Arijit was running helter-skelter, with his checked-in luggage tags stuffed in his book pocket and his laptop bag swinging heavily on his shoulders. The bag was heavy, as it bore the weight of not just his laptop and his chargers, but also the books he had packed at the last minute to read during the flight. He was already late, and he had an uncanny feeling that he was going to miss his flight. As he skipped queues and ran along the sleepy-eyed morning passengers, he found himself in front of gate number twenty. He had made it!
He could see that boarding was almost complete and he was one of the last few passengers to board the flight. The attendant at the counter gave him a scathing look, as if she thought that a grown man of thirty couldn’t even make it in time for his flight without breaking into a sweat. But just as she saw his business-class boarding pass, her demeanor softened a little, and she ushered him politely.
Arijit was boarding the Dubai to Kolkata morning flight that day to make it for the most infectious time of the year, The Durga Pujas. He was overworked and tired from the previous night, but it seemed like taking this very flight to the place he loved the most served as an impetus for him for instant gratification. Living away from his home city had really taken a toll, not the kind of toll where he was unhappy, but the kind of toll where he was always lost. He used to be a pretty straightforward guy, but these days, he found himself ever attracted to finding meaning in complexities of emotions, and sometimes even, finding pleasure in pain.
Arijit stowed his laptop bag away after removing the first book that he had planned to read during the flight. He adjusted his seat and buckled his safety belt and got comfortable. Despite the season, the flight was moderately filled, and the seat next to him remained empty. He felt happy, and comfortable, and looked forward to spending the next four hours sipping on wine and reading this detective-thriller. He messaged his wife that the flight was about to take off and that he would be off the radar for a bit. His wife wasn’t able to make it with him this time due to the influx of incoming workload at her new office.
He wrote, “I love you sweetheart, and I’ll miss you – We are about to take off, so I’ll be unreachable for a while. Take care of yourself. And I love you.”
As the flight took off, he felt an immediate soaring in the pit of his stomach, a feeling of nonchalance to the place he was leaving behind and a reinstated aura of euphoria to where he was going.
Arijit began reading his book, but after a good fifteen minutes, he was interrupted by a girl. She approached his seat slowly and carefully, trying her best not to trip.
As he looked at her, he felt a little angry, that his “alone time” was going to be sporadic. All he wanted was a peaceful span of four hours of flight with his books, a solitary time that he was looking forward to. The girl was extremely beautiful and striking – She was wearing faded blue jeans and a white chiffon top. She put her bag on the seat and smiled at Arijit curtly. With one hand holding onto the seat, she hoisted her laptop bag onto the luggage tray, her feet tiptoeing to reach the top. Arijit saw how slim her waist was. An unnecessary observation, he thought. He took a last look at her long, brown hair, before submerging himself back into his book.
Only moments later, did he get distracted again.
“Hi, I’m Shreya, would you have a pen by any chance?”
Arijit looked up from his table, and took his pen out of his pocket and handed it over to her.
“And your name is?” asked Shreya, a little surprised because of the lack of basic courtesy from the guy.
“Very nice to meet you, Arijit, and thanks for the pen. I’ll return it back to you, at the end of the flight.”
Arijit smiled at her, and from the corner of his eyes, noticed that Shreya was scribbling something into a blue notebook. She would pause here and there, lifting the pen and bringing it really close to her lips, as she closed her eyes, thinking deeply. He could see a little bit of the pink lip-gloss at the top of the pen. He also noticed her ring, the diamond shining bright and loud on her perfectly manicured ring finger. She was married, he observed.
“Arijit, I can see that you’re reading, but if you don’t mind, would you help me out in this?”
Arijit looked at her, her face that shone like the glowing sun, her eyelashes, that were jet-black and the chain around her neck that glistened against her skin, diverting his attention time and again.
He felt highly attracted to her for some reason.
“Sure.” – He said, a little unsure on how he could help her.
“So, do you read a lot? And travel? Have you had any experiences in your life that you’d like to share with me?”
“I have just met you, Shreya. Aren’t these questions a little personal?”
Shreya looked at him, her eyes outlining his strong jawline, and his stubble.
“I’m sorry – I apologize for disturbing you. Please go back to reading your book.”
Shreya called for the flight attendant, and asked for a glass of wine and a pen. She left Arijit’s pen on his tray-table, and continued her work.
Arijit picked his pen up, the pink gloss still remnant on it – He touched the colour with his thumb, the same colour that was present on Shreya’s lips moments ago. Arijit was an extremely private person, and seldom ever shared his intimate thoughts with anyone, let alone strangers. Yet, there was something extremely effervescent & vivacious about Shreya, coupled with an intrinsic sensation of growing magnetism that was undeniable to him. He felt a little angry with himself, for being such a jerk, for being this way around a girl who was obviously used to getting responsiveness from men. Shreya played with the diamond on her finger and her hair and the second pen that she touched her lips to.
Arijit cleared his throat, and said, “I’m sorry. You were being nice. I was a jerk.”
Shreya looked back at him, her eyes slightly moist, and lips glossier than ever, and said, “That’s alright.”
“Is it difficult for you to open up to people?” asked Shreya, sipping on her glass of rose.
Arijit stared at her, and asked, “How would you know that?”
“I read people pretty easily.”
“Well, you’re right. I am pretty friendly as a person, but yeah, I do open up to a very few people. I strongly feel that opening up your vulnerabilities exposes you to unwanted risk of being disappointed.”
Shreya moved her torso sideways to further face him, and caught him looking at her gold chain whose locket coincided with the third button of her top.
She asked, “Do you really think so much before opening up to people? Why is it so hard for you to make friends, Arijit?”
Arijit faltered at the honest yet embarrassing question asked by this complete stranger. But for some reason, she didn’t seem like a stranger anymore. She seemed like this really fascinating, and highly inscrutable and slightly intimidating girl he met on his flight to Kolkata, who spoke to him like no one ever had.
They began eating their food, and he noticed how she held the fork and lifted the spoon of rice to her mouth. For some reason, her diamond ring bothered him. And then he looked at his own wedding band, and remembered the time when he had gone to choose the same with his wife, at that standalone jeweler in Kolkata. That was six years ago. He was young. So was his wife. They were in love. They are in love. Silly, he thought to himself.
In between the Bengali menu that consisted of fish curry and rice, he began talking to Shreya.
“I am heading down for Durga Puja – I have missed the last two. I make friends easy, but…I am not sure if they are friends, or acquaintances, because I am unable to be vulnerable with most of them. For vulnerability, there needs to be a connection, a fascination, and, for me, a strange need to be protected.”
“Protected, huh?” asked Shreya, wiping her lips with the wet tissue and neatly folding it away.
“Yeah, I feel that if I do open up to someone, he or she is unnecessarily burdened with the weight of protecting me and my secrets.”
Shreya nodded, understanding completely. Her lip-gloss was wiped off, and he could see the natural pink in her lips from the corner of his eyes. He wanted to tell her to re-apply her lipstick, if only to be able to watch her do so. He immediately chided himself for thinking on these lines, but maybe he had looked at her lips for way too long, because, she reached for her purse and swiftly took her lipstick out and began applying it.
Was he falling for her?
How could he? He was married, wasn’t he? So was she.
He loved his wife, he reminded himself. But that is different, that’s love, that’s marriage, that’s forever. So, what was this?
He had never felt this strong a connection with anybody in a long time.
Was this going to lead to a strong friendship? Can this sort of physical and mental attraction lead to a purely platonic friendship? Surely, thinking about all of this isn’t infidelity?
“What is your most intimate fear, Arijit?” asked Shreya, pushing him out his train of thoughts.
“To lose out on things. To lose out on one thing because of having something else. I’m not sure you understand, it’s difficult to articulate.”
“You’re special, Arijit, I really like you. And I’m glad I changed seats to meet you today.”
He wanted to say that he liked her too, and that he was deeply engrossed in her, but somehow, as per societal norms, he didn’t want to toe that line. And all of a sudden, he didn’t want the flight to land. He didn’t want to go home. He wanted to talk to her, he wanted her to keep asking the questions, the questions which no one ever asked him.
But the flight landed eventually.
He wanted to ask for her number. He thought that probably they could maybe meet in some distant future, over a drink or some coffee, and talk to each other about things they hardly ever spoke to anyone else. He could take her out to that Chinese Restaurant he loved, and she would dress up just like today, her clothes hugging her perfect body and her lips, glossed out, just like today.
Just as the lights came back, Shreya took Arijit’s pen, and scribbled her number on one of the tissues she had neatly folded for later use.
“Save my number, will you, Arijit?” said Shreya, before collecting her things, and leaving behind an earthy smell of flowers from her perfume.
Arijit switched his own phone on, to save Shreya’s number, as a contact who was literally a stranger, yet someone who he was definitely going to dream about.
His phone came back to life, and just as he began typing her number on his keypad, his phone vibrated to announce the arrival of an SMS.
It was from his wife.
“I love you too, baby.” – it said.