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 batch mates. 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.
We had a pretty eventful romance during those three years at the college together. It started off as a casual meeting in the first year sprouting into a few secret dates which quickly escalated to a cannot-get-your-hands-off-each-other relationship only to die but a slow and painful death during the last year. We were both young and till this date, I don’t know what the real reason was behind our splitting apart in a dramatic turn of events.
Though I didn’t remember the reason, I felt pretty ashamed of it even after four years and wanted to root it out for good and though I’d been doing a commendable job in moving on over the past few years, the moment I saw her, I wanted to back out of the queue, grab a taxi back to my apartment and send a blatant excuse to my friend as to not attending his wedding; yet I didn’t even try such because even if I did try, it was humanely impossible to back out of a queue out of an airport at Delhi – the crowded capital of one crowded country – without making a scene but more importantly, a small part of me wanted to meet her even if it was for one last time. In fact, I hated parties and reunions and such sort of things and it was only the proposition of meeting her that made me waste my hard-earned money on the acceptance of such an invitation; all for the lust of a second chance.
I didn’t think she had noticed me or even if she did, she did not make a move to suggest so and neither did I. In between my (and I hoped, our) pretence, time flew and we boarded the plane seemingly unaware of each other’s presence.
She was seated two rows ahead to my left. I was seated at the extreme right end of the three adjoined seats of the economy-class cramped columns of the flight and could only see bits of her face from my seat but with a few adjustments of my neck to the utter bewilderment of the infant on the seat next to me, I could see her full face for brief instances of time. I was glad that his mother was asleep all this time or I would have come out as a creepy psycho stalker of the mindless Bollywood flicks which, as usual, garner way more audience than the visionary documentaries I worked on with my channel. Yes, I chased cheetahs and criminals, epiphytes and eunuchs, leaders and landscapes and what not for an honest living and I loved all of it for the thrill of it as I had loved the thrill of the once-so-familiar figure sitting a few metres in front of me.
Her face hadn’t changed much in these four years though she had put on some weight; gods bless the poor soul who was going to point that out to her on the reunion. Her aura had also changed; it seemed, to a bit of a relaxed spirit as of a log-fire instead of the sparkling firefly that she used to be when we had dated. And she still had those doe-like eyes still perfectly drawing all the attention off her other features and projecting herself as a vivid and spirited character but something had changed for sure… I watched her now and grinned… She was not vulnerable anymore, I noticed.
As the flight progressed, it flooded me with memories of the past, our past, in the opposite order. I saw pictures of our break-up, our fights, our secret meetings, our stolen kisses, and our first date rush past me. I don’t exactly remember the day or the date when we had first met (this, of course, would have been counted as a sin in those days) but surely do the circumstances under which we did. I was (and still am) pathetic with girls and pestered on one of my friends, who was in a relationship, to set me up with somebody and when finally he asked me to come on a double date, it was there that I first saw this absorbing figure dressed in blue and black denims walking towards us with my friend’s girlfriend. It was far from love at first sight; more of an awkward moment precisely, as both of us scanned each other, she with her doe-like eyes behind those blue geeky glasses, both visibly embarrassed at having to come on a double date.
Throughout that one hour or so, the only conversation we could conceive was generic introduction as we listened to mushy romantic bits of the conversation of the couple which had set us up, making us blush even more than them. At the end of the so-called ‘date’, I somehow mustered up the courage to ask her for her number and after having spent nearly thrice the allowance that I got those days on SMSs, calls, internet and two or three meetings, and a few weeks later, rumours became rife that we were but a couple. In a matter of another few weeks, the rumours, unasked, became a reality with no real proposals or anything eventful at all in between.
She had replaced her geeky glasses with a more placid frame symbolising her cutting down on her spirit, perhaps. She, I last heard, was at some internship programme with a print news agency and as if anyone had some doubts she put all of those to rest as she went on to swot almost a score or more booklets during the entire course of the journey for only god knows what; this, however was quite a remarkable achievement considering the fact that she hated the research assignments of our journalism course profusely and I had to do both of our projects after being bribed with a few hugs and a kiss, always. “There’s nobody to do it for her now.” I guessed and half-smiled like a monkey.
Our relationship was at best, budding and at worst, awkward during our first year at the college. Never been in a relationship before, I didn’t quite know what a monster it really was and tackled the same in my own silly ways such that the things which should’ve remained secret, leaked out, and the things which should’ve been said, remained unspoken, along with a moment of public display of affection becoming a moment of public display of absurdity every once in a while. It was her second she said, but there were no signs of her being the wiser. Nevertheless, we grew fond of each other’s weirdness in the days that came.
While during the second year, it really bloomed and reached its zenith as we met almost every other day and my budget was alarmingly deteriorating with every passing month. We knew more about the other than oneself or at least, lived in the illusion of such. We sidelined almost every other thing in the priority list and suddenly began to lead an amalgamated life in a persistent haze of what was hers and what was mine. We had perfected the art of PDA and even lovey-dovey plans of the life ahead began to be prophesised. It seemed to last forever.
During the third year however, the decline had set in and it was, for the lack of a better word, a disaster. It was then that I had opted for film-making while she opted for print journalism and, as with every final year of educational courses, it was hell as we had to devote insane amounts of hours on working out the finer details of the art we had pursued so that a shabby certificate of good repute could be produced in order that we don’t end up begging on the streets. Consequently, we found less and less time for each other both physically and virtually. In spite of everything, we met for an ample amount of time after a space of a few days and although, most of it would be spent in petty fights of the vile aspects of amateur relationships, we endured.
As the months passed, I became so tired of dividing my time between the open fieldwork and the closed dark room that I often ignored most of the demands (read, mushy nonsense) of a relationship which I religiously had sought for in earlier times, and the enduring became a little harder; for her, a little more than me.
A month before the finals, I was paired up with Ashwini, a junior girl of the same discipline and sent off to Shillong to make a short documentary on the relevance of the title “Scotland of the East.” She didn’t say anything but I had known she objected and I also chose to remain silent. I needed those marks to pass.
The tension between us didn’t go unnoticed by the gossip-mongering circle of the campus and when I returned two weeks later from Shillong, I was in for a grand welcome with a new set of rumours circulating that I had a relationship with Ashwini. The final blow.
I tried to reason with her futilely several times and even my project partner pleaded my innocence many a time as she too, irrationally, felt guilty in her own way though there was never anything between the two of us; or for that matter, never anything between me and another woman till this date. Perhaps, she had decided to throw up all of her pent-up frustration and all at one go, and this was a perfect opportunity. I, however, tried to reach out again and again, only to have a door slammed on my nose or a phone-call hung up abruptly till I was completely fed up with all that nonsense; had some seven or eight bottles of beer with my guy friends on the hostel terrace and threw up all of it the next morning and decided to focus on the ensuing finals.
The exams came and went as the deadlock still left unbroken with one’s pretence of the other not existing in the same world as oneself even if one could visibly see the other. On the day of the convocation and farewell ceremony, she came up to me, announced that she had ‘forgiven’ me and wanted to start things over. A week ago, if such an event have had occurred, I would have happily accepted it but that day, the mere sound of the word ‘forgiven’ infuriated me beyond wits and I stormed out of the place without a word. I hadn’t met most of my batch mates and her since then.
I didn’t care what my other batch mates might deduce from that tantrum of mine four years ago but did want to know what she inferred. My reason for going into the reunion. I decided that whatever maybe the consequences, I was to meet this dame for once and, if it was so to be, for all. As I started to stand up, the red light on the plane’s dashboard was on and the speaker announced that it was landing to be, along with advising the passengers to fasten up the seat belts. I did as prescribed; my life was way more precious than the insults that I was going to be facing.
The plane landed and as I exited the terminal into the airport past the security check, I had lost her in the crowd of all so similar faces. I sat myself on one of the chairs in the waiting lobby and called up a cab on phone. ‘It’d be there in 15 minutes’, the manager said. I decided to check on my mail after the brief cellular blackout and found myself dialling her old phone number. I wanted to erase it but something stopped me. I had a new number and she wouldn’t recognise it even if the phone number still rang to her. I could not resist the temptation and pressed ‘Dial’.
“Hello.” I said. My heart beating in anxiousness as like it has never been in years.
“Hello… Who’s this?” There was no excitement in her voice. No spirit. No anger. Just calmness.
“Is this… Ashwini?” I muttered after a pause.
“No. Sorry. Wrong Number.” said the familiar excited voice. She hung up.
I cancelled the cab, booked a flight back to Delhi, sent a very generic message to my friend apologising for not being able to attend his wedding due to urgent work and assuring him that I would visit him soon (I wouldn’t), phoned up my boss informing of my early return (audibly pleased) and politely requesting him to put me back on payroll (audible grunt). I had seen her and heard her voice and also vaguely understood what she might have made out of my tantrum and thus in a wild sense, had ‘met’ her once and for all, I hoped. I have had my ‘reunion’. I could peacefully go back to chasing snakes and snake-charmers from tomorrow.
Arunabh Debendranath Konwar