small talk. She wasn’t interested in answering those mundane questions. Besides, why does he care where she worked anymore?  He was ‘moving on in life’.

“What is her name?” She typed and pondered whether hit send.

‘Please!! Stop this ridiculous obsession, for heaven’s sake. You really don’t want to know her name. What good will it do to you now? What comes next? Will you ask him for a picture of her? Will you ask him for an invitation to his wedding? Will you beat your brain into pulp trying to find her on social networking sites and obsess on figuring out if she looks better than you. This stupidity has to stop right now,’ even as her pride was yelling at her, her vulnerability pressed the send button.

“Rashmi,” pat came his response and he continued, ““How are you? How have things been going on for you? Where do you work?”

Pain and anger, in that precise order, struggled with the indifferent front she had been putting up this entire time. But her brain finally cleared its way out; first, locked up tons of emotions her heart was feeling and second, mustered all the courage it could gather and typed out one final nonchalant and curt e-mail, completely under pretense.

“All the very best. Everything is alright. I guess this is it, then. Goodbye.”

“All the best to you. Bye.” he replied, and that had been the final communication she had with him. It had taken her truckloads of self-restrain to not respond any further.

She went home that evening, cooked and ate and tried to get the conversation out of her head. It had been two whole years. She had chosen correctly, she reminded herself. Her new self could digest this bitter news. Tomorrow was going to be a brand new day. Everything is going to be alright. Even as she sat on her bed and mentally talked to herself, she picked up her laptop and decided to get a peek at this female who had created ripples in her head and turned her absolutely normal day completely upside down. But he hadn’t given her Rashmi’s last name. So she opened Google and carefully typed out his first and last name along with Rashmi.

She popped up on the first search result. He had commented on Rashmi’s photo on Facebook. She quickly rampaged thought Rashmi’s profile pictures, her About me and her timeline.

‘Blah. Totally judging. Of course, I despise her. She looks like a man. How can people not do their upper lip, for lord’s sake. I wonder how he even fell for her after dating someone so darn cute and adorable such as me. She seems so silly listing her favorite movies as Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Dil To Pagal Hain, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. I mean, seriously, who even likes those SRK-KJo’s diabetes inducing and cringe worthy cheesy romantic films these days. And she could swear across her heart that he wasn’t into that kind of saccharine overloaded three hour torture. See, they are so different, they will never be half of what we were,’ her vanity comforted her arrested heart, like it were some consolation.

And then she saw it on her timeline. Rashmi couldn’t tell the difference between moment and movement. Her status said, ‘Thank you all for the birthday wishes. This year was spent with special people and had special movements.’

She jumped up and down hysterically. She was having her own Carrie Bradshaw moment. The one where Carrie realizes what an idiot Natasha (who’s married to Mr. Big) is since Natasha can’t tell the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’.

‘There you go! She is an idiot,’ her wounded heart slowly nursed its wounds and rubbed her hands in glee.

******

March, 2016, Doha

‘Okay, she’s sitting with you in Zone 4. Maybe you can take a quick glance at her boarding pass and catch her name to figure out if she is Rashmi or Rush Me Not,’ her impractical and unreasonable-self suggested to her clear sense of reasoning.

‘Or you could just walk back to that book store you saw on the way to Gate B6 and buy a book and drown yourself in it rather than investigate and feed on this totally irrational and insane theory you have going on here,’ reasoning offered stubbornly.

To be continued…