|Chance Encounters with a Stranger
Image Source: Helder_K
I was recently traveling from Delhi to Manipal and was waiting at Mumbai airport for my connecting flight to Mangalore when I saw her. She was seated in the row nearest to the boarding counter but had the seat at the farthest end from the gate. I was pretty sure she was on my flight since the place was deserted at that time. I took a seat a few rows away and wondered if I could convince her to share the cab fare if she was headed in my direction. She was slim, not too tall; dressed in an inconspicuous top, tight jeans that accentuated her curves and a sweater neatly folded and draped over her left arm. She repeatedly made short calls, fighting boredom but no one seemed to have the time to indulge in a lengthy conversation (it was 10 am after all).
Resigned to her fate, she proceeded to read her boarding pass and luggage tag thrice over in quick succession; reading, replacing it in her handbag and retrieving it with the quick air of having seen something interesting while replacing it in her handbag. But she was disappointed each time. It piqued my curiosity and I too glanced over my pass but found nothing of note. It was then that I proceeded to ask her if she was heading my way. As is the way, I had got to the ‘ex’ of my ‘excuse me’ when her phone rang and she proceeded to carry on the longest conversation yet, while I hung back hoping it would end and I wouldn’t have to return to my seat looking like an utter idiot. It was not to be, so I took a seat and prepared to wait.
Once her call ended, I found out she was indeed heading for mangalore but no further. She had family there. Nodding, we turned away and lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. After an appropriate time, I engrossed myself in my book again as she proceeded to count the stitches on her sweater. I studied her, the watch on her right hand and a simple bangle on her left all pointed to a college student; but she had the air of one who earns. (Final year students have a knack of distinguishing between the have-jobs and have-nots). Building on our initial albeit brief conversation we each asked the other to watch over our luggage while we stretched our legs. On my return, I slid into the seat next to her; it seemed the most natural thing to do at the time. We spoke about books, our mutual love for dogs, the insanely shiny 4-wheeled suitcases everyone seemed to have and slowly circled to our reasons for respective visits. I had a submission in college, she had a function at her grandparents. My flippant comment about her parents about to marry her off brought a wry smile and the revelation that she was happily married for the past 2 years.
Ouch!!! An uncomfortable silence ensued, rescued swiftly by the call to board the aircraft. We marvelled at how many people had arrived for our flight and we hadn’t even noticed. She had the previous boarding pass out and was asked to show the correct one, I was waved through and it seemed the most natural thing to do to wait on the other side. She too was not surprised to see me waiting, we just resumed where we had left off.
On the flight we were seated in the same row, on window seats on opposite sides of the aircraft. None of us made a move to change our seats, but we looked across to each other several times; smiling in the knowledge of our familiarity. I shook my head when she dropped her phone, she grinned when I asked for the feedback form(old habit inculcated by my padre). After it landed, on our way out she whispered that she had been standing behind me on our last flight (Delhi-Mumbai). I’d noticed her right? Ouch again!!! I really needed to get my game up. Yes, I replied confidently and smartly steered the conversation to safer waters, the 33.4 degrees currently at Mangalore in the first week on FEBRUARY!!!!!!
We walked down to the luggage belts, I pulled off her suitcase, she waited for mine while people of all ages cast furtive glances at us. We walked out and proceeded to look for our respective rides, I had a printout ona board with ‘aritHra’ on it while her brother was present. I turned; we shook hands, smiled, commented on the pleasurable company and parted ways. My cab driver couldn’t stop grinning as he drove out of the airport. After I finished my deluge of check-ins with various friends and family members of how my flight had NOT fallen off the cliff at mangalore and how my luggage was NOT lost in transit, my cabbie asked if she was my girlfriend.
Bewildered, it took me a good couple of minutes to figure out who he was talking about. His next question vexed me further as he asked me her name. I had no idea. Thankfully he let the matter drop with a well placed ‘GET IDEA’ (whether it was courtesy Abhishek Bachchan or just his english usage I shall never know) and a Cheshire-Cat grin that did not subside till a bus cut him off on the highway.